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A brief note on the Olympics

July 27, 2012

Hardly Working
Photo by WBUR Boston. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Yesterday on NPR, I heard this story from WBUR Boston about Olympic hopeful Kayla Harrison, who survived sexual abuse to become the USA’s first real hope for gold in Women’s Judo.

She said something so smart:

“Do I wish that everyone would just talk about how, you know, awesome I am — and how I could be America’s first gold medalist? Yes, I wish that,” she says. “But America wants that comeback kid story. They want the person who overcame obstacles to reach their goals. And I fit that bill pretty well.”

She knows about us Americans. How just going to the Olympics and winning isn’t enough. We want to be served up a dish of emotional backstory to make us feel like we know the athlete, like we’re connected, like we have a special reason to root for them.

Look, I love a good story as much as anyone. As a reporter and blogger, even working in marketing, I look for “the story” that is going to grab people and hook them and pull them in like big fish.

Let me tell you the true story of these Olympians. The story is that they got up earlier that other people. They worked harder. Then harder than that. They may have started with a good dollop of talent and lucky genetics, but that wasn’t enough. They and their families sacrificed over and over and over – time, money, togetherness. They gave up playing and parties and family events. They worked through pain and loss and I’m sure most of them considered giving up many, many times.

But they made it. Out of hundreds or thousands or millions, they did it. They got to the Olympics, the pinnacle of sport. They’re there after all this work, representing their countries, hoping and praying to make us proud, determined to give the performance of a lifetime. Once chance. One moment.

We don’t have to be emotional vampires feeding on the blood of their past tragedies. Let’s just talk about how awesome they are at the sport they do and let that be enough.

  1. July 27, 2012 15:39


  2. July 27, 2012 16:49

    And I honestly believe that the advent of the internet has only heightened these expectations. The drama is non-stop in a way it never has been in the past, and we’re getting conditioned to EXPECT drama… even where it doesn’t belong.

    • August 1, 2012 20:36

      We must wring every last drop of drama out of every single thing until we are all sick of it all. Then what?

  3. July 27, 2012 18:32

    I think Dave’s right. People have overshared (or just made bad shit up) for internet consumption, and it’s seeped into the culture in general so that it’s now considered abnormal if a person isn’t either (a) currently embroiled in tragedy, (b) forever scarred by past tragedies, or (c) just fine.

    I know that photo is supposed to be some kind of judo exercise, but the guy’s feet make it look like Kayla’s trying to force him to have a pedicure.

    • August 1, 2012 20:36

      Ha. Now that I look at his feet…

  4. July 27, 2012 18:46

    And by “isn’t just fine,” I of course meant “is just fine.”

    Hey, TAGS.

  5. Bruce S. Swasey permalink
    July 27, 2012 21:44

    Sue, You have a gift: a style of telling a story that grabs my attention which makes me look forward to your next opinion on whatever the topic is!! Thanx. Con cariño, Bruce

    • August 1, 2012 20:35

      Bruce, I think you get a trophy for being my biggest fan.

  6. July 30, 2012 10:44

    There was a performer at the Spiegeltent in NY that built this huge mobile by balancing all of these sticks. We watched him build the piece stick by stick. When he had one last stick left to add, he stopped. It almost seemed like he was done, that he didn’t feel like pushing it to that last stick and you could feel the disappointment rolling off the audience. It didn’t matter that what he’d already accomplished was an amazing feet. Amazing. The guy was brilliant.

    I feel that some people see the athletes of the Olympics in the same way.

    • August 1, 2012 20:34

      Now I want to see the mobile stick guy

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