On being ... in the game

By Ingrid Sapona

For the most part, my interest in the Olympic Games didn’t go much deeper than reading the headlines and hearing the “spoiler alert” summaries on the nightly news. That said, I wouldn’t be human if a few Olympic-related items didn’t make me reflect on things that seem fitting for a column. And, sitting down to write this, I realize that there’s a common theme connecting these items.

The first was something a commentator said during the opening ceremonies as the athletes paraded in. He said, “Most of the athletes participating in the games will go home with no medal.” I know, I know – given the total number of athletes and the total number of medals, that’s an obvious statement. But still, I have to think that every athlete participating believed he or she would beat the odds – after all, they were the very best their countries had to offer. I guess the comment made me realize that, though the Olympics showcase guts and glory, it’s also tinged with a fair bit of disappointment.

The second item was about Paula Findlay, a 23-year-old Canadian triathlete who is a rising star in the sport. She had won five of the first six races she entered in the world championship series and was expected to end up on the podium. Well, to say she had a bad day would be an understatement. She finished 52nd – dead last.

At the end of the race the poor woman was in tears. Who wouldn’t be? But, her sorrow wasn’t just from the personal disappointment she felt. A large part of it was her embarrassment and feeling that she had let Canada down. At the end of the race, a sobbing Findlay was quoted as saying, “I wish I could have made them more proud. I just want to apologize. I feel terrible. I’m really sorry to everybody, to Canada. I had big hopes for myself and everyone had big hopes for me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fulfill them.”

My first reaction to the news of Findlay’s apology was that she doesn’t owe us one. True, some of our tax dollars went to support her training – and had she won, a few more of our tax dollars would have gone into her pocket as a bonus. But, as I see it, what the country gets in exchange for our support of Olympic athletes is not a medal in a particular event – it’s the chance to help these individuals in their personal pursuit of excellence. But, as young Paula Findlay found out, the personal price for that support can feel quite high.

Now, you may think that what these items have in common is the notion of disappointment. Well, that’s certainly one connection. But the common denominator I see in these two things is the idea of putting yourself out there. Of being willing to put yourself in a position where disappointment is a very likely outcome – given the talent of those that you’re competing with – and doing so with the whole world watching.

I guess I tend to ignore the Olympics because there’s so much about it that I can’t relate to. I can’t relate to the physical talent of the athletes, nor can I fathom the gruelling training they put themselves through for years on end. Consequently, though I’m moved when I watch the medal ceremonies, my emotions are mainly a reaction to the happiness I see on their faces, not to their actual physical achievements.

But, when I watched the athletes party during the closing ceremonies and I thought about the fact that most of them are going home without medals, I realized that their willingness to give their all, even in the face of likely disappointment, is something we can all learn from. Indeed, I think most of them would agree that you’re only a loser if you don’t try.

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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