You, the collective United States of America Olympic Team, pre-occupied my thoughts for much of the last several days. I look so forward to the Olympics, every four (or five) years, and find myself glued to the television watching you complete and fulfill your dreams. You allow us to travel with you, live vicariously through you, cheer you on and cry with you in both victory and defeat.
I find myself needing to apologize for the pressure you feel from us the fans via the media--the media, the post-competition interviews, the social media scrutiny, I could go on. Furthermore, I want to thank you. Thank you for letting us in. Some of us cheer you on no matter what, whether you are first or last. We celebrate that you are there, an accomplishment lost on so many. We forget the sacrifices you, and your families, made for you to get there. The holidays missed, the injuries overcome, the focus and dedication required for you to compete at this level are hard for many of us to comprehend.
Others, however, sit back in their armchair or on the sideline with a microphone and question your preparation, your performance, and your dedication. You finish your competition and with barely a minute, or two, you must respond to questions about how you feel in victory or in defeat. In victory, it’s likely a blur, in defeat, it’s too soon. You’ve earned the right to process your emotions, to cry your tears and then face questions. The twenty-four-hour news cycle eliminated any layer of privacy athletes once enjoyed.
Honestly, we need to remember, that just getting there is a victory. Those with little intimate knowledge of any specific sport may not realize that the United States Olympic Trials in many sports are actually more competitive than some Olympic events. The IOC limits the number of athletes countries can enter in an event or place on a team, while in actuality, the US could field multiple successful teams for each event. In some sports, like swimming, performance on one day, in one event, in one meet, determines whether or not a swimmer makes the team. Illness, injury, insomnia can derail an athlete where hundredths of seconds measure the difference between making the team or waiting four more years for another shot.
I, for one, vow to be a kinder, gentler spectator. I vow to see you as people and not super heroes. I vow to encourage others to do the same.
Fifty-one-year-old, mother of four
Pensacola, Florida, USA