When Bronze Means Second Loser

The Agony of Bronze?

The Agony of Bronze?

Ahhh the Olympics. The thrill of victory! The agony of defeat! Well, actually, that second part isn’t so thrilling is it?

As I mentioned about a week and a half ago, watching the Olympics is no relaxing experience for me. It’s hard work! I’m standing up, clapping, trying to “will” the ball over the net, keep my feet planted firmly on the beam, and swimming (well, in my mind anyway) “with all my might” to the wall.

My husband laughs at my emotional involvement. I get so excited when someone on “our” team wins. Working in these industries as the Child Development coach makes me feel attached, somehow. But one thing I DON’T like is when the other team doesn’t do well. Does that sound strange? I want everyone to do well and then have someone from our team simply do the best. I don’t root for anyone to fall, mess up, or break a leg. That’s just not my style.

The Olympics is a strange nut to crack. I love the excellence of it all but I hate the perfection aspect. I mean, I had to wonder what kind of pressure Michael Phelps was under when he was going for yet another gold medal. Yes, of course I was proud, excited, and shouting “with all my might” with the best of ‘em as he was traveling at superhuman speeds towards the touch pad on the pool wall. But…the pressure! I wondered if the children were watching would think, “I need to be that perfect.” I also scoffed at the FACT that the media, if this swimming genius did not in fact make it to the wall 1/100th of a second before the next guy, would call it a major “upset,” and a “tragedy,” of Olympic proportions, pun intended.

And who could forget the tally that was being kept of Walsh and May’s winning run? Yes, incredibly exciting—but I just knew that a loss would be called “devastating”—as if the other 100+ wins that they already had didn’t even matter anymore. I mean, do you really go back to 0 when you lose? Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that they won—and was jumping around when they did—but if they lost, would it be so horrific? Would a silver—or a bronze—be an insult?

Imagine that—a medal—other than gold would be an insult. Second—or *gasp* third best at a monumental event like the Olympics would be…despicable? It’s not like we didn’t see it. People mentioned the travesty when Shawn Johnson “swallowed her disappointment” when she didn’t receive her “expected” gold medal for the all-around—and even Michael Phelps was infuriated that he didn’t break the world record on one of his 8 Olympic GOLD-winning swims. Are these unrealistic expectations?

We should always be striving to reach our best but when can we say that we are satisfied, honored, blessed, grateful, and inspired by our achievements?

Which brings me to one of the ugliest “bronze means second loser” attitudes that was reported on the Olympics just today. Kelly Sotherton, who clinched the first athletics medal of the games for the UK and achieved a personal best of 2 min 12.28 seconds in the 800m, should have been celebrating with friends, family, and her coach given her amazing accomplishment. Instead, here’s what happened:

Kelly Sotherton’s bronze medal celebrations proved short-lived when she was reduced to tears by her coach. Minutes after claiming Britain’s first athletics medal of the Games, Sotherton, 27, had to endure a dressing down from Charles van Commenee, UK Athletics’ technical director for the heptathlon.

He believed that Sotherton should have won the silver medal behind Carolina Kluft, the Swede who succeeded Britain’s Denise Lewis as the Olympic champion.

Instead of congratulating Sotherton on winning a medal at her first Olympics, Van Commenee accused her of “running like a wimp” in the 800 metres, the last of the seven events.

Sotherton burst into tears and had to be consoled by the team doctor. Moments later she had to compose herself for the official press conference, where her performance belied her inner turmoil.

Could we all be disgusted now? How about achieving a medal? How about achieving the first British medal of the games? How about earning a place on an Olympic team at all? How about achieving a personal best???

If we are truly to learn from our Olympians—and be inspired by them (and they ARE inspiring, aren’t they), we must remember that they are human. We must remember that a personal best should be celebrated. We must remember that their efforts and achievements, gold or not, should be respected. After all, isn’t this what we would want for ourselves and for our children?

Come on, coach. Crack a smile.

Parents—if your children are paired with a coach like this; head for the door. Surround your child with people who encourage, challenge, and recognize greatness even when it comes in another color besides gold.