Success should not be measured by Olympic gold

If I hear of one more tearful apology from an Olympic athlete for failing to medal I think I will scream!! They apologize to everyone – coaches, team, families and even their country – instead of themselves. It seems when you compete in amateur athletics you do so for yourself while also bearing the weight of the world and your country’s expectations as well.

Every four years, the World remains glued to tvs, live web broadcasts, radios and social media updates to watch the best amateur athletes compete. Unknown athletes in sports such as the decathlon, rowing, diving, synchronized swimming and judo hope to convert years of dedication and sweat into winning just one of 3 medals available in each competition. Often, these sports come out of obscurity and gain our attention only during the Olympics and yet the athletes feel the sting of our disappointment when they do not come in first. Very few of us know, or perhaps cruelly don’t care about the sacrifices it for took for these athletes to get to the Games yet alone understand the pressures of competing. And it is for that reason, I do not understand why after failing to achieve their own potential many of the athletes still feel the need to apologize to us. Shouldn’t we be the ones trying to extend a hug or pat on the back to make them feel better for having lost?

Now, there have been many well deserved apologies made leading up to and during the 2012 London Games. These apologies cover a range of poor judgment and displays of bad behavior including racist tweets; badminton players deliberately throwing matches; an athlete eating Brownies laced with marijuana before competing and another athlete for punching an opposing player in the stomach on the Basketball court during a game.

Few athletes participating in the Olympics get rich. Shockingly, only 2% of the athletes at the 2012 London games receive corporate sponsorships to help them train. The road to the games every four years is not paved with gold and takes years of physical and mental sacrifice to get there. These athletes take unpaid leaves; balance work and/or school; rely on their families for emotional and financial support; and often move long distances away from home so they can train over 200 days a year to compete on the international stage.   For every heavily sponsored athlete like Michael Phelps, there is a Gabrielle Douglas whose family was close to declaring financial bankruptcy trying to support her Olympic dream. Her just inked sponsorship deals estimated at $10 million will no doubt come in handy.

Oddly enough, despite the long days and tired aching muscles these athletes do it because they love it. It’s not a sacrifice, but a calling. These athletes come to do their best. As we know have heard in the Olympic Athlete Oath, the youth of the World gather every four years to take part in the Olympic Games “in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and honor of our teams”.

Over 220 nations marched in the London Games Opening Ceremony in a spirit of peace and global unity. Make no mistake, the goal of each athlete in that procession was to place first. And when they start keeping score of the medal count by country, it inevitably brings out the dark side of competition as some countries use sport to flex their geopolitical aspirations. I leave that to narrow-minded politicians to sort that out.

However, shouldn’t the viewing audience become more active and support the athletes regardless of their performance. Even if they do not make the podium, isn’t it our role to celebrate the accomplishments of these amazing athletes who compete for themselves, their families and country. I prefer to focus on the positive impact these athletes can have long after the Olympic flame is extinguished. These athletes who have sacrificed so much are tremendous role models for physical activity, hard work, and fair play. They are all gold medalists in my eyes.



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