Watching the procession of United States athletes in the Winter Olympic opening ceremony on a television in Australia was an emotional moment for Casey Eichfeld.
When he views the Winter Games during breaks from training and competition, Eichfeld, a two-time Summer Olympian from Drums, often relates to the athletes he watches.
“Having now gone to the Olympics twice and getting to watch the Winter Olympics, I can really connect with how they’re feeling,” said Eichfeld, a member of the United States canoe/kayak team, who is working toward a possible third appearance in 2016. “Watching them walk into the opening ceremony was, ‘I know exactly what you’re feeling right now.’ Then, watching them in the start gate, ‘I know exactly what you’re feeling.’
“Watching them do well or feel disappointed, those are all things I’m familiar with from just having actually participated in the Olympics.”
Eichfeld, 24, is surrounded by other international-caliber athletes this week in Penrith, Australia as he prepares for the Oceania Championships. The view of the games is a bit different, however, for the Olympians than the Olympic prospects.
Olympic athletes share a special feeling that Eichfeld did his best to describe.
“For me, walking into the opening ceremony, even the second time around, it really hadn’t changed. It’s overwhelming,” he said. “You can’t help but being so excited and feeling so much pride for having accomplished that, just making it onto the team, the result aside.
“I know I was a little bit of a waterworks walking into my first one and almost on my second one. There’s an incredible camaraderie among the athletes and you don’t even really know everybody. The Summer Olympic team has 500-and-some athletes, so it’s difficult to know everyone. I maybe know 10 or 15 of them, but you’re all walking in together. You have so much pride and excitement and you’re sharing it with athletes who have worked their entire lives to get to where they are.”
As he watches the developments in and reports from Sochi, Russia, Eichfeld said athletes are quick to brush off travel inconveniences when it is time to compete.
“My biggest concern is that I just want everybody to remain safe,” said Eichfeld, who is also hearing from a small group of friends who are in Russia as spectators and competitors.
Eichfeld praised security in the Olympic villages at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games in which he competed and said he has never been scared for his safety as an international athlete.
“For me, when I’m away in another country, people see me as an athlete, they don’t see me as an American,” he said. “Whatever political issues there are or aren’t at the time, or whatever people think we are doing right or wrong, people see me as an athlete there representing the U.S. and not there to debate whether what my country is doing is right or wrong.
“I just kind of hope that everybody takes that same stance. It’s an incredible thing to get to represent your country at the Olympics and I just hope that everybody gets to experience the same thing without any major issues.”
Eichfeld, who was 11th in doubles canoe in 2008 and 14th in singles canoe in 2012, continues to add to his international experiences.
“It’s interesting because I get to see it from the Australian perspective, as opposed to our perspective, so the stories are about their athletes, but I still get to see our athletes compete,” Eichfeld said. “I just like watch and cheer on our athletes and hope for medals for the United States.”
In the years ahead, Eichfeld plans to once again be one of those athletes pursuing Olympic medals.