You know, it didn't really sink in that I was interviewing a silver medalist. I mean, wow! That's huge! It's kinda like me interviewing Mike Ribeiro after his amazing training camp, when he was extremely in demand.
I got to touch Cecilia Anderson's medal. It was heavy, and it was real. It's one of those gratifying moments of being a sportswriter. Of being a journalist, actually. There is nothing more gratifying than sharing someone's joy, sadness, efforts... and telling the whole world about it. That's what I love about journalism.
I am totally a feature writer. LOL
I still have to write a news article (600 words) on Cecilia Anderson and Team Sweden's victory. It's half done because of my work for the feature. But then again, the feel and format has to be completely different.
Here's my finished feature, all 2000+ words of it. Ignore the last part. I needs to be filled in by the editor ;) There's also no headline as of yet. I'll post the final/published version as soon as it's out :P
Cecilia Anderson was back in town this week after a successful Olympic experience with Sweden’s women’s hockey team. The silver medallist took time out of her schedule packed with interviews and presentations to share her thoughts with The Link.
“To beat one of the top two teams,” exclaimed Anderson, “it’s awesome!”
Sweden surprised fans and critics alike with a shootout victory against Team USA, but Anderson knew all along that they would make it to the gold medal game.
“The funny thing was that I had a feeling a couple weeks before,” she said. “I was closing my eyes, and I just saw everyone skating out on the ice, so excited that we won the semi-finals. I had no idea who we were going to play against, but I knew we were going to win.”
Walking into the stadium for the opening ceremonies is when it truly hit her that she was at the Olympics. “It was like a rush going through my whole body,” said Anderson. “There were so many big things happening around us. First off, walking in was just amazing. Pavarotti singing was pretty big; it’s not everyday you get to see him singing live.”
Anderson almost missed one of the most celebrated traditions of the opening ceremonies, but she caught herself in time. “The Olympic flame was cool except that I was looking in the other direction, because of the way we were sitting. So I missed it when she lit the big flame, but I turned around and I saw it after,” she laughed.
Living in the Olympic village was also quite a thrill. Usually, she has a roommate, but as a goalie in such a crucial competition, she was privileged with her own room. The best part for Anderson was dining in the same restaurant as other athletes, sitting side by side with the front-page grazers. “The coolest part is that you see Mats Sundin, you see Martin Brodeur, but they’re here to play in the same tournament that you are”, marvelled Anderson. “It’s cool to see them, but at the same time they’re there with the same goal. They want to get an Olympic medal.”
To Anderson, the hockey games were just that – games. “The thing is, I wasn’t nervous at all. It was just fun. It just felt like another tournament,” said Anderson. “It’s just a hockey game. We know we’ve played against [these teams] before, we know we can play hockey, so lets just go out there and do it.”
Team Sweden had an average age of 22 years old, with two players being sixteen years old. In fact, only eight players had previous Olympic experience. “We were 20 rookies, in a sense. We were trying not to make it a big deal, so we wouldn’t get nervous. We wanted to play well, and if you’re nervous you might not play well,” she said.
During the shootout at the end of the semi-final game, 23-year-old Anderson became a silent leader on the bench as teammate Kim Martin faced the American shooters. “The people around me were so nervous,” she explained. “I had one girl whose legs were shaking and another was sitting on the floor. I think that since they were so nervous, I needed to be calm to calm them down.”
“I love penalty shots. I prefer to be in the net than on the bench, because then I can do something about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so calm in my body, in my life, at all.”
“When you start, you focus more on yourself than on your teammates,” Anderson explained. “When you’re the backup, you have to focus on yourself, but at the same time, you have to focus on the other players because you’re going to push them, you’re going to help them, you’re going to see if there’s anything they need.”
As the starter against Italy, the host team, Anderson had to face a unique kind of pressure. “No one cheers for you, everyone is cheering for Italy!” described Anderson.
“It’s really cool to have played against the home nation,” she said.
“It was really exciting to finally get to play, and not just being a backup.”
Starting against Team Canada, one of the most talented women’s hockey teams in the world, came as a surprise to Anderson. “I was lying in bed with my Sudoku, as usual,” she giggled, “and the coach came in and knocked on the door and said, ‘You’re starting against Canada tomorrow in the Olympics.’”
“I wasn’t nervous, I was pretty excited,” she recalls. “I wanted to play as much as possible.”
“It was a game I really didn’t expect to start.”
When asked how she dealt with the pressure, Anderson replied, “One thing I have learned, something my goalie coach always tells me, ‘Don’t think, just play.’ So I just stand there and save the puck!”
“No matter what we do, people expect us to loose,” said Anderson.
CBC’s Geraldine Heany and Ron Maclean ripped Sweden apart for not starting their best goaltender in the game against Canada, claiming that they were not even attempting to bridge the gap between the two tiers. True, Sweden lost 8-1 with Anderson in nets. But thanks to a lot of training and a night of visualization, they rebounded against the Americans to reach the gold medal game.
Starting a few nights before the semi-finals, the coach started motivating the team. “[He told us] that you go home and close your eyes, and start seeing pictures in your head that you’re winning, we’re actually winning this game,” described Anderson. “We knew we could beat them.”
“When you set your mind to something, you can really do it. If there’s one percent of doubt in your head, it’s going to be hard to do it.”
The biggest game for Team Sweden was the first preliminary game against Russia. “We knew that if we beat them, we would pretty much have a spot in the semi-finals,” said Anderson. “That’s what we really wanted.”
Of course, the second biggest game, and the most surprising one of the tournament, was the semi-finals, because a victory would give them a chance to compete in the finals.
“It’s the semi-finals, but it’s just one game,” she stated. “Anything can happen, anyone can win. It’s only sixty minutes, and you have to perform those sixty minutes or you don’t win.”
“We can win a silver medal, but they can loose the gold medal,” replied Anderson when asked about her thoughts going into the finals. “So we have no pressure.”
Anderson believes that Sweden’s victory over the USA in the semi-finals changed the face of women’s hockey on the international scene. “It has always been Canada and the States. They’ve won everything, and been in all the finals.”
She hopes that Sweden’s silver medal will giver her sport a little more respect on the international scene.
“People have been saying that there’s only two teams in the world that can play hockey, and it’s Canada and the States,” described Anderson. “It’s good for women’s hockey to prove to other people that there’s more than two teams.”
Anderson believes there are many other good teams, like Russia and Finland.
“Finland was up 3-1 half way through their final game in the round robin,” she explained. “They’re a good team too, and they could have taken them, but they ran out of fuel in the last period.”
The difference between Sweden and those other teams was conditioning strengthening, and training. “We’ve been working really hard, so we were in good shape,” assured Anderson. “So we knew we could skate with Canada for sixty minutes. We could even play another game after!”
But training and conditioning isn’t everything. Anderson believes that teamwork is a key element to the success of any hockey team. “We had to believe it in our hearts,” she stated. “We play for each other and we don’t play for ourselves, that’s a big part too.”
“We’re willing to do anything for the team.”
To Anderson, being an Olympian means much more than being one of the best in the world in her sport. “Just to go [to the Olympics], you make a big sacrifice,” she explained. “But maybe to get the medal, you made more sacrifices than the team that ended up in seventh place.”
“In order to get the medal, you did something extra,” she assured. “There was something special that your team did that made you take that extra step.”
When asked to describe if there was anything that could surpass the feeling of being an Olympian with a medal, Anderson was at a loss for words. “I don’t know yet,” she said. “Not right now.”
“I’ve been through something pretty big, I just have to realize it myself,” said Anderson. “Everyone keeps telling me, but it still [hasn’t sunk in].”
Anderson attributes much of her success to her Stingers teammates and their support, especially during the last year. “They have a part of this medal too,” she assured. “I have it, but they helped me get it.”
“They have been practicing with me every day, they were shooting on me every day, they’ve been pushing me to get better,” she explains. “They’re my best friends here. It’s like my big family at Concordia.”
Stingers coach Les Lawton also played a big role, and although she did not get to confer with him during the Olympics, Anderson feels that she owes him a lot. “He’s really excited for me and proud [of me],” she said. “He’s been helping me a lot too. He’s an awesome coach, and if he wasn’t coaching me, I wouldn’t be here either.”
“There are so many people that have been a huge part of this.”
“It doesn’t matter than no one believes in us,” said Anderson. “It’s enough that the 20 people that are getting dressed and going out on the ice believe in each other and believe in [themselves].”
“When we play against Canada and the States, we always think to ourselves that we have everything to win and nothing to loose,” explained Anderson. “The only pressure we have is from ourselves.”
In the game against Canada, the Swedes were down 7-1 after the second period, and Anderson knew that they were not going to win. But that doesn’t mean that the team gave up. “We’re not going to make it easy for them,” she said. “We’re going to keep competing.”
Anderson’s parents were at the Olympic games, and were extremely proud of their daughter’s accomplishments. “When I lived in Sweden, we lived out near the water, far away from everything,” recalls the Väddö native. “So they had to drive me late at night, it cost lots of money and the gas wasn’t cheap.”
“They said, ‘I can’t believe all those hours we spent on those small roads… It’s so worth it! I can’t believe we’re sitting here at the Olympics, and when you were seven, we used to drive you to rinks everywhere.”
Once she finishes showing it off, Cecilia Anderson plans to keep her medal in a safety deposit box, away from thieves and prying hands. She will also be putting hockey aside for a while. She plans to visit her sister in Singapore and work there during the summer as a travel researcher. “I’m very interested in tourism,” said the Leisure Sciences major.
“For the last couple of years, everything in my head has been about the Olympics,” explained Anderson. “That’s all I’ve had. Now I need to make all these big decisions about what I’m going to do. I pushed it aside, and now I have to deal with it.”
Even if she treats Olympic games like any other tournament, Anderson knows that she had a rare opportunity to participate in a celebrated international competition. “It’s the Olympics, it happens every fourth year,” she justified. “This might have been my only chance, and I will take any chance I get.”
Take it from Anderson, all her sacrifices were very well worth it.
“I have the medal now. It’s going to be with me for the rest of my life. No one can take that away from me.”
Catch Cecilia Anderson and the rest of the Concordia Stingers in an exhibition game against the men’s football team at ***Call C. Grace for more info *** on Tuesday ***night/afternoon/morning. ***