Reece Howden is picking an interesting time to be a first-time Olympian.
Not that the Cultus Lake ski-cross star had the choice, but with COVID-19 continuing to cause havoc around the world, the Beijing experience will be unlike any Winter Olympics that have come before it.
“It’s starting to get a little more real,” Howden said Friday morning (Feb. 4), days before departing. “I was old enough that I kind of remember Vancouver 2010, because I was 12 then, and that was super cool. I remember watching those games, thinking it would be a lot of fun to be part of, and when I went to the Lillehammer (France) Youth Olympic Games in 2016, that’s kind of when it was like, ‘This is an amazing event.’
“I’m excited to finally be going for the big show and it should be great.”
Howden said it’s been a long and challenging time the last few weeks, adhering to strict COVID protocols at the Canadian team’s base of operations at Nakiska Ski Resort in Canmore, Alberta.
He said he’s felt isolated at times, but he’s also been following COVID rules for the better part of two years, so it’s nothing new.
“And it’s been an opportunity to get in some good training, some good routine training, which is great because that can be a little sporadic sometimes when you’re jumping around all over Europe. I’ve been having fun too, getting out in the backcountry with a buddy of mine who’s also on the team.”
Howden is not going to Beijing sight unseen. The Canadian ski-cross team went in November to give the Genting Snow Park track a try at a World Cup event.
Howden comes into the Olympics with the cache of being the reigning World Cup points champion from 2021, but the 2022 season has been a struggle. The 23-year-old is ranked 22nd with just one individual podium placement to date. He was third in a race at Innichen, Italy in mid-January, and his only other top-10 placement was a seventh place finish at Val Thorens in France in December.
But you don’t do what he did in 2021 and just forget how to be great.
“It’s been a little tough, but I’m skiing fast and strong and I’m excited to turn it around on the biggest stage,” he said. “I know that I have the ability to win and I just need to make it happen. Honestly, I know that if I ski well, I’ll get a medal.
“I’m focused on skiing my best and doing everything I can make sure I can do that. If I do that and the results don’t come, then it was out of my control.”
Once he’s in China, Howden will be faced with the spectacle that is the Olympics. An average World Cup event will pale in comparison to the world’s biggest sporting event, and some top athletes find it difficult to maintain their focus.
But Howden believes it will be possible to enjoy the experience while keeping his eyes on the prize.
“We’re there for quite a while, so it’s okay to get sidetracked a little bit,” he explained. “You get there and you have 10 days and you don’t want to spend that entire time milling over the race. I’ll take in the experience and enjoy it and once I start getting out there for training runs on the track I’ll settle back into competition mode.
“I’m going to try to time it to where I’m ready to go on race day.”
The big day for Howden is Feb. 18, but for watchers back home the time change means they’ll want to stay up late Feb. 17.
Men’s ski-cross seeding will start at 7:45 p.m. followed by knockout runs that culminate with the ‘big final’ around midnight.
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