Each and every athlete at an Olympic Games has a goal he or she hopes to reach.
For many, it's a medal, ideally gold. But for others, they're simply looking for a new personal-best result, or to knock off a rival, or, at the heart of it, a sense of justification that the past four years of hard work was worth it.
Many will get what they went for, whether they are tangibly rewarded or not. Others, though, will have the dual emotions of falling agonizingly short but being close enough to get themselves up for another challenge in four year's time.
For some, however, there's not a whole lot to take from their performances.
After taking four medals over the course of the BMW IBSF World Cup, including a two-man win here in Whistler, bobsleigh pilot Chris Spring entered the recent PyeongChang Olympics with the hopes of winning his first medal in his third Games. Instead, he had to settle for a 10th in the two-man and a 16th in the four-man.
Over coffee at Camp in Function Junction, Spring described the difficulty of returning home after struggling with the world seeing a non-medal winning performance, and then having to talk to well-meaning but unaware folks asking about his Games experience. He likened the experience to a music festival.
Said Spring: "It's more than just the music. There's a feeling there that's so difficult to recreate anywhere else. The day after the music festival, if you have to go back to work or resume normal life, whatever that is for you; it's really difficult to get over, at least for the first day or two.
"The difficult thing about the Olympics is that it's a music festival that only comes around once every four years."
That, and getting in takes more than just shelling out a few hundred bucks for a weekend pass. The drive to reach the Games is highlighted in almost all the media broadcasts of the day, where the story of athletes working tirelessly for years for a shot at their dream is a compelling one.
"When people... find out that I was just at the Olympics, the first question they ask is 'How did you do?' I can't fault them for it, because they're genuinely interested in how I did. (But) when you don't have a great performance, it's tough to talk about that."
Even now, Spring has to quickly decide whether or not to mount a challenge for gold in 2022 in Beijing. Many athletes are already outlining their road maps to get there, even though there are no guarantees they'll win, let alone qualify.
"People think that the Olympics is every four years but for us, it's every day," Spring said.
With 29 medals, 2018 was Canada's most successful Winter Games, and it's easy to know how to welcome home the returning conquerors.
But how about those who struggled, those who saw their dreams dashed so publicly? Sure, given the level of public funding allotted to Olympic athletes, there should be some level of, for lack of a better term, accountability. It's a results business after all, but we should remember that there are only three steps on each podium.
I imagine that when you look at pretty much any athlete who didn't quite achieve what he or she was hoping the greatest criticisms he or she experiences will come from between their own ears.
People often think the life of a World Cup athlete, travelling the world to places like Germany, Austria and South Korea, is all glitz and glamour. But in his frank comments, Spring reminds us that it is in fact a life living with roommates with little opportunity to explore other cultures away from the track. Time competing is spent away from family and friends, and even time at home isn't always quality time, thanks to intense training, workouts and even dietary restrictions.
It's not hard to see why some athletes wonder if it's worth it—even for those who are triumphant in the end.
But that doesn't mean there aren't benefits on and off the field of play. Spring recalls the friendships he's made, and the languages and life lessons he's learned over the course of his career.
Whistler's Marielle Thompson is another athlete who had a tough experience at the 2018 Games. The defending ski-cross champion was a long shot for the Games after suffering a serious knee injury in pre-season training, but through sheer willpower brought herself back to get to PyeongChang. Thompson was in gold-medal form during training, winning the seeding race, but she clipped a competitor mere seconds into her first heat and couldn't recover after falling (Canada still took the top two spots, with Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan winning gold and silver, respectively).
Serwa said Thompson's recovery was "incredible," especially after having been through a similar situation herself earlier in her career. She sympathizes with her teammate as well.
"I've been on both sides," she said. "We acknowledge everyone's accomplishments and we're supportive of one another."