August 19, 2008

The Olympic Spirited Away

You know what I love about triathlon in the Olympics? It's that the winners are ecstatic to have won. They are all jumping for joy, screaming and yelling and victorious. And I'm not even talking about the gold medal winners - it goes without saying that the first place finishers are beyond ecstatic. What I'm talking about are the silver and bronze medal winners in triathlon. When they cross that finish line, they're smiling and joyful and overwhelmed as if they have yet to realize that others finished ahead of them.

It seems to me that there's an honest feeling in triathlon that medaling in the Olympics is the ultimate honor in the sport. I remember, back when I was a kid, how that feeling permeated every sport of the Olympic games. How anybody who finished in the top 3 was deliriously happy. After all, they are Olympic medalists and that's something to be damn proud of.

I loved watching Olympic swimming and am in awe of Michael Phelps and his amazing accomplishments. Yet I can't remember seeing an Olympic swimming race this year when the silver and bronze medalists were screaming and smiling in accomplishment. Instead, it always seemed that two-thirds of the medalists looked as if they just got news that their parents died (with the possible exception of Dara Torres who, the class act that she is, was both honestly ecstatic and slightly disappointed at not getting the gold, in the .01 second margin.)

Same with gymnastics, table tennis, archery and a variety of other sports. The jumping for joy seems to only be reserved for the highest spot on the podium.

(Yes, there are exceptions. I'm not making a sweeping generalization of every single winner. But I am talking about most of them.)

What happened? Where did we go wrong? At what point in our existence did being the 2nd or 3rd best at a something become a losing proposition? There are approximately 6.7 billion people in this world. Billion, with a B. If I could be the top 3 in anything - anything whatsoever - I can pretty much guarantee you that I'd be jumping with joy for the rest of my life. Literally, I'd be jumping up and down until my legs gave out.

But alas, most of us are lucky if we're amongst the 1 million best people in anything. And many of us are even ecstatic to be there! Understanding that there are less than 1 million people racing triathlon in this world, I'm happy to say that I'm better at triathlon than ~99.985% of the human population. And goshdarnnit, if that's not something to be proud of, then what is?

So let's get back to the overwhelming joy expressed by the top finishers in the Olympic triathlons. In fact, it doesn't even seem to be limited to the top three. Some of the fourth, fifth and sixth place finishers were as overwhelmed as if they just won the race themselves. Did anybody see Unger screaming his way to a 6th place finish?! And what about the dude high-fiving himself to a last place victory in the men's triathlon with a smile on his face that rivaled the winners?!

Maybe it's because triathlon is such a young sport in the Olympic eye that the participants are still just excited to be on the international stage. With only a few years under our belts, we still hold in awe the power of an Olympic medal. Or maybe it's this hidden camaraderie I talk about so often that is inherent in triathlon. How personal accomplishment isn't so much calculated by the time it took you to finish, but by the effort you put in along the way. And pride isn't a measure of how high you stand in relation to others, but how much you willingly embrace the person that looks back at you in the mirror.

Whatever it is, I'm happy to be a part of it. And I can only hope that this Olympic spirit somehow creeps back into the rest of the sports so that us everyday Joe's can continue to remain in awe of the world's best. So that when we cross our local finish lines, we have role models that have taught us to smile and scream and be proud of our accomplishments, no matter what the clock says.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you were paying close enough attention. I saw plenty of events from gymnastics to the pool where the runners up were happy. Definitely not every single event, but it wasn't so rare that it was amazing when it did happen.

emmseebee said...

I think it's partially the coverage that is responsible. The announcers make the silver and bronze medalists sound like losers. I personally think anyone who can even MAKE it to the Olympics is amazing and should be so completely proud of him/herself. As someone who pretty is happy to finish whatever race I begin (and who has only not finished ONE race that I started), I might even go so far as to say that just being able to toe the starting line is amazing and should be celebrated!