Olympic lessons are worth more than gold

I don’t know about your family, but our living room became downtown Rio this summer as the TV was tuned in to all things Olympic. There’s no doubt that we were in the presence of greatness each evening. Beyond the initial appreciation of athletic genius, there were so many lessons to be learned through the Olympic experience.

Usain Bolt is not only the world’s fastest man, he’s also a pretty class guy. After winning the men’s 100m, he was mobbed by reporters. During his interview, a medal ceremony began. As the strings of the US National anthem rang out, this Jamaican man immediately paused the interview to give his full attention in honor of the athlete and her country. His respect of a fellow competitor, another country, and for the event as a whole outweighed any need for personal attention. 

My husband walked in one night to find me bawling on the couch. As he rushed to my side, I choked out, “Brazil won!” I was watching men’s gymnastics and Hypolito had just won silver. The hometown hero was collapsed in a fetal position sobbing, and then fell into the arms of his coach as he was physically overwhelmed by finally receiving a medal at his third Olympics. The fact that another athlete had taken the Gold hardly mattered. In the dance world today, many have lost sight of the honor of being a part of something bigger. Many dancers want instant gratification and don’t want the struggle of not placing, or not winning “gold” at every competition. This man gave a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears - and chased that Olympic medal for over a decade! Silver never looked so sweet.

My son is a hurdler and I have watched countless hurdle races. None came anywhere close to the women’s 100m hurdles in Rio. To be honest, it wasn’t the race itself. If you blinked - or loaded a plate into the dishwasher (this may have happened to me) - you could have missed the race all together. (Don’t worry, that’s what DVR is for!) But I did look up just in time for the finish. Three US women crossed the finish line within breaths of each other. And then….here’s where the real magic happened. These women embraced, clutched each other, and cried with joy and pride. The win was so much more significant because they crossed the finish line together. While it may be an individual sport, success is so much sweeter surrounded by your teammates. These women trained together, competed together, and won together. What an amazing experience. The sum will always be greater than the parts.

A simple act of kindness shows the heart of a true champion. During the 5000m, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and American Abby D’Agostino collided and fell to the track. D’Agostino quickly regained her footing, but paused to help her competitor to her feet before continuing. As the race continued, the American competitor crumpled to the floor with a ruptured ACL. It was Hamblin’s turn to return the favor as she stopped to help D’Agostino. The two women finished last, but what they may have lost in race time, they gained tenfold in respect from a global audience. Hamblin summed it up best in her own words, “When I look back on Rio 2016, I’m not going to remember where I finished, I’m not going to remember my time … but I’ll always remember that moment. Sometimes I guess you have to remember trying to be a good human being is more than, you know. If I hadn’t waited for her or tried to help her I would have been 10 or fifteen seconds quicker and what does that matter?” The trophies on the shelf will never outweigh the content of character that is developed through athletics. No win is greater than the friendships formed through mutual respect and pursuing your passion. Whether on the track, or on the dance floor, true sportsmanship is defined by moments that have nothing to do with wins or losses.