As the 2008 Olympics play out, I find myself being quite disturbed about the games for the first time. I have always watched from the perspective of the great athletic prowess that it takes to compete at that level and how these athletes continue to fight through all adversities in order to be the best. But, as the behind-the-scenes stories continue to unwind, I understand what it has taken for these athletes to even participate at such a high level and I am sad.
I listened to the stories of some of the little girls who are taken from their families at the age of 3 in order to train as gymnasts. They get to see their families, at the most, once a year. Should they choose to quit anywhere along the way, they are discouraged from doing so as those that participate and succeed will have the quality of life that most others will never know. And you look into those faces and you don’t see any of the happiness of other children of the same age.
Even if you look at the lives of our own athletes, the incredible amount of time and training that must be accomplished on a daily basis is mind boggling. And how many of these athletes suffer injury after injury and have to be put back together over and over again. No one cares that these injuries will have long-term effects on these people, not only on a physical level but also mentally and how they are pushed through rehabilitation so that they can meet competition schedules rather than anyone caring whether they are really physically ready to meet the next challenge.
What is the driving force behind those who compete at this top level? For a few, according to what they say, it is watching the games and thinking that that is what they want to do and they go out and do it. For most, it seems that if they show the slightest bit of talent in a certain area, they are pushed by the coaches and families to excel. Just look at how many of the current athletes have coaches and parents who have also competed at this level and push their children to do the same. The part that is sad to me is that those who compete at this level have to practice 6-8 hours a day and have such a discipline to every aspect of their lives that they have no idea what it is like to grow up and experience what it is really like to enjoy their childhood. You see coaches yelling at them and showing their disapproval if they don’t do as expected and they are not allowed to show any emotions. Everyone seems to forget that these are people, not machines.
And at the end of the 17 days of these games, who will remember any of these competitors? There may be a name or two that will be recalled when someone raises the subject but most of the competitors, even if they win a medal, will soon be forgotten. Everyone will go back to other television shows and their own lives and find entertainment in other arenas. So what about the athletes? Most will have broken dreams and will have sacrificed their lives to find out that not only are they not “the best” but they couldn’t even qualify to compete on that top level. They will realize that they have had to give up so much to just be able to make the journey to the Olympics but in the end they had to focus so much on the regimen that allows them to compete that they never had enough time to really enjoy the experience. Are all of the efforts worth the rewards for these athletes? You can decide for yourself but as for my own opinion – no way; not for what all of these athletes have had to sacrifice in order to reach this point nor for all of the repercussions that will be a part of the rest of their lives.