Brittany Crew still grapples with the weight of expectation after injury-marred Olympics


Canada’s Brittany Crew now admits her Tokyo Olympics, in which she failed to land a shot, was “the most difficult experience” of her sporting career. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images – image credit)

For athletes, expectations can be a funny thing. For some, they can motivate and drive them to succeed, to fill in the glorious detail of an already written script.

For others, the lofty predictions of others can be overwhelming, especially when things don’t go as planned. They can derail even the most promising careers.

That’s what happened to Canadian shot putter Brittany Crew.

When CBC Sports caught up with Crew recently on a sunny afternoon on the York University campus, the pain of what happened over a year ago at the Tokyo Olympics was still very much alive.

“It was the hardest experience I’ve ever had in my entire athletic career,” Crew said, tears streaming down his face.

“I felt embarrassed. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let everyone down.”

From the outside, Crew’s medal prospects looked promising heading into Tokyo. At the 2016 Rio Games she finished 18th and things have gone uphill since then. As of the summer of 2021, she was in the top 10 in the world, had enjoyed consistent success internationally, and held the Canadian indoor and outdoor records.

And that’s why many Olympic experts, predictive algorithms and Canadian sports officials were convinced that Tokyo would be a chance for Crew to reach the podium – or at worst to finish in the top 10.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Injuries strike at the worst time

But as had happened so many times in his career, Crew was never able to regain his health for the competitions that mattered most.

Tokyo was no different.

First it was a strained abductor muscle that was never properly diagnosed, then just months before the Olympics, a torn ankle, which left her training in a walking boot.

Outwardly she was devastated, but privately the wounds calmed an anxiety that wouldn’t go away.

“I don’t know why, but I felt relief because I didn’t know if I was going to perform well or not.”

She was considering withdrawing from the Olympics, but her coach encouraged her to go, and Crew acknowledges that she would have regretted skipping an event she had been training for all her life.

At the same time, despite high expectations, the 28-year-old knew many of her competitors were better prepared as injuries had significantly reduced her ability to compete ahead of the Games.

“There were a lot of things against me, but everyone still thought – or always had this expectation – that I should win a medal. Even Athletics Canada, right? I didn’t even need to hearing everyone say it. I felt it.”

WATCH | Pre-Olympic function on Crew:

Fight the nerves

It was never meant to be. Crew knew long before the women’s shot put event even started that a podium finish was unlikely.

“I was just nervous all the time. I went to see my coach at one point and was like, ‘I can’t calm down, I don’t know what to do. I can’t do this,'” remembers Crew. .

Crew says that from the moment she stepped into the humid air of Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, she knew it wasn’t going to happen.

“We did a lot of mental preparation before that. I worked with a mental performance coach for the whole year and it still didn’t help. I was shaking. I literally wanted to pick up my shoes after the warm-up. And just hide in a shell.”

Things came together quickly. None of Crew’s three qualifying shots counted and within minutes his Olympic run was over. More than a year later, she admits she basically gave up after realizing she couldn’t win.

“I did three fouls, yes, but I didn’t foul on those throws. I [purposely] I left them, because I was just very angry and embarrassed, which I now regret. I shouldn’t have done it, but what was a place for 20s going to do for me?”

Change life in search of competition

In the 13 months since Tokyo, Crew has struggled to define who she is and what she wants to do with her life.

One thing she knows is that despite everything that’s happened, she still wants to compete. But she recognizes that to succeed, she must change.

She returned to school to add much-needed structure to her life and to earn the necessary credits when she steps away from competition.

This has not been easy.

“I felt like a total loser after Tokyo and felt like I was not progressing at all in my life and there was no sense of accomplishment for me,” Crew said. “So I decided to take classes this semester and work to get into physio school.”

She also began to look inward, concerned with improving her health and nutrition, hoping that she could guard against the injuries that defined her career.

“I think maybe people just got tired of being there for me because I hadn’t changed, I wasn’t solving the problem or I wasn’t there, I wasn’t taking action.”

Aim to come out on top

That doesn’t mean it worked. Crew recently suffered another injury, a torn calf at the Commonwealth Games this summer.

At this point, no one would wonder if Crew called it a career. No one would question his desire to put aside disappointment and anxiety and move on with his life.

But for some athletes, it’s about pursuing their own expectations and goals.

For Crew, that means competing in the Paris Olympics in two years.

“I want my last track memory to be a good memory and I don’t want to go out like this,” Crew said. “I want to remember being happy in the sport and being the best.”

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