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19 August 2008 @ 07:34 am
Welcome to the golden age of speed with grace  
I was incredibly impressed watching Dara Torres win a silver medal in the 50 meter freestyle a couple days ago. Seeing an athlete around my age win at anything was inspiring all by itself, but what really inspired me was her attitude.

The first headline I saw afterwards talked about Torres' swim as a loss--focused on how she'd missed the gold by a hundreth of a second. But watching that swim--this wasn't a swimmer who was disappointed or thought she'd failed in any way. She was ecstatic; she hugged the gold medal swimmer beside her; and if she thought this anything other than an amazing victory, it definitely didn't show.

After she'd helped her team win a second silver in the 400 meter relay a few minutes later, she told reporters, still smiling, still clearly thrilled, "You can't put an age on your dreams."

Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of a story about an olympic gymnast, right as her father was explaining how she'd decided "silver wasn't good enough." I felt sorry for her, and a little bit angry too. What's "not good enough" about being the second best in the world at anything? That's incredible. This morning, I caught a mention of how another gymnast had finally won a gold after being "disappointed" by several silvers. Disappointed? Disappointed?

Okay, I do get that, if I'm honest with myself. When Torres first finished, I saw that hundreth of a second and started thinking "oh, man" and "if only," too--until I saw her face, her joy at taking that medal. That was the part of that swim that really stayed with me.

It's so easy to focus on the tiny bit of a thing we didn't do--on the sliver of a second that we somehow missed--rather than on all the amazing things we've done. Too easy--because we lose much of joy and of life when we do that.

One doesn't need to get as far as the life-equivalent of a silver medal for this to be true, either. A few days ago, I heard an interview on NPR with a shot-putter who was favored to win a medal, but who just sort of had the kind of off day where things fell apart and it didn't happen. The athlete's wife is expecting a son in a month, and an interviewer asked him--and I thought this a cruel question--"What will you tell your child about this day?"

He answered, "I'll tell him I cared about something enough to dedicate eight years of my life to it."

Yeah, that. Exactly that.
incandragonincandragon on August 19th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
I read something that said, by and large, the happiest olympic athletes, ten years or so down the line, are the bronze winners. Because if you win the gold, you eventually have to deal with the fact that winning the gold doesn't necessarily give you a good life. And winning the silver is the same, with the burden of carrying the "almost" around. But the bronze winner gets the benefits of the dedication, and the mindset, (and mostly the same job opportunties) and in general they get the respect of: "she was an olympic athlete, how great is that?!"
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
I read the same article somewhere. Makes much sense to me.

Somehow in many eyes, athletes and spectators alike bronze often still means "hey, I got a medal!" while silver means "but it wasn't gold."
(no subject) - cloudshaper2k on August 20th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Stix Munagentooc on August 19th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
Wow... thanks for this. ~saves it~
akamarykate: donna_byhazelsparkleakamarykate on August 19th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
"It's not an end, it's just a start..."
I couldn't agree more...Dara Torres is a rockstar, and the quintessential Olympic athlete. And so is the Russian gymnast who competed for Germany at 33, to get her son health care, and then won the silver in the vault. I look at both of those women and think, "They *gave birth* and are *that good*!" I can't imagine better role models.
some guy named Larrylnhammer on August 19th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)
Re: "It's not an end, it's just a start..."
Getting a silver gymnastics medal in her fifth Olympic games, no less.

Re: "It's not an end, it's just a start..." - haikujaguar on August 19th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: "It's not an end, it's just a start..." - janni on August 19th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Pamela D Lloyd: gingerbread house lovepdlloyd on August 19th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Very cool post, Janni. Thank you, so much for sharing this. We do live in a time and place where it sometimes feels that people's accomplishments are diminished, simply because someone else was "better," even when better is measured by a hundreth of a second. Which is incredibly sad. How much happier we would be if everyone could respond as Torres did, with happiness for what she did, and joy for those around her who have also done well.

I love what Torres said: "You can't put an age on your dreams."
ex_camillea on August 19th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
I know I don't comment much on LJ these days, but sometimes your posts make me cry, in a very good way. This was one of those.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC)
Awwwww. Thanks for speaking up and saying so. :-)
Karenklwilliams on August 19th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
I've been watching a lot of professional tennis, and sometimes when I see the players fighting over a point, I wonder why they keep doing that, when it seems apparent to me that the game they're fighting over won't affect the set. But that's what champions do-- keep fighting until the end. That's how records are set and medals won, by pushing themselves beyond what anyone else would think was reasonable.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)
Yes--I think someone truly dedicated to any sport or art gets that the following through, wherever you're at, matters.

I was thinking the other day too about how sometimes, the race changes in a moment from a race to win to a race to finish. And when that happens--one way or another, in any possible, if it is possible--you finish it.
ellameena on August 19th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
The emphasis on gold gold gold gets a little tiresome. And yes, I thought Nastia and her father displayed a bit of poor sportsmanship, and the commentators didn't help matters much, complaining loudly over and over again how she'd been robbed. In reality, the most successful athletes are those that show up to the olympics and have the performance of their lifetimes. There are a lot of people finishing 20th or 30th who are really excited just to be there and do their personal best. Likewise, I can understand the disappointment when someone favored to win the gold doesn't perform well--you have to measure against your own personal best. But if an athlete does their best and finishes second or third? That's great! I know when I finished fifth in the 100 yard butterfly at my senior year conference championship meet, that was a peak experience for me. It was much farther than I'd expected to ever go in the sport, and making it into the "big" finals at the "big" meet was really excellent for me, so I think I was a lot happier that day than the three girls standing up to receive first, second, third place trophies.

Did you catch the men's 100 meter? Usain Bolt won first place, but the silver medalist was ecstatic. It was really fun to watch.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
I caught the 100 meter, but missed the silver medalist--probably because I was distracted by how easy Bolt made those 100 meters look. That would have been fun to watch.

One of the wonderful concepts I've gained from running--having never competed in any sort of vaguely athletic event whatsoever until this past year--is the concept of your personal best or personal record. That the whole point, in the end, is the competition you set up against yourself.
Edward Greavestemporus on August 19th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
I watched that race, and her semi-final, and that relay. I think I'd like to lobby to have her photo placed into the dictionary next to the word grace. What an apt observation of that moment, how, she literally turned and embraced with true warmth and spirit of comeraderie Britta. I felt that perhaps Britta's joy, and wonderful smile were so much brighter in that moment of victory, because of how Dara reacted.

A true role model on so many levels.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
I felt that perhaps Britta's joy, and wonderful smile were so much brighter in that moment of victory, because of how Dara reacted.

Yes. What a wonderful gift that was.

We should all do as well.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on August 19th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
I can understand the sharp bite of disappointment when one came very, very close, but related to the athlete's comment at the end, in after years, the pride in even being there can linger longest. I heard that in the voice of an older gent who was interviewing one of the athletes the other night, when I was watching in hopes it would cool down enough for sleep. The fellow said that he'd lost, but he would never forget the intense and wonderful experience of competing.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
the pride in even being there can linger longest

Yes. I'd guess that's the main thing you'd have, 20, 30, 40 years down the road.

In much the way that when I'm thinking clearly, I know it's the act of having written a book that matters and that the pride lies in, not what happens to that book out in the world.

Edited at 2008-08-19 08:51 pm (UTC)
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Alana Joli Abbottalanajoli on August 19th, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this, Janni. So often the media coverage of the Olympics seems so in-your-face to athletes that I feel they're not treated like people. I appreciate your recognition that they are, and amazing ones at that!
The Muse, Amused: metamorphosis and discoverypenmage on August 19th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
This is one of the truest things about life, and one of the easiest to forget.

There are a lot of reasons why I'm happy that you're both my friend and on my friendslist. Posts like this are definitly one one of those reasons.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
Awwwww, this made me smile. Thanks for saying so. :-)
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Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC)
We get Telemundo, which is owned by NBC, which improves are viewing options at least somewhat. Even if somewhat mostly amounts to "more soccer, less basketball."
Ulrikaakirlu on August 19th, 2008 11:18 pm (UTC)
For another inspiring story about how an athlete understood his Olympic moment, consider Pyambu Tuul's race in the Barcelona Olympic marathon. He placed last, but he did not regard himself or his time as slow. He was, as he said at the time, setting a Mongolian Olympic record. It's also worth clicking through tot he original article to read his story in full.

(From the blog DFL, whose slug line reads: "Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not." Damn right. Every one of those athletes deserves celebrating.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on August 19th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just--wow. That made me tear up. Thank you for sharing it.