Sunday, August 14 2022

Let’s talk about Olympic pressure.

The XXIV Olympic Winter Games are over and there are plenty of takeaways. There is pride in American athletes and competition. There is the joy of smaller nations competing with one or two or three athletes versus the excesses of the United States, Canada, China and the ROC (which I will discuss in a moment).

A total of 2,871 athletes representing 91 teams (nations) competed. The United States brought 224 athletes and Canada competed with 217. The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) delegation was 214 athletes strong and host China had 173 athletes. More than 50 committees brought together less than 10 athletes. This year, two athletes competed for the Puerto Rico delegation, and one competed for the US Virgin Islands and one for American Samoa. More than a dozen other delegations brought only one athlete to Beijing.

Following a blood doping scandal, Russia was banned from participating in the Olympics in 2017. But Russian athletes can still compete under the banner of the neutral Olympic committee. Yes and no on this. If Russia can’t compete, should its innocent athletes also be banned? On the other hand, the ROC is Russia, and even though these athletes are often tested, I wonder if “clean” athletes shouldn’t compete under ANY flag, just “Unattached Athletes of Earth”. Of course, they would still have to be sponsored by an umbrella, so that’s not feasible. But, Russia has shown once again that they are competing unfairly and against the rules, and while it may not be right for their innocent athletes to suffer, there should be some form of punishment more harsh, don’t you think?

Now, about the athletes, these talented, focused, dedicated, obsessed athletes work for four years to win, and sometimes work for 16 years to strike gold, but at what cost? There is rigorous training and testing and more training and more testing to ensure that athletes do not gain chemical advantages. There is joy and anguish. In many cases, an athlete trains and competes for four years to get on the podium based on a single performance in a single day. Are they focused? Confident? Are their biorhythms good? Do they have a bad day, or a day to end all days, like the incredible figure skating performance of Sarah Hughes or Australian Steve Bradbury winning the 1000 meter short track skating race, both in 2002 at Salt Lake City. And the mess… Lindsay Jacobellis lost her Olympic gold medal in 2006, when she went for a celebratory plank on the penultimate jump. The Swiss Tanja Freiden is the athlete who capitalized on this demonstration movement.

Jacobellis spent 16 years training, competing and never giving up and at the age of 36 won two gold medals in Beijing. And his partner, Nick Baumgartner, of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, at the age of 40, after losing his “last chance” for a medal of any kind, unexpectedly teamed up with Jacobellis and won gold in mixed snowboard cross. They never gave up, stayed mentally strong and won. Upside down.

Then there’s Shaun White and Mikaela Shiffrin. Inconvenience. White, in his last Olympics, came out empty this time, and while a medal would have been a storybook ending, it’s hard to feel sorry for a three-time Olympic gold medalist in half-pipe snowboarding. He had his moments in the sun. As for Shiffrin, she struggled this time around, she also arrived empty and mentally exhausted on the hill, but she won two gold medals and it’s hard to grieve when she had her Olympic successes .

Finally, there’s the ROC’s 15-year-old figure skating phenom, Kamila Valieva. She, at her young age, is the best in the world, but she tested positive for a banned heart drug which, in a cocktail of other drugs, can improve performance. She should never have competed, because her positive test should have prohibited that. But, she was allowed to compete, and with all the pressure and notoriety thrown at her on top of the fact that she was expected to win gold, she underperformed and failed. did not win the podium. Instead of consoling her, her coaches and team, the same ones who gave her the cocktail (whether she knew it or not, we don’t know for now), vilified her for “giving up” and “not to fight”.

There’s something to be said for a tough workout, and it delivered winning results. But he’s a 15 year old and a little kindness could do wonders, don’t you think?

For athletes who “lose” mentally, there is a compassion felt, but on the other hand, these athletes train, focus and obsess over years – at least four years between Olympiads – and if they aren’t mentally strong enough to win, maybe they shouldn’t earn a podium spot. I have no response. I think compassion for someone who got there and competed in the Olympics and then had a bad day is not out of the question. What do you think? Let me know at [email protected]

See you next time.


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