Q&A with Mikaela Matthews
U.S. skier Mikaela Matthews is aiming for a spot on her first Olympic team as the 2018 PyeongChang Games move closer. Last season, she was ranked No. 14 in women's moguls on the World Cup circuit.
Earlier this year, we sent Matthews a list of questions. Here's what she had to say.
What's your earliest memory of mogul skiing?
It's hard to say what my earliest memory is. I've been skiing longer than I can remember. When I was about 5 years old, I was on an Alpine ski team. We were called the "Copper Mountain Mini World-Cuppers." I remember going to ski races with my friends and teammates and having a blast. After that, I lived in Denmark with my parents for a little over one year. While we were there, we took ski trips to places like Austria and France. I think it was on these trips that I realized my love for mogul skiing. When we moved back to the U.S., I joined a mogul team and skied with the same coach from when I was 8 years old until I qualified for the U.S. Ski Team at 17.
What's a typical training day like?
In the summer, I wake up around 6 a.m. and go to water ramp training at the Utah Olympic Park. This is where we practice our aerial maneuvers into water. I will jump there from 8-9:30 or so, and then make my way to the Center of Excellence (our gym). Depending on my workout that day, I would spend 1-3 hours there working out and doing PT.
On snow, we usually wake up relatively early and train on a mogul course for a few hours. Each day is different depending on what aspect or skill you are working on. After skiing we will do a light workout.
Do you set daily goals for yourself?
I journal a lot, and do my best to set one focus/goal for each day. I believe that humans are not good at multi-tasking, so I try to keep it simple. If I can achieve one goal each day, no matter how small, I am setting myself up for a very successful career.
What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
I think people would be surprised to hear that it's both a lifestyle and a balance. It's important to make sure that you practice healthy habits and that everything is working in harmony towards helping you achieve your goal, but it is also important to have other hobbies and sometimes "get away" from your sport. It's good to have balance.
Have you ever been seriously injured?
In 2014, about one month before the Sochi Olympics, I fell while training at the Lake Placid World Cup and shattered my humerus. I now have a nine-inch plate and 13 screws in my arm. It took (and still requires) a lot of physical therapy to keep my arm strong and feeling good. I also had a bit of a mental block about jumping when I returned to snow. It took a lot of time with a sports psychologist, and hundreds of repetitions, to finally feel comfortable on jumping again.
What’s something about mogul skiing that people don't normally see?
I believe that the hardest part of our sport might be the top air trick/exit. It's a really decisive part of the course, because if you make a major mistake, both the turns judges and the air judges can issue deductions. So it can be a double-whammy. It also sets you up for the middle section, and ultimately, the rest of your run. It's a really critical part of the complete run that may seem small and insignificant to a bystander.
Are there any misconceptions about mogul skiing?
Our sport is both judged and timed. We are also at a crucial point for the women's side of the sport. There are some of us that are working towards performing harder tricks (back fulls and cork 720s). Most women compete a 360 and a backflip. Currently, we are not being rewarded for pushing the sport. Because there are too few women throwing these harder tricks, the tricks are being judged against the men's standard. This isn't necessarily fair because the same does not happen for women's backflips. The degree of difficulty multiplier is not high enough to compensate for lower judges' scores. I believe our sport will flip soon. Each year there are more and more women competing these harder tricks, and I'm excited to see our sport become more aggressive and challenging.
Earliest memory of watching the Olympics?
One of my earliest memories of the Olympics was watching Johnny Moseley on TV at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He was the first person to really push our sport towards the inverts that we now throw. I remember after that, when anyone heard I was a mogul skier, they asked if I could do a "dinner roll." I was 10. I definitely could not.
Favorite memory of watching the Olympics?
My favorite memory is from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I was a rookie on the U.S. Ski Team, and my parents got me tickets to watch the Olympics for my birthday. It was at this event that my now-boyfriend (then just teammate) Bryon Wilson won the bronze medal in men's moguls. He was such an underdog, and his whole season was a whirlwind. It was awesome to see him standing on the podium. My family got offered tickets to the medal ceremony because we were cheering so loud. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it to the ceremony, but it was a very cool experience regardless.
What was the breakthrough moment in your career?
It wasn't until a couple years ago when I won the World Cup opener in Ruka, Finland that I realized I have what it takes to be the best in the world.
Did anyone ever tell you that you wouldn’t be able to succeed in mogul skiing?
I feel lucky to have been so supported throughout my career. I do remember at one event a coach telling me I couldn't win with a specific trick. I got frustrated by that statement and skied with fire and energy. I won the event.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There are two pieces of advice that I often refer to for mogul skiing. The first, when I was about 10 years old and scared to do a 360, one of my teammates told me to "just do it." It's such a simple concept, but is a good mentality. The hardest trick is always the first one — after that, it continues to get easier. If you can just get started, it gets easier.
The second piece of advice I received was from Hannah Kearney. She told me that you just have to "fake it until you make it." It works in multiple ways. If you aren't confident in yourself, fake that confidence until it becomes real. Also, being a judged sport, if you miss your takeoff on a jump, fake a good position upside down and sometimes the judges will still give you a good score!
Who are your biggest rivals?
It's tough because we travel and train as a team, but ultimately we compete as individuals. So often our biggest competition is also our roommate. For that reason it has to stay friendly. Or at least respectful. Nessa [Dziemian] and I can get a bit competitive with each other. Sometimes our personalities clash a little and we have different training styles, but we are still respectful and friendly.
Any pre-competition rituals?
At one of my first World Cup competitions at Deer Valley, one of my friends came to watch. Speed is a part of our score, so she brought sparkly nail polish and we painted our nails with "sparkles for speed." That night I skied to my first top-ten World Cup finish, and sparkly nails has been a tradition ever since.
On comp day I usually take a warmup run outside of the course, then two runs in the course. Right before my run, I put music in and turn the volume way up. I want it to be loud enough that I don't hear how the athletes in front of me are skiing. I don't want that to affect my run at all — I just want to ski my best run regardless. When I am five skiers out, I have my coach clean off my boots and put me into my skis. Then I tighten down all of my straps. When I am three skiers out, I take out my music and start to visualize. When I'm up next, I buckle my boots, then step into the gate.
Do you have another job aside from skiing?
I have a part-time job as a customer service representative at a local outlet mall. I also do some coaching for the younger generation of mogul skiers.
Who's your Olympic role model?
I would say Simone Biles is my Olympic role model. Obviously she is so dominant in her sport, but I like how humble she still is. And I really like that she didn't let the "norms" of her sport hold her back from throwing her own tricks and being the best.
Favorite perk of being an elite athlete?
I like that a standard "day in the office" is getting outside and being active. That's my job, and it's amazing.
Do you have a college degree?
I have an associate's degree from Colorado Mountain College. I intend to finish a bachelor's degree when I am done skiing. I also recently decided that I want to train service dogs. So I will take a class on that as well.
Any hidden talents?
I can juggle. I played the saxophone for a lot of years. I like to crochet. Do those count as talents?
Can you tell us something quirky about yourself that people would be amused to learn?
I really dislike bacon. I don't like how it smells or tastes.
Do you have a personal motto or inspirational quote?
There are a few I like, but skiing-wise, I like the quote "Time is the force that magnifies all the little, almost imperceptible, seemingly insignificant things you do every day into something titanic and unstoppable." Believing this, it's easier to get up early each day to go to training. It's easier to do that one extra jump, or remember to stretch after working out.