While sitting at lunch the other day, the topic of conversation shifted to Olympic soccer. I was half listening to the discussion of one of the most recent games, when my friend’s words caught my attention: “Oh, they suck.” Immediately I entered into the discourse, becoming somewhat irrational. I was, however, outraged with my friend’s casual judgment, and subsequent dismissal, of some of the best athletes in the world.
The NBC commentators are guilty of this same crime, albeit in a more articulate manner. What is most interesting is the fact that before each competition, especially the finals, the network broadcasts a melodramatic montage displaying the clips of the given athlete’s mishaps thus far. If this is an attempt to appeal to the viewers’ compassionate side, showing why one should favor the athlete because of what he or she has been through, I find it to be in very poor taste.
It seems a direct contrast to the real focus of the games, which should be to revel in what these amazing men and women can do.
One of my close friends suggested that there should be an average “person off the street” placed into the far lane of each event. This would provide a comparison to give the viewer an idea of how fast the runners and swimmers really are. I find this idea very appealing. When I hear a number quoted – “he ran a 15.2” – I have no concept of how fast or slow this is. The “average Joe” lane, if implemented, would help put this magnitude into perspective. I propose that all of the people who sit around criticizing the Olympians be the first to fill such lanes.
A perfect example of the impact of harping on the negative is the added pressure that it places onto the competitors themselves. My Olympic hero, Michael Johnson, said it best when expressing that this year he felt a different kind of pressure because he had “more to lose.” Throughout the preliminaries for the 400m, the defending gold medallist had the best outlook on this year’s games and the different feelings that they stir up. Only after his record-making repeat victory did Johnson allow himself to let go, proclaiming, “No silver! No bronze!” Yet it was a more reserved Michael that the world saw atop the gold medal podium while the Star Spangled Banner blasted throughout the Olympic stadium. But we all recalled his tear-soaked face from the same ceremony in 1996.
Such moments of gold medals and world record-shattering performances are the ones that we remember. They are the ones that are replayed in slow motion in commercials and movies for years to come. As Americans I think that we often take winning for granted.
Sure, we have the highest gold medal count, but that doesn’t mean that athletes from other countries haven’t trained just as hard to get to Sydney this summer. Think about this the next time you feel the urge to disparage a professional athlete – chances are they’re a whole lot better than you’ll ever be.
There are very few out there who can proclaim, “No silver! No bronze!” and mean it in the same way that Johnson does. Neither my friend at lunch, nor the commentators who are paid thousands of dollars to fly all the way to Sydney and criticize the worlds best, can boast of such a feat. Last Monday I was crouched on the edge of the bed, half-covering my eyes, as I watched Johnson crossed the finish line far ahead of his competition. When he won I wasn’t happy because before the race I had been shown a clip of him writhing in pain at the Olympic trials. I was happy because it was the race that I had been waiting for since the very beginning of this summer’s games, and my man had won. The feeling I had watching Johnson win: that’s what makes me want to watch the Olympics.