I sat down today to write a recap of the Warrior Dash I did a few weeks ago, but then I saw something on Twitter that changed that plan, because I got angry.
I saw comments from people who were saying that they are disappointed in our Olympians. Simon Whitfield had let us down. Clara Hughes had let us down. Alexandre Despatie had let us down. We’ve only heard our anthem once these Games and its embarrassing.
For not the first time today, I want the ability to reach into my computer screen like that little girl in Poltergeist and smack people hiding behind their anonymous screen names, daring to criticize our Olympians while they sit on their couches playing sport analyst about things that they only pay attention to every four years.
For Olympic athletes, the Games aren’t just a two week event. The Olympic Games are the result of years of training – not just the four years between Beijing and now – we are talking decades working at their sport. You played soccer for four years in high school with a season that was two months long? Good for you. Soccer player Christine Sinclair has lived, breathed and dreamed soccer for over 20 years straight. Simon Whitfield’s been training and racing triathlons for 30 years. All day, every day to reach their goals to be the best in the world. And even with all that preparation, things don’t always right at the right time. Crashes happen. Injuries happen. Bad races happen. Shady soccer refereeing happens.
Paula Findlay struggled in the woman’s triathlon, in tears while she toughed it out in a two hour race where she was injured and it was clearly wasn’t her day on the course. How many of us would have had the strength and determination to swim 1500m, bike 40 km and run a 10km with a tear in her hip that will need surgery after the Games? And what was the first thing that she did after crossing the line? She apologized to the country. To all of us, because she felt more than anything that she had let us down. And the armchair critics sat there and bitched about her performance, asking what she had done for us, but what we should all be asking is what could we have done for Paula?
Sport is our Olympians jobs, but they don’t just stick to it 9-5. At the end of the day, most of us can walk out of the office and leave work behind until the next morning. Not so in the athlete world where everything you do in your ‘off’ time affects your performance, from what you ate, to when you go to bed. That fast food you had for dinner last week? That didn’t affect your sales in the next quarter, but you can sure as heck believe that our Olympians would be aware at how that would hinder their performance in their next competitions and will opt for that chicken and salad and go to bed early instead. Not only is their sport their job, they aren’t paid very well to do it. Yes, national sport organizations, other excellent programs like CanSport and Own The Podium, and sponsors are helping to fund our athletes, but this isn’t the NHL with their multi year contracts for millions of dollars. They are just getting by. These athletes are sacrificing everything, absolutely everything, to try and compete with the best in the world, and they aren’t the only ones. Other athletes in the world are working just as hard as they are to be on the top of the podium. And there are only 3 spots on that podium.
Our Olympians are the ones inspiring the next generations to give their everything, to love sport and become dedicated to being the best that they can be. And the best thing that we can do is to take to Facebook and Twitter and let them know that. Swimmer Julia Wilkinson set goals for herself coming into these Games and wasn’t afraid to tell us what they were. She wanted to be on the podium in the 100 backstroke and see that maple leaf be raised – hopefully hearing the anthem we all know and love at the same time, but on race day, Wilkinson found herself in 9th, just out of finals, just out of reach of her goal by 9/100ths of a second. But while some might be thinking that she could have done more, worked harder to get that elusive medal, she was doing more to encourage our young athletes than most ever will. A young swimmer tonight tweeted a picture of her nails that she just had done specially for racing at Ontario Summer Games next week – looking identical to the design that Julia’s been sporting through the Games. While she may not have a medal around her neck and that disappointment will take some time to hurt a little less, it has to feel good to know that you are a hero for a generation. Thousands of little swimmers and future swimmers want to be her. Olympians are Canada’s sporting heroes, medals or no medals.
There are five more days of the 2012 Olympics. We’ll probably add to our medal total in the final days, but there is always a chance that we may not. The next time something happens and we have a Canadian just off the podium, don’t criticize. They may not have a medal, but they are the fourth, fifth, or sixth best in what they do in the world. And how many of us can say that? Stand up, cheer, send them a tweet about how awesome they are, and then think about how maybe you can help our athletes for future Olympics, because Rio 2016? Those opening ceremonies are just 1458 days away.