"I no longer chuckle at the less than perfect performances of these athletes - I hold them in the highest regard of all"
It is typical in human nature I suppose that after the excitement of a moment in time, that excitement quickly passes and we move back to our mundane, routine lives. As I think is the case of the Sochi Olympics. It was only mere days ago that offices shut down, bars opened at ungodly morning hours and Liquor laws were even changed.. It was a proud time to be a Canadian to watch our hockey teams march to gold.
These Olympics were different for me. I did feel an unusual pride in being Canadian, and I am not generally a a flag waver, but I think it is because I watched as many of the events in a much different light.
My son, had a budding career, that was cut far too short, as an Alpine Ski Racer. I brag far too often on his successes and accomplishments, and in retrospect, probably had a bit of Hockey Dad syndrome. Financially I was unable to allow him the training, the travelling, the coaching that was required to continue on past the already very high level he was competing at. A regret that I will carry to my grave. But, even with his career cut short, I was witness to a great deal about elite sporting commitments that are required to be in the game, and I also was witness to pure love of the sport by him and his comparators at all levels,
We watch sporting events, and watch the leaders as the approach the finish line to win one of the 3 medals, listening to snippets of commentary of the background of the athletes, and even on a rarer occasion hear mention of the training regime that gets these athletes to the pinnacle of sporting events. But often these comments are just the necessary background chatter of commentators, and we never pause to really consider what it takes just to make it to the Olympics. We even (or I have before my enlightened realization) would chuckle at that poor bastard that came in last place.. "man he sucks and how did he ever get in this event."
I watched my son, EVERY night, immediately after school, without prompting and more frequently secretly, disappear down to the basement to do stretching, and muscle building. A backpack stuffed with books and a camping water carrier filled to the brim stuffed in a backpack for weight as he did endless push-ups. An exercise bike jammed in a corner beside his ski tuning bench in a cramped unfinished basement space to work on endurance. Home made weight sets to tone his muscles. A daily routine, hours in the basement, then back upstairs to finish the night doing homework. Home made starting gates were built in the back yard to work on saving thousands of a second on his starts - back and forth, back and forth. Weekends spent training on the ski hill. Finding that balance of social enjoyment and unyielding focus often times working on something at the same time he was fulfilling the requests from the coaching from the group.
High School was simply an effort of catching up on missed work and then leaving school for another week for another trip - always in a state of catching up or preparing to be away. Often up to 8 weeks was spent away from the classrooms of his Junior and High School Education. Weeks on the road travelling, racing, were even more strenuous, Filling a day with morning warm ups, competition, hours tuning and waxing his skis and then head in his school work, and one final work out for the day. Then to start all over again at 5:30am the next morning.
Was my son special - no, he was a committed athlete that made tremendous sacrifices to his sport. Like EVERY athlete in the Olympics. From the gold medallist, to the sorry dude who comes in dead last. Each and every athlete ever seen on TV has made this commitment (and much more I assure you to be present at the Olympics).
But, I watched these Olympics with something more significant than the above preamble in mind. Being a spectator of a sport such as Alpine Ski Racing from when the kids were less than 10 years old, to competition that had no age limits, I often shared the sidelines with parents of children that will never feel the reward of stating atop of the podium. These competitors also had the commitment, braved the ridiculously cold windy days wearing nothing but a helmet, and a one piece nylon racing suit. These competitors shared the work ethic and desire of podium dwellers, but knew deep in their hearts that winning will never be in the cards. One may even suggest that these are the true champions. Just imagine for a second, giving your whole life (socially, financially, physically etc) to a sport, knowing as you are pushing your self to the brink of exhaustion in a training workout, that you will never win.
What emotional and mental strength these athletes must have. No TV interviews, no press - just alone as they tear the safety fencing down knowing that they had an incredible performance of their own, and that alone providing enough motivation to start training the next morning at 5:30am in the freezing cold.
What makes the podium dwellers and last place finishers different, I have no idea, but I suspect what keeps them going, continuing in the sport and all of the associated sacrifices is very different. I no longer chuckle at the less than perfect performances of these athletes - I hold them in the highest regard of all.