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What It Takes to Be an Olympic Athlete

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Katie Uhlaender, Skeleton Slider

During her first season on the World Cup circuit in 2004-05, skeleton slider Katie Uhlaender competed with a broken foot and a partially fractured ankle. Since then, she's had two off-season surgeries. But this 21-year-old from Colorado isn't letting past adversity cramp her style in Turin. The three-time U.S. champion will compete in her first Olympic race on Thursday. She is the only American woman in the event.

"I feel like I've been through enough stuff and have enough experience that I feel like I should perform," Uhlaender said. Since arriving in Italy, her schedule has been packed and there's a lot of action going on around her, but Uhlaender keeps her eyes on her reason for being there.

"I've been pretty narrow-minded. There's one thing to focus on," Uhlaender said. She's been prepping her sled and her mind, walking the track and doing maintenance to keep her body fresh. A major part of this is eating right.

"I pay attention to what I eat, and when. It's about nutritional timing," Uhlaender said.

Skeleton is a sledding sport where sliders launch themselves headfirst down icy tracks on sleds that reach speeds of 80 mph. Sliders are in peak form when they maximize their weight while staying lean and explosive, Uhlaender said. Right now, she weighs about 150 pounds and is 14 percent body fat.

Uhlaender's breakfast usually consists of eight egg whites with spinach and cheese, oatmeal, or yogurt. She gives herself at least a half an hour to digest her breakfast before starting her training session. She packs on the carbs before workouts or just afterward, and during the day, she keeps the ratio between carbs and protein lower.

"It's mostly about balance," Uhlaender said. "I can't not eat carbs. That would take away energy and I won't feel good. I need energy to compete." She eats about every two to three hours because of her intense training regimen. She'll often have a salad with a chicken breast for lunch and she loves burgers. When she's really trying to put on weight, she'll have cottage cheese with protein powder at night.

During the summer, Uhlaender has a packed schedule. From about 9:30 until 12:30, she's at the track running sprints. Then she takes a break for lunch before hitting the weight room from 3 until 5:30. Afterward, she tends to her body by stretching and spending time in the cold tubs. By 7:00, she's eating dinner and by 8:00, she's studying the tracks and looking at past races.

"I'm completely focused on training and sport," Uhlaender said. "I did everything I could to know that when I walk into the Olympic stadium, I feel prepared."

Uhlaender said walking in the Opening Ceremonies last Friday was "indescribable."

"My cheeks were sore from smiling," she said. "It's special because I'm surrounded by the best in the world."

You can see Uhlaender's Olympic debut Thursday, February 16, on NBC.

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