If the best you could do in the Olympics were silver, we’d be right up there with the best. We are actually making an event in itself out of winning silver. After our relay girls won gold on day 1, I don’t think anyone would have predicted what would unfold over the next week. For a country who is used to being on the top podium, accustomed to hearing our national anthem more than a dozen time at the Olympics, this whole 1 gold medal thing is really baffling.
The media is copping a lot of criticism for it’s reaction to the lack of gold medals in our tally. The words “devastation” and “disappointment” are being thrown around like our athletes are 12 year olds who have just stolen $100 out of our wallets to buy fags and liquor. Athletes are dragging themselves out of the pool after winning a silver medal, in tears because they’ve disappointed themselves, their parents, their coaches, their country.
Some people think we’re being too hard on them. That the media and the lazy bums at home are suffering some tall poppy syndrome, setting our expectations to an unachievable high. I don’t think it’s that at all.
I consider myself an athlete. I am not, and never have been, of the calibre of these guys. They are the elite, the best of the best, the ones who train day-in-day-out for meets like the Olympics. They dedicate many years of their lives and make many sacrifices to reach this level of competition. They do it, to win gold. This chance comes once every four years. It is not like the Australian championships or the world championships. There is no “next year”, only “in four years.” Four years is a long time in the lifespan of an elite athlete’s performance levels.
Here’s what I know about athletes from my experience. They are competitive. They want to be the best. They train to win. They train to do better than their best. It is about numbers – setting world records, olympic records, personal bests. They’re only human, and feel pressure just like the next person.
But they want to win. No one goes to the Olympics thinking about silver or bronze. If you do, then your mind’s not in the right place to begin with. Anything can happen on any given day. It doesn’t matter who the favourite is, heroes are made on game day.
The athletes will be just as disappointed with not winning gold as the rest of their country is. But it’s not about losing, it’s about how you lose. The athletes who don’t leave anything in the pool/on the field/court/whatever, the ones who perform PBs, will be satisfied with their results. The ones who haven’t done their best will settle for silver or bronze, they will be proud of their achievements. But most likely they will have a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, perhaps wondering if they could have done better. As an athlete, that is a disappointing feeling.
James Magnussen said in an interview that he’s had a tough week, but he’s learned a lot about himself. I think that’s great. It is. But I feel for him, that it was an international stage like the Olympics in which he had to learn about himself. Imagine if we could get our athletes to learn about themselves before they walk into the Olympic stadium wearing the Australian uniform.
Maybe I am being too hard on them. Maybe it is easy to sit on my arse and point fingers and place blame. I don’t blame anyone, but I do wonder if our athletes aren’t as disciplined as the Americans, the Chinese, or the British. Heck even the Kiwis are out-performing us, and that is something every Australian should be ashamed of!*
Going to the Olympics is an incredible achievement. Making an Olympic final is amazing. Winning a medal, Gold, Silver or Bronze, is something every athlete should be incredibly proud of. I am proud of them. And when I say I am devastated, I am devastated for the hard work they’ve put in, that hasn’t paid the ultimate reward at the end. I’m devastated that our athletes feel the weight of a nation on their shoulders, and don’t seem to be able to bear it. When I say I’m disappointed, I don’t mean I’m disappointed in them. I mean I’m disappointed for them, and there is a huge difference.
Those who say it’s hard to teach kids that it’s not about winning, when all the media and everyone watching is whinging about “only” getting silver, I say that is not the lesson. The lesson should be that it is ok to want to win. It is ok to want to do your best. And it is ok to do your best and still get beaten. It just means someone else’s best was better. And it means that you can now try harder, set new goals, or you can look at all you’ve accomplished and be proud. The lesson should be that these athletes do this for a living and there are high expectations placed on them. The only expectations parents or teachers have of kids is that they enjoy themselves and show good sportsmanship. At least, those are the only expectations I have of my son. At least until he’s competing in the Olympics**.
*Only half tongue-in-cheek
** At which point I will be hoping with all my might he gets gold, but I’ll love him just as much, and be just as proud of him if he doesn’t. Also, I will probably be devastated for him.