Monday, February 10, 2014

Thoughts on the Olympics

And no, this isn't another post about Russian politics. I promise.

I'm watching the Olympics. That means I'm watching a bunch of highly-skilled athletes doing things I'll never be able to do. (Believe me. I suck at ice skating and my one attempt at downhill skiing was a complete fiasco. I'll stick to horses).

Here's the thought that came into my mind.

The Olympics aren't fair.

What? It's people showing dedication and hard work to get to the top. Or am I accusing them all of taking drugs?

No. I'm saying...the Olympics aren't fair.

If you want to go to the Olympics as an athlete then, yes, you have to have dedication and hard work. But there's a few other things you need too.

In most sports, you need to have a body type suited to the sport - and that boils down to your genes. Female gymnasts need to be short. Track runners benefit from a higher than normal lung capacity. Top swimmer Michael Phelps has unusually large feet - a huge advantage in swimming. (In fact, Phelps is put together pretty much ideally for a swimmer). And before you mention the Paralympics - it's true there too. Not everyone in a wheelchair has the right body to be a wheelchair racer at the highest level.

Then, you need to come from a country where the sport your body is most suited to, well, happens. For example, Britain has never had a medal in downhill skiing...in fact, yesterday the country earned its first ever medal in a sport that takes place on snow. Why? Because the country's mild climate means they don't get the right kind of snow to ski. That's just an example. If the sport isn't available to you as a kid and isn't something people in your country and culture do, then it doesn't matter how good a body you have.

Oh, and then you need money. Quite a lot of money. The days of Olympic athletes being true amateurs are over. An athlete getting a full ride at college is not an amateur. If you're poor or your country is poor or both, you probably aren't going to make it to the Olympics.

Finally, you need, well, luck. You can do everything right. You can be in your physical prime, have a great body type, have put in awesome scores all year, and you can still be, say, Heidi Kloser, who completely blew out her knee in a crash in the warm-up, and had to finish the opening ceremonies in a wheelchair (She tried to do it on crutches). Or you could have a family problem the day before that wrecks your concentration, or catch airplane crud, or...

So.

The Olympics aren't fair. Because life isn't fair. And when we try to tell our children everything will be fair for them, we do them a disservice...because the only way you'll ever get an Olympic medal, or anything else worth having, is to work out the ways life isn't fair in your favor and embrace them. Accept that you will be good, even great at some things, and lousy at others. And be the best you can be at whatever it is you are fortunate enough to be good at.