Hadley: Success goes beyond medals (Feb. 24)
Greg Hadley | Sunday, February 23, 2014
The Winter Olympics finished Sunday, and America lost.
Both in terms of overall medals and first-place finishes, the United States lagged behind the Russians. Those are the basic, some might say, embarrassing facts. We fell apart in speed skating, choked in hockey and generally performed below expectations.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) went, as one might expect, into damage-control mode, pointing to American successes in newer sports such as ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle. But after such a strong performance at Vancouver 2010, when the United States set a record for total medals, Sochi 2014 is considered a letdown for Team USA.
Shaun White did not get his third gold medal. Lindsey Vonn did not even compete. Bode Miller took one bronze medal. In figure skating, no American took the podium in the singles competition. For the first time since 1984, no speed skater won a medal. Shani Davis called it the “worst Olympics ever.”
Then again, why do we care so much about the failures?
One of the greatest aspects of the Olympics is that it transcends national boundaries through competition. Keeping track of who won how many medals is a nice way to feel national pride, but it can blind us to the achievements of other athletes from around the world, like Canadian sisters Justine, Chloe and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe, all of whom competed in the moguls. Justine and Chloe won gold and silver, while Maxime finished in 10th. Or the incredibly close women’s downhill, where Tina Maze not only won Slovenia’s first Winter Olympic gold medal, but also tied with Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin.
Why have a medal table when all it does is take away from the whole point of the Olympic movement? Why not realize America will sometimes lose and instead pay attention to what matters about the Olympics? There is nothing wrong with national pride or wanting to win. But the Olympics are about coming together and celebrating athletic achievement, and if we’re too caught up lamenting America’s poor performances, we will miss out on so much more. Yes, the U.S. hockey teams lost to Canada. But another Canadian, Alex Bilodeau won the freestyle moguls and dedicated the victory to his brother, who has cerebral palsy. And Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu won men’s figure skating gold after his hometown, ravaged by the tsunami three years ago, banded together to help him, financially and emotionally.
If you prefer your inspiring stories closer to home, then what about luger Erin Hamlin, who became the first American woman to medal in Olympic history? If you were not paying close attention, Hamlin’s story got buried behind tales of woe concerning Shaun White’s failure to medal in the halfpipe.
All of this is not to say that everything is wonderful all of the time. The corruption and woeful preparation in the Sochi was egregious and inexcusable. We cannot afford to give Russia a free pass on this. But we also should not consider the Olympics a failure.
The Games brought out the very best athletic performances the world has to offer, and it is only getting better. Twenty-six countries won medals. Eighty-eight had athletes qualify for the Games, a new record. The United States athletes competed and it is not as if they failed their country. Team USA still won 28 medals.
Most importantly, if we have learned anything it is that when athletes break down in tears because they did not win a gold medal, the competition has been taken too far. So let’s celebrate the good and not get caught up on the bad.
It may sound a little cheesy, but that does not mean it cannot happen.
Contact Greg Hadley at email@example.com