FORT WAYNE – Theyd probably do it anyway, given everything. But these days, when fellow athletes ask her about competing in the Olympic Games, Amy Yoder Begley says the obvious.
Go to the opening ceremonies, she says.
Its a no-brainer with some thought behind it.
That way, you get used to being in front of a crowd that big, she says. Unless you go see what its like to be in front of a crowd that large, youre not going to be prepared for the experience. That way, when you compete, its not the first time youve been in front of 90,000 people.
Good advice when youre getting ready to compete on a stage so big and so out of the realm of any previous experience that it sometimes throws even the bodys natural rhythms out of whack.
Begley found that out in 2008 in Beijing, after qualifying for the 10,000 meters in the trials. Not many people figured that would happen for Begley, a 1996 East Noble graduate who was 30 then and seemed to have missed whatever mystical window exists for elite athletes. Even she wasnt sure when her coach, legendary marathoner Alberto Salazar, kept telling her to stay with an inordinately slow pace as the trials 10,000 unfolded.
Eventually, she went, and just in time. Covering the final 800 meters in 2 minutes, 20 seconds, she finished third behind Shalane Flanagan and her friend Kara Goucher, beating the qualifying standard by a mere second.
Then it was on to Beijing, and an experience like no other.
Its definitely incredibly overwhelming, Begley says. Ninety-thousand people in the stands, its at night. When you show up for your event, theres four different call rooms, and each call room has a different thing. One call room you check in, another you they check your equipment, the next call room they check your bib and the next call room you change into your spikes. Its like an hour-long process before you even compete.
And, yes, the enormity of it, and the time change, and the fact you dont have your usual coaches with you and youre out of your normal training routine, can do weird things to you physically. For Begley, who suffers from celiac disease – the inability to tolerate gluten – it meant having a menstrual cycle for the first time in nearly five years.
The doctors told me that is very, very common for women, she says. Everything is on a bigger level than youve ever experienced in your life, and your body just kind of goes nutty.
And after the anticipation, its over quickly. Begley never got it going in Beijing, finishing 26th in the 29-runner field. And yet the 25 laps of the 10,000 seemed to go by in a blur.
It went really, really fast, Begley says. I wish I could have gone back and done a few different things there. When I got done I was hoping I would be back for another one. At the time, I never thought I wouldnt be back at 2012.
But stuff happened. After Beijing, Begley, a 16-time All-American at Arkansas, won the USA outdoor 10,000 in 2009 and 2010 and finished sixth at the 2009 world championships.
Then nagging Achilles tendon problems necessitated surgery last October, and complications in January and March sidelined her altogether.
Now she waits to heal, hoping eventually to draw on her Beijing experience.
I learned from the experience, she says. The first time you go do something its overwhelming.