Courtney McCool: gymnastics
Courtney McCool is built for balance. The 4-foot-9, 98-pound powerhouse from Kansas City has size 10 feet, giving her more stability and a wider platform to correct miscues that might send other gymnasts to the mat. Not surprisingly, the 16-year-old, one of the favorites in the rugged qualifying rounds leading up to Greece, excels on the beam.
Of course, it takes more than big dogs to perform handsprings, walkovers, and leaps on a 4-inch-wide surface without falling off. "It takes practice," she says seriously. The kind of practice that means leaving school at noon every day for 6 hours of training.
Of course, when you saunter up to a log lying across an icy river, it’s likely you don’t have that level of training time under your belt. But if things get slippery midcrossing, McCool has a few suggestions for the balance-impaired.
>> If you’re falling to the left, bring your right arm up. It’ll bring your gravity back to center.
>> Keep your body in line directly over the log. That means your shoulders and hips should be square and facing forward.
>> If you start to fall, jump with equal pressure from both feet. It’ll help prevent injury on the way down-and it may just allow you to stick your dismount.
Brendan Hansen: swimming
You can’t say Brendan Hansen doesn’t get enough time to himself. He spends 4 hours every day alone with his thoughts–in the pool. The U.S. record holder in the 200-yard breaststroke cruises back and forth in a pool at the University of Texas at Austin staring at nothing more than a black line and listening only to the sound of his hands slapping the water. "It’s very repetitive," he says calmly, "and mentally grueling."
What does he do to occupy his mind? "I hum the last song I heard while driving to work out," he admits. "But I also think about how the harder I work now, the more advantage I’ll have on my opponents later."
Hansen makes a habit of thinking things through before a big event. "I visualize the smells, the way things are going to feel–especially the pain," he says. "If I know ahead of time that I am going to feel pain, I can handle it better." This approach could help you get through an adventure race or a long mountain bike ride with a stronger friend. If you’ve already visualized fighting through exhaustion and burning quads, the real deal may be easier than you imagined.
When he’s not ticking off laps, Hansen’s at school studying kinesiology, the science of human movement, which has taught him how his body works-and helped him become a more efficient swimmer. He also likes to drag his teammates off on weekends for a little camping. "The farther I can get away from a traffic light, the better," says Hansen, who grew up hunting and hiking with his dad in Pennsylvania. "The outdoors gets my mind off swimming and all the pressures." So when you’re staring down at some rapids or up at a granite face and find your nerves on edge, Hansen has some words of comfort: "It never hurts to have butterflies. They’ll just give you more energy."