As previously noted, I’ve watched a lot of the Olympics lately because, well, because.
I had a conversation tonight about whether or not it was really fair, to judge a person on a single performance, one bright shining moment, to weigh that against all the rest.
On one hand, that really isn’t how it works. It’s not like anyone can apply to the Olympics and go there, and compete. They have all come through some series of competitions. They are junior champions and state champions and collegiate champions and national champions before they get to that one shining moment.
They have proven, though any number of previous competitions, that they are THAT good. No one really comes totally out of left field to this level of mastery of a sport.
Anyone who has ever watched figure skating or gymnastics knows, too, that there is a judging bias based on who you are and where you’re from and how well you have done in the past.
The ones who are expected to win are judged differently than the ones who are not, regardless. Judges in those two sports at least are notorious for judging in very nationalistic ways. The Russian judge gives the Russian competitor higher marks, the Czech gives the Czech competitor better marks, the US judge is more lenient with the US athletes.
It is what it is.
So, they’re not really judged on one bright shining moment, but a series of bright and shining moments that lead up to this moment on the world stage.
Does that mean it is fair and right to judge them on that one performance?
What a heavy burden it places on those uniformed shoulders, too, knowing what others have given up for them to stand in that spot at that moment. You know the stories. The father who worked three jobs, the mother who quit her job to ferry the child to practices and competitions.
Sometimes there are siblings and you have to wonder how hard it is for them, to be the brother or sister of the golden child. The one who isn’t quite as fast or as strong or coordinated, the one who probably makes a lot of sacrifices, too, without necessarily having a vote in it.
Unless you’re rich, it’s hard to have two world class athletes in the family.
And it seems, too, like most of the athletes are from middle class or poorer families, too. There are some of the wealthy and privileged, Alberto Tomba and Zara Phillips and Albert II, Prince of Monaco all spring to mind, but they seem to be in the minority.
But the gymnast whose parents took out a second mortgage, or the mother who takes the skater in the family to live with them in another city, leaving other children behind. for them to get their star child to this point must have made for some tough choices.
So, is it fair to put so much on shoulders that should already be bowed with the weight on them?
But isn’t that when we do really show our mettle, show what it is that we are made of? When the chips are down, when it really counts, when every eye is on us?
I think it is, because how you respond to pressure is part of assessment. We can all sing like canaries in the shower, but it’s another thing entirely to stand up on a stage and do it well.
It’s also valid, too, to see how someone reacts when they don’t win. Sometimes you see the best in people, sometimes you see the worst.
And it must be hard to try and rewire yourself, too, to go from being so terribly competitive to being a good loser. You have to be so focused on winning, and so unwilling to accept any less. That’s a rare thing, and also why you and I are not hitting the pool at 5am on January mornings, or cycling 25 miles a day, rain or shine, or running hurdles until the light fades from the field.
It’s probably not fair, really, to expect that. Ok, we now we’ve turned you into automatons, we’ve equipped you with the best uniforms and equipment and there are always new regulations about just how springy the springboard should be, or if the new super skis are really an unfair advantage. Swimmers shave their bodies to shave milliseconds off their speed.
Winning is everything.
Until you lose, and then we expect you to smile and make nice.
Probably not fair. But that’s also part of it, too, isn’t it? The ability to accept an outcome and move on.
So, I do think it’s fair to judge based on one moment.
But maybe the thing is, we shouldn’t count only who crossed the line first, or lifted the heaviest weight, or jumped the very highest, but who handled both the winning and the losing with the most grace.