Just before the 2010 Winter Olympics came to town, then-10-year-old Reid Watts and his father headed up to the Whistler Sliding Centre to check out the new facility and see where the athletes would be competing just a few short months into the future.
That simple father-son activity was Watts’ first exposure to the sport and sparked an obsession that he has carried with him to this day.
“I was blown away by watching the sleds and the speeds they were carrying at the bottom of the track. I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” said Watts, who convinced his dad to sign him up for the brand-new development program that was being started at the Sliding Centre.
“It was super cool. It was unlike anything I’d ever really done, and it was just the speed that kind of drew me in. Of course, they start you in a lower starting position, but it was still good enough to get speeds of up to, like, 70 kilometres an hour, and I was just hooked with the speed.”
From there, Watts started competing in local events around Whistler and in Calgary until the age of 14 and 15, when he began competing in more serious international competitions with the Canadian Junior National Team. He graduated to the full National Team when he was 17.
Now 23, Watts is in line to represent Canada for the second time when the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics roll around next month.
In his first Olympic appearance at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, Watts, at just 19 years old, was able to navigate the new high-stakes experience—and all the added pressures and nerves that come with it—into a 12th-place finish, which is something he still considers to be his best performance ever.
“That was an unbelievable experience, and it was super special being able to put it all out there when the pressure was really on,” he said, looking back on the different energy an Olympic race day has versus any other race.
“I remember going to bed [the night before] and I was just in a good place. I had really good training runs, I was feeling confident, thinking it was just going to be another race. But as soon as I woke up, there was just this feeling that wasn’t like your normal race-day nerves. The only way I can really describe it was electric. And it was just such a great feeling, so I’m really glad I could pull through and have a great performance when it really mattered.”
Watts describes the four years since PyeongChang as having “more downs than ups.” And with this season’s World Cup results not living up to what he was expecting of himself, Watts finds himself in a similar situation to the lead up to the last Games, uncertain about his sliding but hoping to piece it all together when it matters most.
Luckily for the Whistler native, there are two more World Cup stops before the Games where he can focus on working out the kinks in his sliding before stepping into the Olympic start gate.
“With the World Cup tour kind of being a travelling circus with a new race every weekend, that’s always been a good way to reset. That track is behind you, take the positives out of the mistakes and you hit the reset because every new track presents new challenges, new opportunities, so that’s kind of the way I’ve been going about it,” he said.
“We’ve had to learn a few lessons, some the hard way. I’ve seen speed in one run, made mistakes in the other, [and] there’s been some sled setup issues I’ve been battling with—but this is all just big picture right now. These next two World Cup races are going to decide the starting order for the Olympics. So it’s time to really put it down, feel good in my sliding, feel confident, pull the best starts I can and get ready for the show.”
At the start of the season, Watts had his Olympic sights set on being firmly within the top 10. However, with the start to the season he’s had, his mindset has shifted from rankings-based goals to simply enjoying the moment, trusting his training and sliding the best he can when the opportunity arises in February.
“It’s all about just trusting the process of the last four years and really just coming in with a mentality of ‘the work is done, now it’s time to stay calm, be in the moment, and just enjoy it the most I can,’” said Watts.
“The whole target I’ve really been looking at [is] these Beijing Olympics. So the end result is the same—just go out there, put my best effort forward and really show the world what I can do.”
This article is part of a series of profile stories highlighting athletes heading to the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games, or those who hope to make it there. For others go to piquenewsmagazine.com.