Winning both the Steep Creek Championship and the Down River Sprint this past weekend at the Teva Mountain Games, Kiwi Mike Dawson showed the rest of the world that he’s ready for the big games—the Olympic Games, that is. We caught up with Dawson between races about his upcoming debut at the London Olympics in August; his equally-badass girlfriend, Martina Wegman, who swept all women’s kayaking events; and how he tries to close the gap between slalom kayakers and creek boaters.
You’ve been doing pretty well this weekend. Do you normally sweep the Teva Games?
No way. The first year I came and won everything. I arrived the second year thinking I would just rock out and get the check. Well, I got smoked. I find that if I’m too confident going into an event, I’ll blow it. I do my best when I go in thinking, It’ll be hard, but I want this.
So is that your mentality for the Olympics?
Exactly. It’s anyone’s race. If I go in there thinking it’s going to be easy, I’ll get killed. But if I can perform to the level that I’m capable of, it should be sweet. Otherwise it will be a fun time partying.
How are you using the Teva Games to prep for the Olympics?
In the last few weeks, I’ve been on 16 different flights, so I needed a break from the monotony of training and the stress of the games. The Teva races are full on, but they’re a different kind of race than what I’m used to. The real practice I’m getting is with the cameras, the media, the money, and loud commentary. It’s not the Olympics, but there are just as many distractions. And at the Olympics, it’s going to be 20 times as big.
This will be your first Olympics. Are you nervous?
Four years ago, I was in trials for the Olympics and though I could’ve easily made it, I choked. I’m not going to let that happen again. Ever since I blew it, I’ve been focusing on my run and not getting intimidated by all the action.
So do you think you’re ready?
Yes. I’ve made some changes in my training and my lifestyle so that I won’t mess it up again. This past year, I’ve paddled better and more confidently than ever before.
What kind of changes did you make?
I make sure I’m enjoying the water, even if that means training less, and doing the things that I love, like going to Vail for a week. Most slalom kayakers wouldn’t even think of taking a week off in the middle of the season. My mentality is that if you feel good, you pull harder, and if you pull harder, you go faster. Your sport should never be your job. You can get paid to do it, but it should never become your work.
This mentality is quite different from other slalom kayakers. Why so?
I try to mix between slalom guys and creek boaters, which is unusual. In most countries, slalom and creek boating are segregated because slalom paddling is so competitive and strict. In New Zealand, everyone is about the same thing—getting out on the water and having fun. That’s how it should be, because in reality, we’re all after the same rush.
It sounds corny, but harvesting the power of the water is a special feeling and that’s what all paddlers want.