Pushing Pressure

“I feel like I’ve let my entire country down.”

Tearful words from skeleton athlete Mellisa Hollingsworth that will probably go down in the history of these 2010 Olympic Games.

Hollingsworth, a gold medal favourite in skeleton, has had her face plastered on billboards and posters leading up to the Games.  She has many wins under her belt, including a Nationals win in 1996 three months after she entered the sport.  Since then, she has quite literally owned the podium in the national and World Cup circuit, and won a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin.  Last night, however, after a couple of mistakes in her fourth run, Hollingsworth slipped from second to fifth place, missing out on her podium chance.

The time difference between she and gold medallist Amy Williams from Great Britain?  0.96 seconds.

Less than one second and Hollingsworth goes from Olympic glory to letting her entire country down.

Now, I am a big fan of the Own the Podium campaign.  It has brought Canadian patriotism to front and centre, and that is a good thing.  We are currently sitting in fourth place in the medal standings with eight medals and four of them gold.  That’s nothing to shake a stick at, and we still have some of our best events to go.  Still, it seems that for every triumph – take Jon Montgomery’s gold medal finish in the men’s skeleton race last night – there are several stories of disappointment.  It seems to be a Canadian tradition to build the hype and then suffer the fall.

Why is that?

Of course there’s no easy answer, and people who blame these athletes for their misses should be ashamed of themselves.  CTV is really becoming no better.  Can you name one athlete off the top of your head who has won silver or bronze at these Olympics?  Do you know their emotional back stories?  Listening to CTV for the past half hour, I have heard Jon Montgomery’s name associated with “goosebumps” and “the chill you get when you hear those words, ‘Canada wins another gold medal!'”

Well, that’s wonderful.  But I’ve also seen skier Emily Brydon cry, “I did my best,” after going off-course in her Ladies’ Super-G race.  I’ve heard the announcers remark (almost disdainfully?), “Only one Canadian managed to qualify for the next round.”  Only a couple of minutes were devoted to skier Georgia Simmerling, who was asked to attend the Games just a few weeks ago when Canada was awarded more spots.  She managed to complete the difficult Super-G course in 27th place when 15 of the 53 skiers were eliminated.  After gold-medal favourite Jennifer Heil failed to capture the gold in Ladies’ Moguls, headlines read, “Heil settles for silver.”  Settles?  And, just now, the enlightened commentator said, “Skier Veronica Bauer failed to crack the top 12 in her event, placing 15th.  Should we be disappointed in that?”

Veronica Bauer is suffering post-concussion symptoms and couldn’t even watch TV until September because her injury went undiagnosed for so long.

Last night, CTV did air a wonderful tribute to the patriotism these games have fostered.  It brought a tear to my eye.  It defined what these games should be about.  There was one particular line that stuck in my mind:

“The power of spectator sport is the power of community.”

I honestly think this is true.  We have the power to stand behind our athletes and drive them forward.  But “senseless nationalism,” as a friend just put it, is going a little too far.  These athletes should never, ever be made to feel as though they have let us down.  Back off, media onslaught, and for God’s sake CTV, if you’re going to cover these games, how about simply letting us watch the multitude of beautiful moments instead of beating us over the head with tears, disappointment, the need for gold medals and that grating Olympic song?  Every athlete has a story of triumph, even if they placed 27th in their event.

Let’s be proud of these people for even making it to this level, instead of pushing pressure down their throats until they choke.  How many of us could fly down an ice mountain head-first on a tiny little sled and stay within one second of a gold medal?

Congratulations, Mellisa Hollingsworth, on your fifth place finish.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Amazing post Ashley!
    You are totally right. I was very disappointed in CTV when they continuously commented on how Patrick Chan finished in a “disappointed” 5th place. Seemed to me that Patrick Chan was shocked and quite pleased with his overall marks considering the slip-ups he had in his free skate. I mean, the kid is only 19. I’m sure we will see remarkable things from him if he competes in 2014.

  2. That’s right. Every athlete you hear says, “I’ve done my best,” or “I’m just proud to represent my country.” Maybe they wouldn’t feel so disappointed with a fifth place finish if we didn’t make them feel that way.

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