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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS ATHLETE JOURNAL (Updated Sept. 23): Women still have work to do after 2007 Worlds

Katie Downing Team USA

Wow. So all's said and done. There's the relief that for the moment, all of the work is done. There's also the disappointment that there's nothing more any of us can to do change the outcome. It's hard to describe all of the emotions that are going on at once, just within myself, much less among the entire group of us.

We all fell short of our individual goals, and we fell short of our goal as a team. But we've come a long way as well. Better is better, and progress is progress. This will be one of the longest days of our lives because it started before the sun came up, and we won't go to bed at all tonight since our shuttle leaves at 1:30 a.m. We'll travel for more than 24 hours straight. We'll have plenty of time to crash and plenty of time to mull over everything that's happened before we even get home. I'm pretty sure my match with China will keep interrupting any other thoughts that may try to cross my mind for a while.

Tonight will start a year long battle between the part of me that can be proud of a bronze medal and of the ways I wrestled well, and the part of me that can't be satisfied with a loss and has a lot of negative opinions about my performance today. The thing is, that negative voice inside can't get me anywhere better, I'm gonna have to work if I want things to improve. I'm sure later on, I'll have much more perspective on the whole situation, but this journal has been an account of what's been on my mind throughout the process, so it is what it is.

I really thought that this was the year that I was going to bring home some gold for us, but that did not happen. We did earn some medals this year, and we've moved up in the World rankings as well. It would be a lot easier to share seven golds, but everyone involved with this whole process has contributed to the success we did attain this year. There are a lot of amazing people in this sport, we all take part in something bigger than ourselves. Wrestling is a physical manifestation of the intangibles that make up the human spirit. The process of a World Championships is at times exhausting, dramatic, disappointing, and uplifting. No matter the outcome, I didn't want to be anywhere else in the world, doing anything else, with anyone else. I'll be driven all year knowing we have a chance to do it all again for Olympic Gold next time.

I'm tempted to write another whole section just to thank everyone I appreciate, but I won't do that to you guys reading this stuff. I'll sum it up by saying that I am grateful to everyone who came on this trip, and to several others at home, because they all contributed to my medal this year.

The only person I want to be sure to single out now is my coach, Levi Weikel-Magden. All of my coaches deserve a lot of credit, but Levi has spent a lot of hours one on one with me to improve me as a wrestler. He was there to go through the painstaking process of helping me make the little breakthroughs I had to make along the way. I usually have to practice something about a million times before I get it right. After that, it usually sticks though. He got to work through about a billion things in the past few months with me just to see a few key improvements. I am glad he's my coach and my friend. Now there's nothing left to do but to go home, recover a bit, and get back to work.

Saturday, Sept. 22

Let me just start off my saying Kristie is OK. Now I'm going to be a jerk and change the subject on you. We're done with the final weigh-ins, and I feel great. I've been hanging out with Bob Dylan on the bus a lot (sup Wuggy, miss you buddy!), but today I needed something soothing the way no one but Neil Diamond can do it. Turns out it was fitting that's what I listened to on the way to the arena this time, because that's where I met up with my dad. His tapes in the car were what introduced me to Neil in the first place. My dad got in late last night, and he figured out that he will end up on planes for a longer time than he spent in Baku by the time he gets back. He catches a shuttle to the airport again at 1 a.m. Monday morning, followed by the women wrestlers at 2:30 a.m. We'll be pooped when we get back for sure.

Our final results so far have been disappointing, but I have to say that I'm proud of the way we prepared. It wasn't for a lack of work that we've fallen short so far, but we certainly have some things to figure out as a team before next year. Looks like we'll have to finish strong tomorrow. I'm really feeling the best I've ever felt before a world championships, and Sara and Kristie both seem ready to go.

Each of us has a specific mindset that helps her perform to her fullest potential. Mine includes staying relaxed until go time, and keeping my focus narrow. Kristie's includes a crisis. Seriously folks, if you see her face all red and soaked with tears right before a big match, you can feel confident that she's about to kick some butt. It's amazing to me.

Another thing to factor into Kristie's training is a certain amount of clumsiness. Today she was under weight, and the story starts with a completely un-ordinary sip of cola. This sip apparently did not sit well with Kristie's tummy though. She went to the toilet thinking it was going to come back up. Instead, she slipped and smacked her head, splitting her eye (of course she did). So it's stitches for tonight, and steri-strips for tomorrow. This all happened about an hour before weigh-ins, by the way. Don't worry, she's completely fine, and now we all know Kristie's ready. Anyone would expect a certain amount of craziness to accompany an event as important as the World Championships, but with the women's wrestlers, it always seems to be a craziness that is much different than any kind of craziness anyone would anticipate. This is what our coaches live with every day, folks!

Friday, Sept. 21

A lot of things happened at the same time today. Stephanie battled all day long to earn fifth place this year. Jenny, Marcie, and Leigh have all weighed in, and the rest of us have done our usual weight maintenance.

It was all about cardio this afternoon for me. I felt really good, so I was rockin to my music, and absolutely annihilating my opponents in my mind. I look forward to tomorrow because a lot of the waiting game will be over for me, and because we'll have three of our women ready to fight for their chance to stand on the tallest box.

Jenny is always a contender, and she stepped up for us when we needed her. Marcie will be exciting to watch because she's really taken her wrestling to the next level this year. Leigh's style is part explosive and part funk, which should make for some good scrambles tomorrow.

Speaking of Leigh, let's talk about her packing skills. I pride myself in my ability to pack light, and to make my favorite full sized pillow disappear into my carry on bag, but Leigh takes it to a higher level all together. She packs how Mary Poppins would pack if she had rolling luggage. In Poland, Leigh brought a full sized coffee maker with the 12-cup carafe, a hammer, an umbrella, and still had room for several pairs of dress shoes!

Patrick Borkowski is our strength and conditioning coach at the Olympic Training Center, and he's been at our mat workouts at the venue. I like having him here. He sets the standard pretty high for us at home. Plus he's a competitive guy, and I feed off of his attitude.

Speaking of competitive people, Sara McMann started running on the treadmill as I hit the bike. Then the Chinese girl from her weight got on the treadmill next to her. I thought to myself, 'Ohhhh, this could get interesting!' I happen to know Sara very well, and I also happen to know that running can get her aggressive juices flowing as much as wrestling can. At that point, I knew that Sara could either be smart, or she could begin a sprint-fest to the death. It was up in the air there for five to ten minutes, but Sara finally chose to be smart. She hopped on the bike next to mine, let the Beatles sing her back into a good mood, and forgot about her opponent until it matters.

Thursday, Sept. 20

When I told people where Worlds were this year, many said something like, "Azebawhat?" Azerbaijan is at the northern end of what used to be known as Persia, and the southern end of what used to be the Soviet Union, which means Baku is right at a crossroads between East and West. There is Georgia and Russia to the north, Turkey and Europe to the West, Iran and the Middle East to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the East. Rocky hills rise near the Caspian, and lots of sand and dirt constantly blow in the sea winds. I'm thinking that a few people have a lot in this country, and that it comes from the several oil rigs we can see out in the Caspian from our hotel rooms. A lot of people have very little here, but take care of what they have. We see swarms of school boys and girls walking to school during our bus ride, and their white dress shirts are all impeccable.

Today is when it all starts for real. Stephanie Murata has weighed in, and will have had a fulfilling dinner by now I'm sure. I don't know what she had for dinner, but I know that she brought a hand-held blender with her, and she's been making tasty looking frozen fruit smoothies lately. We'll have a meeting tonight to cover final plans for Steph as she prepares herself for competition tomorrow, and to set the schedule for the rest of us as well. Tomorrow will be the busiest day of the whole trip because Steph will be doing her best and getting the momentum started on the mat for us, the next three weight classes will work out and weigh in, and the rest of us will get our mat workout and cardio as usual.

Oh yeah, I keep forgetting to mention that Sally now has a cow bell (of course she does!) that she bought at the airport in Zurich on the way over here. It's hanging on her gym bag, so now we always know where she is as we move from place to place as a group. The Iranians have their horns (dee-deedeedee-dee-dee-Iran, is what we hear all day). The Azerbaijanis have a drum section accompanied by what looks and sounds like snake charmer flutes. We have our quite vocal and energetic training partners . . . and a cow bell.

Wednesday, Sept. 19

Yesterday afternoon, we all got outside on the beach for a while before our workout. We had some king of the ring sumo matches (the winner stays in until someone beats him or her) down by the water.

Stephany Lee probably had the longest run, but the best matches had to go to Amy Borgnini over Coach Levi Weikel-Magden. Notice the 'es' after the word match; Amy reigned over Levi more than once in the ring.

After sand wrestling, we moved on to some beach volleyball. We had enough people for three teams, so we rotated. After the first round, Jenny Wong must have had enough of volleyball, because next thing we knew, she was over on some swings just living it up. By the second round, Jenny had recruited Mary Kelly over to the teeter-totter. Jenny is quite intimidating on the mat, but near playground equipment she's about as intense as a butterfly.

Today we went over to the venue to work out on the mats. It takes over half an hour to get there by bus, but it's worth the drive to get away from the noisy havoc of the venue to our hotel. It's good to get over to the venue early so that we can get accustomed to having a million things going on at once, the way it will be the day we compete. It also gives us a chance to get our bearings, to locate the nearest locker room and bathroom. It's important to get a taste of the event, the crowd, and the atmosphere of the place. As we sat in the stands to watch some of the wrestling, I tried to keep things in my mind light and easy, but it's impossible not to get excited and nervous for my upcoming wrestling or pumped up for our guys as they wrestle.

Now we're back at the hotel, and I'm in relax mode. Some people bring enough clothes to last an entire trip, and others stake out the nearest laundry facility. I like to bring detergent so that I can wash my clothes in the sink, one outfit at a time. I like to smell clean, but even more than that, I like to have a mindless task to do after each workout. It helps me unwind so that my body and mind aren't doing overtime when they should be recovering. Plus it makes my room smell good.

Tuesday, Sept. 18

We made it to Baku. I don't think any of us really knew what to expect from our travel through Istanbul and Azerbaijan, which is good because I'm sure very little of our day would have matched up with our expectations.

It's been a long day and a half of contrasts. Our airplane with Turkish Air had old school aqua blue leather seats, but modern flip-down TV screens. Right off of the plane in Istanbul, I saw a large group of women in full white, modest robes with their hair covered, and just down the hall I saw a woman with lots of dyed blonde hair, lots of cleavage, and a very little skirt.

We landed in Baku just before 4 a.m., and did a fair amount of waiting - for our luggage and for our visas. All in all, it went smoothly because only one coach's bag was missing, and everyone got visas and credentials. Only Coach Izzy is any worse for the wear for it because he got to stay up longer than the rest of us trying to work out the visa situation. It was 6 a.m. when my head finally hit the pillow, and I'm pretty sure I didn't move an inch until noon.

We were told that all women must wear pants here, or risk getting spit at or having rocks thrown at us. Then when we got to the hotel, they assured us that we didn't need pants around the hotel, but that we should always have some with us just in case.

We were supposed to meet as a team at 3, catch a bus to the venue to work out at 3:30, and catch a ride back around 8 p.m. The girls all met and gathered promptly and politely as we were told. Then a man from the hotel came over and pointed to those of us in shorts. He said, "No shorts, it is a shame to wear them." It looked like we were going to need to wear pants at all times in this hot weather.

The coaches and our team leader, Stan Zeamer, really got on the ball around here though. They had arranged for us to stay and warm up on the beach along the Caspian Sea right outside our door, and then to work out at a nice facility here on the hotel grounds. We went through a few more details about training and bus schedules, gear, passport info, etc.

Then Terry Steiner, our once loved and trusted leader, pointed at all of us and said, "You are all suckers!" Apparently the coaches got the hotel staff in on a joke on us about it being shameful to wear shorts. I'm going to put my shorts back on, and head down to the beach to warm up and plot a counter-attack on my coaches.

Sunday, Sept. 16

We're leaving Austria tomorrow. That's when some of the craziness will begin. We've been able to make our own schedule and do our own thing here. Our time here with good living and training conditions has fortified our reserves so that we'll be able to stay focused and relatively stress-free when we get to Baku.

Our coaches have talked to some of the people who are already there with the men's team to find out if we need to bring any specific foods or amenities like toilet paper with us from here. We're ready. We'll get in one more workout tomorrow morning before we begin our travels again. The best we can hope for is a smooth day of travel, and a bit of rest along the way since it will be early Tuesday morning when we finally get to Baku.

Here, we've been able to focus on what we need to do to be ready without worrying about scheduling around other teams' practice times, or worrying about other teams scouting us during our practices. Being in the middle of the World Championships and among all of our top competitors can be overwhelming. It will be our job to keep our energies concentrated on our training, and to simply do what we've got to do without giving everything else too much attention. So far we've been successful at bringing our optimal training environment with us. If our attitudes and mindsets shape our circumstances at Worlds, we'll perform at our best.

Thursday, Sept. 14

We wrestled hard yesterday in both practices, but today we were only on the mat once. Tomorrow we'll get in a few intra-squad matches. This afternoon the girls who could risk injury on the side of the mountain went rock climbing. The World Team members and a few others went on a marathon hike through the mountains. It was supposed to be just a long hour and a half hike, but the girls I hang with easily turned it into a three-hour tour. We saw some dogs and cats that we all had to pet, a blind snake we had to investigate, some goats we had to feed, and some cows with loud bells. We heard the bells first, and proceeded on a cow hunt. We found them enjoying their peaceful lunch, until we went over to pet and feed and generally harass them.

On one of the first overlooks, an Austrian wrestler with us pointed out the Rhine River in the distance and told us that the mountains on the other side were in Switzerland. We hiked up a steep grassy hill, and our wrestler-guide told us little kids trained on it for skiing. We passed all kinds of beautiful homes on picturesque hillsides. At the highest point of our trail, our wrestler explained that in the winter, we could ride a sled all the way back down into town. I'd guess it would be about a two-mile sled ride! Coming off of a good hard day of wrestling, it was great to get outside for our afternoon workout. It was a way to recharge and to clear my mind before matches tomorrow.

For the most part, we have a pretty compatible group of women and coaches on this trip. That means that we can bring our team environment anywhere we train. We can push each other on the mat, and generally get along with one another off of the mat. This team also has a certain dynamic between the team members. We've come to expect certain things from each of our teammates. Today was no different. Toward the end of our hike, we were all getting a little tired, and we came up on a little man-made basin of water and a bench to cool off and relax a bit. The trail is pretty narrow, so we all followed one another in ones and twos. Marcie Van Dusen leaned over the basin of water and stuck her fingers in as Mary Kelly came up on it. Marcie says, "Oh, there are little fish. Mary, come and see!" Mary walked right up to the basin and leaned in to look just in time for Marcie to scoop a handful of water into her face. Classic! The final mountain creature to add to our list turned out to be the mythical and elusive basin-fish.

Wednesday, Sept. 12

So we've arrived in Gotzis, Austria where we'll train for a week. It was a little sobering to realize that we traveled on September 11th, although we started on the 10th. Our long day of traveling amounted to something close to a modern day miracle. No one forgot their passports; no one's bags were far over weight; none of our flights were delayed, and all of our baggage arrived when we did. I have no tragic tales to tell about our journey to get here.

Early in the day, Kristie Marano did try to give her training partner, Steph Lee, a hard time about carrying around a stuffed bear. Then Coach Terry Steiner reminded Kristie that you don't have much room to talk about teddy bears if you usually travel with a Spongebob Squarepants pillow. Touche!

Gotzis is a small village with quaint cottages and shops, but there are enough of them all together that you could call the place a city. It's near the foothills of the Alps, not far from the Swiss border. In short, the city is everything you'd expect from Heidi and The Sound of Music all rolled into one place. There are mountain views, babbling brooks, with ivy and flowers everywhere. Under the street signs between our hotel and the gym are signs with a picture of two wrestlers and the words 'wrestling room west.' It's my kind of place!

Everything in the hotel and the wrestling facility looks like it came straight from an Ikea catalogue. We've only had two workouts so far. This morning, we rolled around and drilled enough to shake off the plane and bus rides. This afternoon, we played a game and got some individual work done, and ended with some sauna time. No one feels the best during the first workout after a long trip, but overall I'd say everyone is feeling pretty good. We'll get down to wrestling hard again by tomorrow.

Now that we're all here, and in our last push before the World Championships, I want to take this time to acknowledge how much it takes to get us all here. For the last few months, I've thought about wrestling non-stop, and every moment of my time was planned around what my wrestling required of me mentally and physically. Now that we're here with nothing to do in the afternoon, I realize how fortunate we are to do what we're doing.

We send a full team of women, freestyle guys, and Greco-Roman wrestlers, along with training partners for each person on the team, a trainer, refs, team leaders, a sports psychologist, and a slew of coaches. This means that someone had to work hard to get gear for us all, and someone else had to make all of the travel arrangements for all of these people coming from all over the country. Ever since we determined our World Team, we've had several coaches in to work with us. When you're used to having one or two coaches all year, having several of them intensely focusing only on you, it can be intimidating at first. I began to realize that together, I have all of the tools I need to be successful next week on the World stage.

I had one coach constantly building me up and giving me positive thoughts. One coach gave me all of the technical and strategic information I could use. Another coach pushed me to dominate more, to push myself harder, to find a way to score. And one coach was there when I was tired and helped me ignore my fatigue and to refocus only on what I had to do to score.

Then there are the training partners. It's tough to be the No. 2 or No. 3 girl in the room. I've been there too often myself. You have to deal with the disappointment of being just short of your goal, and also train as intensely as everyone going to Worlds. I want to thank all of the girls from 63 to 72 kilos that helped me in my practices. My training partner, Randi Miller, got to endure me stuffing, pushing, pulling, and snapping her head down about a million times in the last few months. I appreciate the tough job the training partners have, but as they go through the process of the World Championships with us, they are also given an opportunity to get ready for when it's their shot.

Finally, we each have our own support system that helps keep us sane, and who still love us even when we do get a little crazy. My family and my hometown are my cheering section. They have loved me enough that no matter where I go, I can still feel them with me. Many of my closest friends are either here, or were with me during training. Just recently my support system got a huge boost when my fiancée, Joe Cygan, moved from Lake Placid to Colorado. He helps me stay strong and makes me better.

Monday, Sept. 10
Most of the female World Team members and our training partners live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. We have one more practice this morning before we take off for our trip to the World Championships. We'll drive up to Denver, fly over to Minneapolis, then Amsterdam, then Zurich, then drive to a training facility in Austria. We'll train there for a little less than a week to let our bodies recover from traveling and acclimate to the new time. Then we'll travel to Baku in time for the first weight classes to get ready for weigh-ins. I weigh-in the last day, so my time in Azerbaijan is about pacing myself.

Our summer has been a busy one. It began at World Team Trials, then the No. 1 women at the Olympics weights competed at Pan-Ams in Brazil, then women at the non-Olympic weight classes had a special wrestle-off to determine the true No. 1s, then finally the entire World Team traveled to compete at the Warsaw Cup. Our World Championship preparations included lots of travel and competition, intense training, lots of sweat, some team bonding, and a little bit of drama. These are all of the things that go into a team of women getting ready to take on the World.

Today will be a really long day once the traveling starts, but this group has done its share of international navigation. I don't expect that anyone will get too stressed out by the inevitable complications that will arise. We are a group of teammates that believe in one another and are excited for our shot at a World title. Many of us are also good friends, so our trip will surely bring about some incredible wrestling as well as some good laughs.

I already know that Sally Roberts is going to be my roommate when we get overseas. We've roomed together before, so I know that although we probably won't have any TV stations in English, I will still get the Sally Channel 24-7. She is, at any moment, liable to break out in song and/or dance. She is also capable of wandering off into her own little world for a while as she makes her belly button also sing and/or dance. Anyone who knows Sally has surely seen a Sally show before.

Thanks to my coaches and teammates, I am well-prepared, so I am ready to get down to business at Worlds. I also love many of my teammates, so I also look forward to sharing this experience with them.
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