The preparation before the race is important to set the tone. “The day before competition, you’re already pretty zoned into your competition and what you have to do. Then once the warming up starts, you really start to focus and repeat what you’re going to do at the start of the race in your head.”
The Dutch four man bobsleigh team qualified for the Olympics on 18 January at the World Cup, after initially failing to meet the requirement, but later being nominated by the Dutch Bob and Sleigh Federation due to their perseverance through Covid-19 and injuries, “As soon as possible, we had to get to the Dutch Olympic Training Center to start a holding camp so we wouldn’t be in contact with any other people due to corona. From there on, it was just getting sleds ready, shipping them out to China and receiving the Olympic kit. Those days were pretty surreal, because everything happened so all of a sudden that you couldn’t really prepare yourself mentally, especially because it’s been a really long and tough season.”
Ready to go
The next step includes putting on your gear. “Once you finish your warmup, you’re all ready to go. We get to the changing room and we put on our race suits.”
Bobsleighing runs in Jelen’s family, his father was a two-time Olympian athlete for Yugoslavia in 1984 and 1998. Both Jelen and his brother, Janko, did several sports growing up, and while their father was an inspiration to them it was not always on their minds, “Growing up we weren’t like ‘oh, we’re going to be bobsleighers and we’re going to go to the Olympics’. It was mostly like, maybe we’ll do that in the future. It was never something specific because we live in the Netherlands and there’s no mountains here, so it isn’t really a popular sport.”
Jelen pursued different athletics and while his brother was noticed for weightlifting, “they reached out to him because they saw him at his weightlifting event, and from there on, he got into the team and then, the real Olympic dreams started for him. And right when that started for him, it started for me as well.”
In the zone
“Once you put on the helmet and walk out when you feel hyped and adrenaline filled walking towards the start, you have no thoughts on your mind anymore except for the route. You’re completely in the moment, there’s nothing before. Nothing after”.
The ‘zone’ is something that Jelen now masters after years of training. “It’s like second nature. You learn to handle and cope with things much better. The nerves don’t disappear. You just know how to handle certain emotions at certain times.”
What helped stem this severe self-discipline are a multitude of aspects, but most importantly a lesson he learned through training. “I read a few books when I was 17, and one of them was by Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich. The main thing that I got from the book, was that you can achieve anything as long as you deeply believe in it and work for it. When you’re fully committed to something, believe that you can obtain it and do everything in your power to obtain it, then anything can become reality”.
Once they jump in the sleigh, it’s everything they’ve prepared for, “In the start we hit the sleigh and then we accelerate the sleigh and you have to jump in just before the first corner and then it’s all autopilot. It’s just doing what you’ve done so many times and giving all your effort.”
Jelen also rushes through life outside of the Olympics. “I’ve always been active in a lot of different areas, like school, career wise, socially. When I had school for the whole day and then finished at 3 pm, then I would work from four to eleven. Then, instead of going home and sleeping, I went out with friends. So I’ve always done a lot of things simultaneously.” However, due to the Olympics his focus has shifted. “At the moment it has just been fully focused on the Olympics and I totally put aside school and work. I want to finish my bachelor’s degree and then I want to do a master’s degree, maybe finance and investments or management of innovation.”
While bobsleighing has a very clear path, Jelen’s life could take different routes. “It’s a bit weird because now that I’ve reached this level, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Bobsleighing is a tedious sport and to be a bobsleigh pilot you need years of experience”.