Barnesville High grad aiding U.S. Olympians

Maintaining a mental edge.

It’s something all athletes strive for.

Whether you’re a youth basketball player or a professional athlete making millions of dollars, possessing the right mental focus can mean the difference between first and second place.

No group of athletes know this more than our United States Olympians, who, today, take part in the Closing Ceremonies of the games of the XXII Winter Olympiad in Sochi, Russia.

Looking on with pride from her home in South Jordan, Utah with her sons, Logan and Elias, will be Nicole Detling.

Detling, a 1993 Barnesville High School graduate, spent the past two weeks at the games working as sports psychologist for the U.S. Ski Team, specifically it’s freestyle aerialists. She also assisted short track speedskater Jessica Smith and ski jumper Jessica Jerome.

”It was amazing,” said Detling, the daughter of Rev. Tom and Bonnie Detling. ”What’s not to love about the Olympics.”

This was Detling’s second time working with American Olympians through her private practice – HeadStrong Consulting. She also attended the 2010 games in Vancouver, Canada.

”It’s the most amazing feeling in the world,” she said of working with the athletes. ”I feel like they’re all my kids in a way.

”When you help them succeed you feel this joy in your heart and this pride in your chest. You feel incredibly elated for them.

”It’s greater than my own success was.”

After graduating high school, Detling attended Ohio Wesleyan University where she earned her undergraduate degrees in psychology and sports science. She also played basketball and ran indoor/outdoor track. She then moved on to Ithaca College where she received her Masters’ Degree in sports psychology and served as a graduate assistant basketball coach.

Finally, Detling attended the University of Utah, where she earned her doctorate in the field. While there, she interned at the prestigious Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minn.

Detling currently works as a professor at the University of Utah, in addition to her private consulting work.

It was in Utah where Detling first caught ”5-ring fever.”

”I knew there would be a number of great athletes here in Salt Lake City for the 2002 games, so I came here in 2000 and studied for two years,” Detling said.

She didn’t work with Olympic athletes that time around, but she did assist Paralympians.

Soon, though, Detling started working with Olympians. In 2002, she was teaching a class and an official from the U.S. Ski Team asked her if she would work with a few athletes. Detling agreed.

One thing led to another and, before Detling knew it, she was hired by U.S. Speedskating. Detling worked with U.S. Speedskating through 2013.

Through her work with HeadStrong Consulting, Detling has worked with athletes across the spectrum, from Olympians, to professional baseball players, to figure skaters as young as 8-years-old.

The goal with all of them, though, is the same – gain a mental edge.

”If you ask athletes how much of their sports is mental and how much is physical, most athletes will say the mental,” Detling said. ”And, yet, very few people train the mental side.

”When it gets to a situation like the Olympics, they’re all pretty much trained the same physically; they’re all elite. A lot of them will tell you the difference between the person at the top of the podium and the person in fourth place is usually a mental difference. It’s usually who’s mentally tougher that day … who could handle the pressure.”

During an event at which Detling assists, she will be there like a coach. Instead of advising an athlete on the technical aspects, she’ll handle the mental aspects.

”Basically, I’m a coach,” she said. ”The most important play is the next play. They’ll come down and we’ll assess the last jump and talk about what they need to do for the next jump.”

Emily Cook, Ashley Caldwell and Mac Bohonnon were the freestyle aerialists Detling worked with.

Detling doesn’t just worked with Olympic athletes at the Olympics. Her passport is filled with stamps signifying trips to places like China, Canada, etc.; all places where World Championships, etc. have taken place.

She’s been to Russia four times, she said.

But the Olympics, well, they top everything.

”Some people train their entire lives for that one moment,” Detling said. ”The pressure is higher. Millions of people watch and there’s a sense of nationalism and pride that goes into it, as well.

”It’s unlike anything else in sports.”

Thorp can be reached at