As readers know by now, I am a self-professed sports-aholic. I enjoy watching sports of any kind. The Olympics, however, have presented me with an all-you-can-eat sports buffet and I have been happily gorging since the Games started.
The Games have already provided plenty of “thrill of victory” moments. There is the bubbly teenage swimmer Missy Franklin with the cute home videos. There is the Gabby Douglas gymnastics story – siblings help convince Gabby’s mom to allow her to leave home and live with another family across the country at age fourteen to pursue her dream. And who could not appreciate, the heart-wrenching story of Judo gold-medalist Kayla Harrison who was abused by her coach from ages thirteen to sixteen but was able to rise from those ashes to Olympic glory?
The camera focuses on the faces of individual athletes, but what about the supporting cast in the background? The parents, spouses, siblings and coaches that agonized every step of the way. The team behind the individual, not just Team USA or Team China, but Team I-believed-in-you. Team I-have-a-permanent-pit-in-my stomach. Team I-would-do-the-same-all-over-again.
Somewhere along the way in watching the Olympics, I became more interested in the look on the faces of the parents of the medalists rather than the athletes. A soon as an athlete wins or loses I anxiously anticipate the moment when the camera pans to the tear-stained face of the mom or dad, to me that tells the rest of the Olympic story. Perhaps I’ve watched too many of the Procter and Gamble “Thanks Mom” commercials for my own good.
While it takes someone of extraordinary drive, athletic talent and mental toughness to become the best in the world, successful people in life generally have a team of family, friends and mentors in their corner. Many studies have shown that an elite athlete’s involvement in high-level sports is heavily dependent on their parents in the beginning and all the way through and their sports club and coaches later. I can’t imagine the caliber of commitment it takes for a family to produce an Olympic athlete – even one who does not end up making the team.
However, I can relate to the emotions of the athlete’s parents. We feel for our kids as they try, succeed and fail as they grow and mature. My kids often tell me to “calm down” when I am watching one of their siblings on the court, field or pool of competition. After watching the Olympics with them this week I can point to Michael Phelps’ mom http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home3/54632467-200/phelps-olympic-michael-photos.html.csp, Danell Leyva’s dad and Sanya Richards-Ross‘ husband and say “See!” I give myself permission to squeal with delight, furrow my brow with disgust and pace with nervousness. I am also very thankful that there won’t be a camera panning to me as I intensely enjoy the moment.
Carol Lewis Gullstad August 6, 2012
- Gabby, Leyva, Sex and Seacrest: Visual Politics of the Olympics One Week In (bagnewsnotes.com)
- GABBY’S INFLUENCE: Olympic Games Inspire (whotv.com)