PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Wow. That is all I can say. It was a whirlwind of emotions competing in the Olympics as a part of Team USA for my first time. I distinctly remember standing in the start gate overwhelmed with immense pride. I was proud of myself for achieving my dreams. I was proud of my family for standing by my side throughout this chaotic journey. I was proud of my teammates and honored to ski alongside them. I was proud of every competitor for wearing the Olympic rings on their race bibs, and most importantly I was proud to represent the best country in the world.
I looked deep into the mogul course that lay in front of me and whispered to myself, "Embrace it." The first competition day, my nerves consumed my pride and my performance was a mere reflection. I put unnecessary pressure on myself and unfortunately skied to a 22nd place, which meant I would need to ski in the second qualifier to earn my spot in the top 20 finals. Even in training the next day, I wasn't skiing the way I can. That night, after some intense visualization and recovery, I planned to make the necessary tactical adjustments on the top air landing to earn a better score. But perhaps more importantly, my mentality had shifted for the better. The angst in my eyes turned to confidence, because I realized the day I had dreamt about since I was 9 years old was finally here. I accepted that nerves were just apart of the deal. I embraced them with everything that I had. The roar of the crowd sent a chill running down my spine as I saw American flags waving against the falling snow. I was having so much fun. In fact, I was having the time of my life.
My fists pumped up and down as I crossed the finish line because I knew I had just nailed it. That feeling is something I will always hold onto. The feeling of redemption. After my poor performance on day one, nothing felt better than to face the adversity head on and come back stronger. My name flashed across the big screen in first place and I grinned from ear to ear as I looked back to spot my family cheering their hearts out.
After discussing with my coaches, I knew I had more to show the world. I proceeded to ski the best I had skied all week in my first finals run and my confidence was only growing as I had qualified for the second final (top 12 skiers). Standing at the top I knew I had nothing to lose and I gave it everything. A small step out on my bottom air landing cost me a spot in the super final and although it's tempting to wonder what would have happened had I not done that, I have no regrets. I had a spectacular time at my first Olympics and my results only leave me hungry for more in 2022. This is just the beginning for me. I have never felt more blessed and grateful for the countless people that believe in me. I am an Olympian today. I am an Olympian forever.
Moguls skier Tess Johnson, 17, of Edwards, is a member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, finishing 12th in the moguls finals Feb. 11. She is writing columns for the Vail Daily about her Olympic experience.