By Bruce Stambaugh
My wife and I love watching the Winter Olympics on television.
We wonder wide-eyed at the participants bouncing down the mogul runs, throwing in a couple of showy back-flip jumps before zipping across the finish line. I’m always amazed that the skiers and snowboarders have any teeth left as they broadly grin at the in-your-face TV cameras.
We gasp at the speed of the bobsledders, especially if there is a crash careening the sled and riders down the slippery slope like ragdolls. The same is true with the downhill skiers. Curling is much more my style.
We marvel at the ability of the athletes to overcome mistakes and carry on. Figure ice-skating is a prime example.
Most of the skating athletes are young. I won’t pretend to understand or know the various requirements or vocabulary of the sport. I just know it takes incredible skill and practice to even qualify. The pressure has to be enormous being in the bright lights of the arena, cameras rolling, coaches, family, friends, teammates, and the rest of the electronically tuned-in world watching.
They synchronize their routines with the music the skaters chose. Each performance requires certain moves and skills to positively impress the judges and meet the necessary requirements.
The athletes have practiced and practiced and practiced. And then it happens. On a tricky maneuver, spinning like a human top, the landing is slightly imperfect. The skater falls or at the very least touches the ice with a hand that subtracts precious points.
And still, they carry on as best they can with their routines, desperately trying to regain the rhythm and pace of their choreographed performance. The adrenaline must be pumping. Their minds must be racing, yet they continue, either flawlessly or as too often happens, with further miscues.
No matter what country they represent, my heart goes out to them. All that time, effort, money, and travel, previous competing, sacrificing, just for this moment. In an instant, with a slight stumble or inability to fulfill the required maneuvers, their moments in the spotlights dim.
The cameras zoom in as the performance ends. No forced smiles or automatic hand waves to the appreciative crowds can conceal their emotions. They know they have missed their chance. The despair can’t be hidden.
There is only one thing for them to do. These amateur athletes have to act like professionals. They accept the flowers and gifts that are affectionately showered on them from the audience in anticipation of perfection regardless of the real results.
No doubt their coaches will school their understudies on their errors, encourage them, remind them that they can do it. The athletes get themselves ready for the next event and try again.
Whether they are in the running for a medal or not, the contestants keep on competing. It’s that simple. Their next performance can only be improved upon if they learn from their mistakes, practice, and try, try, try again. Some competitors, however, may have to wait another four years for that opportunity.
Teenagers win gold medals. Veteran Olympian medalists fail to qualify to stand on the coveted awards podium. It indeed is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” to quote the late Jim McKay.
Failing is a part of life. It’s a way to learn, to improve, and to be a better person, to be resilient. It’s just one of the reasons I enjoy the Olympics as much as I do, especially curling.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2018