x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

What's it like ... to be a downhill skiier

At international level, the great skiiers live by a code: "To be good, you must be willing to risk and to be great, you must be willing to risk it all."

If you are above average intelligence, like wearing a skin-tight suit, paper thin gloves and a bucket on your head, well, you might be just right for downhill. Looking back on those years, I realise how lucky I was to have walked away without serious injury. When I raced, equipment and technology was far inferior to what it is today. But one thing that has not changed is the adrenaline rush you experience when you explode out of the starting gate.

But at international level, the great skiiers live by a code: "To be good, you must be willing to risk and to be great, you must be willing to risk it all." On race day, you find yourself side-slipping the mountain, inspecting the gates, finding reference indicators such as a tree. The course isn't laid out until the day of the race and you only get one chance to inspect the course. Next, I would visualise the course, close my eyes and ski the course over and over in my mind.

As the time approached for me enter the starting gate, I could feel the adrenaline rush building. The moment you hear your name called, your heart begins race. You try to stay calm. You try everything to keep loose. You shake out your muscles, you stare down the hill, recalling every turn, bump and jump. The starter gives me a touch and that's when I had the sudden urge to use the bathroom, it always happened to me.

The countdown starts. Your body begins to move back and forth with every number, your fingers grip and re-grip the ski-poles, you suck in more air, you want all your energy directed down the hill. The start is very important. The top is where you need to find speed, you let the skis run freely, control your breathing and settle into a tuck position. As your speed increases, your reaction time is reduced, you rely on reference points, you're thinking two or three gates ahead. Now comes a compression zone and jumps, a late pre-jump will force you back on the tail of your skis and an early pre-jump, might result in a nose-dive at 100mph - not good. Try to remain in a modified tuck. G-force and compression will force your body down making it difficult to maintain your form. Oh yeah, don't forget to breathe.

The finish line is in sight. You have to figure out how to stop. It amazes me that the spectators assumed I could stop. If they only knew how many times I didn't know if I could. Mike Young has won four gold, two silver and one bronze medal in the downhill, giant slalom, super G and slalom categories at the World Police Games. He is a photo editor at The National.