All athletes who glitter aren’t always gold


It is Sunday evening and the United States-Brazil men’s Olympic gold medal match is on NBC. Switching over to the CBC on CBUT, the finale of the closing ceremonies is on. And so it has been throughout the entire two-week period.

Most times this juxtaposition worked really well. It can be very freeing to already know the outcome of the competition and thus be able to just enjoy the performance of the athletes involved. It also was nice to not have stay up all night to catch the action. Other times it meant that I knew what I wanted to see when it was shown later on NBC and catch up then.

Long ago I gave up the need to be sitting on the edge of my seat to enjoy sports. It may be a result of becoming a coach as I find myself paying more attention to how a team or single athlete is performing than the score. If anything, in sports like diving and gymnastics, I like to see how my take on the performances matches those of the judges.

It is always impressive to these top athletes go after their dreams. For some, just getting to the games is enough. For others, nothing less than the gold will do. But, for me, what really separates the great from the rest is how they handle the outcome of their efforts whether it’s a gold or a loss.

Shawn Johnson was an example of a class act. Despite losing to the Chinese during one of the gymnastic routines, she immediately went over to the winner and congratulated her. Contrast that with the Cuban tae kwon do competitor, who kicked the referee when he didn’t like the call that cost him a medal. Of course, the sentiments expressed by the Russian and Georgian women who hugged each other after their medal ceremony puts to shame the actions by their respective governments.

Bad calls, bad officials and bad judges are a fact of life in sports.

It is a measure of an athlete who is able to shrug off the adverse action and move ahead. Shawn Johnson got her silver, kept her wits about her and ended up with a gold on the balance beam.

The disgraceful display by the Cuban has resulted in the Cuban and his coach (he did not discipline his player) from being banned from their sport for life.

There are also those who know how to win – or attempt to win – gracefully and those who don’t. Contrast the behavior of the Dream Team with the Redeem Team. The former thought only of themselves while the latter put team and country above all. The difference was a gold medal this time compared to their abysmal showing previously.

It was also interesting to see how the various coaches worked with their protégés. The head diving coach for the Chinese sat in the stands and let his assistants deal directly with the divers.

The U.S .Women’s soccer coach introduced herself to her team by singing “You Are My Sunshine” and then led the team in singing it again as part of their victory celebration. Coach K made his team members make a three year commitment to being on the Olympic team as well as having them visit important United States places like the Statute of Liberty to show them who they were playing for.

The Brazilian men’s volleyball coach paced the sidelines exhorting his team to do their best. All different approaches yet all had teams that won medals.

The Olympics are a special competition. Between the four-year cycle, the efforts to put sports above politics, and the elevation of expectations for athletic performance, it truly is an event.

And, for those who so desire, it is a great way to learn from the best.

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