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.


Is Drowning an Issue of Race Among Children? What Cullen Jones Can Teach us

Daniel Johnson/AP

Copyright: Daniel Johnson/AP

How can Olympian, Cullen Jones, inspire children to learn to swim?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

What Powerful lessons can children learn from Olympian, Cullen Jones?

Watching Cullen Jones, along with his teammates, Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale and anchor Jason Lezak set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle relay on Monday at the Beijing Games, you might be surprised to know that Jones is just the third African-American swimmer to medal in the Olympic Games, and only the second to win gold.

And competition is the least of our problems when it comes to African-American swimmers.

The New York Times published a disturbing article this week that laid it all out. First, in general, swimming is a problem such that in 2005, there were 3,582 unintentional drownings in the United States, or 10 per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death among children.

But even more tragic is that drowning and NOT swimming can actually be compounded by race such that:

the most worrisome statistics involve black children and teens ages 5 to 19, who are 2.3 times more likely to drown than whites in this age group. For children 10 to 14, the rate is five times higher.

In addition, nearly 6 out of 10 African-American and Hispanic children are unable to swim (almost twice as many as their Caucasian peers)!

What’s the problem here?

§ There once was a widely discredited theory about black people suffering from a “buoyancy problem” which made people think that black children couldn’t learn to swim.

§ Segregation kept black people out of pools and beaches and created generations of non-swimmers. This perpetuated the myth that African-Americans couldn’t swim.

§ While studies have shown that Africans were avid swimmers, slaves born into the United States were not allowed to swim because it could be seen as a means of escape.

What can an Olympian do?

The fate of the young African-American swimmer might be resting on the shoulders of Cullen Jones, who is dispelling the myths about black people and swimming as he enjoyed Olympic gold and showed himself as a great role model to all children.

I was told, ‘You could change the face of swimming by getting more African-Americans into swimming,’ ” Jones, 24, said. “At first I was like, ‘Really, me?’ I never got into it thinking I could do something like that, you never do. I just liked to swim.

Bank of America has stepped up to sponsor Jones as he teaches a series of clinics and meets in order to promote minorities to get back into the pool and learn to swim. Having nearly drowned himself as a child, he knows how important swimming lessons are and hopes to impart these all important lessons to the children he interacts with on his tour.

With the strength of the lessons children are learning through their Powerful Words Member Schools and the lessons they can learn in the swimming pool about staying safe and strong, who knows? Another Olympian might just be born!

Cullen Jones’ NPR interview

7 attributes children learn from Olympians

Sandi Stevens McGee and Dr. Robyn Silverman

copyright: Sandi Stevens McGee and Dr. Robyn Silverman

What does it take to become an Olympian in life?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

New York Times

New York Times

Shawn Johnson sticks the perfect landing. Nastia Liukin falls flat on her back and gets back up. Michael Phelps wins another gold medal.

No matter what event you like, it’s difficult to watch the Olympics and not feel inspired. I can’t help myself—I have to stand up, my palms get sweaty, and I find myself shouting “go, go, go!” and “you can do it!” at the TV.

Children can learn a great deal from our Olympians. They’re not just role models; they are character in action. They take all of the Powerful Words that we learn and make use of them in their daily lives.

Here are just a few questions you can pose to your children:

  1. Perseverance: How do your child’s favorite athletes show perseverance in every part of competition and every practice? How can your children show the same kind of perseverance in their own lives?
  2. Discipline: What kind of discipline does it take to achieve a goal like being a member of the Olympic team? Where do you show discipline in your life?
  3. Responsibility: What do you think are the responsibilities of an Olympic hopeful? What kinds of responsibilities must you meet on your quest to be your best?
  4. Determination: Why do you think being determined is so important on our quest to reach our goals? When have you felt determined? What goals have you achieved by being determined?
  5. Indomitable Spirit: Which athletes kept going with all their effort even when they weren’t “the favorite” or even when they were behind? How did that indomitable spirit pay off? When have you showed indomitable spirit in the face of challenge?
  6. Respect: How do you see the Olympians showing respect for themselves and their fellow athletes? How do they show respect and sportsmanship for the judges and their fans? How do you show respect to others each day?
  7. Courage: How do you think these athletes developed the courage to compete on the highest level? How do you think they stayed courageous even when they failed or fell? When do you show that kind of courage and how can you show even more?

The Olympics can be a great stepping stone to talk about your family’s values and well as what it takes to be the best in any area of interest. This is a great time to talk about some amazing athletes and how your children can integrate what they see on their quest to become Olympians in life.