Honor All Olympians
With the Olympic games upon us, what it means to be an Olympian is taking center stage. To be an Olympian is to be recognized by your country as the best they have in a given sport at the time of the Olympic games. It is an elite circle representing athletic excellence, competitive drive and unquestionable dedication.
While allegations against the Russian delegation are putting that brand promise to a particularly meaningful test, I’d like to share a personal perspective on the nuances of being an Olympian, as an Olympic competitor myself (Rowing, Tokyo, 1964).
During the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, a fellow competitor and I were walking in The Ginza, Tokyo’s dining and entertainment district. We were both wearing our Olympic blazers.
A loud woman, obviously an American tourist said to us, “Are you boys on the American team?” We said, “Yes ma’am we are”, and she asked how we did. My friend said, with a certain amount of justifiable pride, “Well, I won a Silver Medal”, and the woman replied, “Oh, that’s too bad.” We walked away laughing. I ribbed my friend for being only the second best in the world at his sport.
Olympians are the very top people, at that time, in their sport from their country. The ones who got there legitimately didn’t get there easily. It took years of training, often before the sun came up, or after the sun went down. Many had jobs and family responsibilities as well. They overcame discouraging results, economic hardship and injuries, but persevered until they won their place on their country’s Olympic Team.
Just getting there is a triumph, and we should not focus only on medal winners, or which country won the most medals. We should look at each participant and try to imagine what they might have gone through just to win the right to compete in the Olympics. We should empathize with their discipline, persistence, the obstacles they may have overcome, and the price they may have paid, just to be as good as they could be.
There is no such thing as a “former Olympian”. Everyone who competes in the Olympics is known forever as an “Olympian,” gold medal, silver medal or no medal! The principles they stand for, and the brand they represent, transcends time, borders, and cultures. At this exciting time, we honor all Olympians.