The Olympics and Missed Opportunities

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m enjoying watching the Olympics. And most nights I’ve had both eyes wide open well past nine o’clock. That for me these days is a gold medal performance.

And I’ll also admit that I really don’t know much about winter sports or the international competitors who perform at such a world-class level. I generally have enough difficulty navigating my icy sidewalk — and there doesn’t appear to be any style points awarded for snow shoveling here in Copley, Ohio.

So I’m intrigued by the print, online and broadcast stories — I’ll call them personality profiles — about the athletes.  As best I can tell, the stories tend to follow a template: how the athlete got his/her start on the road to international competition, people who helped along the way, hurdles overcome or yet to be faced, how she/he defines success and so on.

The Olympic Games most certainly are a celebration of success. Yet it struck me yesterday — while watching the women’s snowboard cross race — that the competition also defines how athletes at the top of their sport deal with disappointment and missed opportunities. That’s something that most of us can more readily identify with. Ever come in second for a job you really wanted?

What got me thinking about that was Lindsey Jacobellis. Jacobellis was favored to win the gold in the women’s snowboard cross in Vancouver — after winning the silver medal four years ago. But the silver at the Turin Games was viewed as a major disappointment because of a mistake she made at the very end of the race while cruising for the gold.

Yesterday she finished fifth after a disqualification for veering off the course. Here’s from a NYT online story by John Branch, “Redemption, but Not for Jacobellis“:

This time, the finish line in sight, Lindsey Jacobellis landed the big jump and sailed cleanly to the end. But there was no joy in not making the same mistake twice.

The line Jacobellis crossed on Tuesday was for fifth place, a far more disappointing prize than the painful silver medal she won in 2006 at the Turin Games.

For four years, Jacobellis, an American snowboarder, has been haunted and hounded by a squandered golden opportunity. She had blown a huge lead in the final of the inaugural Olympic snowboard cross race, grabbing her board in a stylish twist as she soared over the second-to-last jump. She fell, then stood up in time to recover for what might be the most infamous silver medal in Winter Games history.

During the NBC broadcast, a reporter asked her about the silver medal finish four years ago. Jacobellis said — and hey, I wasn’t sitting there taking notes so this is a paraphrase — that she was young (20 at the time), did something she probably shouldn’t have done, but learned from it. Just like posting all those photos from the fraternity/sorority kegger on Facebook. Oops. I digress.

Here’s from the NYT article:

After her disqualification, Jacobellis made her way down the course, hit the last jump and grabbed her board in the air with a “nice, fun truck-driver grab,” she said. She landed cleanly and crossed the finish line about a minute behind the others.

“That’s the spirit that it is,” she said. “It’s a bummer, but, you know, I came off and I was like, Oh, I can still have some fun in some way.”

A bummer — and no doubt a huge disappointment. But, hey. Most of us have been there at one time or another — just not with the world watching.

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2 responses to “The Olympics and Missed Opportunities

  1. I would be more interested if the commentary and interviews were themselves more interesting. Back in Michigan (we winter in Florida), we have access to a Canadian channel. It’s much less obsessed with cheerleading and the ridiculous jingoistic chest-thumping that so often figures in American commentary. The athletes are presented mostly in silence until their run or performance is complete, instead of some disembodied voice competing with them throughout.
    That is, excepting hockey, which I think the Canadians can be cut some slack on.

  2. I’ll admit that the TV “personality profiles” aren’t great journalism. But they are interesting to me just because I know so little about most of the athletes from the United States and elsewhere.

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