Jitloff Opens Up on Mental Trials of Ski Racing
American Tim Jitloff is no stranger to the ups and downs of ski racing. The 33-year-old American has experienced the highest highs, the lowest lows, and every emotion in between during a career that started when the Reno, Nevada, native first made the national team as a teenager.
After winning the World Junior combined title in 2005, Jitloff was pegged as a rising star in the U.S. program and had set some pretty lofty expectations for himself. World Cup wins, crystal globes, and Olympic and World Championship medals all seemed to be on the horizon. After several years of up and down results, however, Jitloff was left off the U.S. Ski Team roster at the end of last season. Now skiing as an independent racer on the World Cup, Jitloff is set to start in his second Olympic Games on Sunday in the men’s giant slalom.
In a recent interview with the Olympic Information Service, Jitloff candidly spoke about the significant mental challenges he and many of his fellow Olympians face day in and day out.
“Here you are doing this really wonderful thing, traveling around the world,” Jitloff said. “But you feel depressed because the pressure to perform beats you down, you feel relegated to a number or you are lonely. If you are 1.5 seconds off (the lead), that’s a blink of an eye, but you feel like less of a person.”
I can’t express enough how lucky I am to have my wife’s support through all these years of sport/life. Everyone just sees the highs, but hasn’t had to live through the lows like you. We have seen and done so much together. I am glad you are coming to support me in my last Olympic Games. Means more to me than any medal. Safe travels ✈️🇰🇷❤️ @anja_mlzr
Jitloff was 15th in the giant slalom at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and has finished in the top 10 on the World Cup circuit nine times during more than a decade spent in and around the top end of the sport. But he has often wondered whether it was all worth it.
“There have been at least three points in my career where I was going to hang it up,” he said. “It is a really tough lifestyle. At the low points there have certainly been times where it is hard emotionally and mentally to be feeling that great about yourself. A lot of guys work with mental trainers, I have worked with several who were more life-orientated and show you that in order to be a good athlete you should also be a complete person.”
For Jitloff, a chance encounter in a bar at the 2011 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, sparked a significant turnaround.
“At that time, I had said, ‘This is it for me’,” he admitted. “I was tired, it was over, it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Normally during a World Champs we would be locked away, focused and preparing but I just said, ‘I need to get out, experience one of these things.'”
Out toasting Canadian friend Erik Guay’s downhill gold medal, Jitloff met his now wife, Anja. Seven years later, she is the support he needs.
“When I was 21, 22, 23, skiing was everything,” he said. “If I had a bad day it was the worst thing ever. I have got more to the story now than just, ‘Hey, I am an athlete.’ But even now there are times I’ll get up in the morning and sit there going, ‘Man this is just really unenjoyable’.”
Jitloff and Anja are debating whether the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will mark the beginning of the end of his top-level sporting career. Either way, he does have some advice for any wannabe professional sportsmen or women.
“You have to have such a great support team,” he said. “You have to find a way to fight through the low points and I have had many of them, man.”