Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Olympic Spirit and Olympic Egos

It’s the final day of the Olympics, and I’m already moving into a period of misty-eyed nostalgia.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of an Olympics freak. I love almost everything about them. I love that for 2+ weeks, our televisions are taken over by athletes competing for honor instead of a paycheck. I love that sports and champions we largely ignore get a brief moment in the sun. Most of all, I love the idea and spirit of the Olympics — a time when the entire world can put conflict aside and come together in honest, friendly, and generally non-life-threatening competition.

Think of all the great moments we’ve seen:

  • 38-year-old Alexandr Vinokourov capping his road cycling career with a going-away victory in the men’s road race
  • Gaby Douglas breaking down racial barriers and outperforming the world in the women’s gymnastics all-around
  • Mo Farah taking gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters – two events he wasn’t actually supposed to win
  • Meb Keflezighi, the senior statesman of US distance running, clawing his way from 17th to 4th in the men’s marathon
  • I could go on, but you probably have your own favorites…

Of course things don’t always play out exactly to my idealistic standards. There was that whole badminton cheating scandal. And of course the endless suspicion that any great performance by a relative unknown must be the result of doping. And then there was Stephen Colbert’s campaign against Rafalka, the dressage horse owned by Ann Romney. Now I’m all for making fun of Mitt Romney, but come on, man. Dressage has enough of an image issue already.

And then there’s the egos! Good lord, some of these athletes can make you think Justin Bieber is a humble human being. My personal favorite example of ego (and no, I’m not going to pick on Ryan Lochte again…yet) was the Twitter email I got suggesting some athletes to follow:

Note: Gaby Douglas is not the person I’m calling out here.

Well heck, at least the guy with NO LEGS seems relatively down-to-earth.

We spent part of our long run yesterday talking about athlete egos. Okay, specifically we were talking about the “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” meme and debating whether the original picture was proof that McKayla Maroney is an ungrateful brat.

My personal opinion on that was that McKayla Maroney is a 16-year-old kid who gave up a normal childhood to spend her entire life becoming the world’s best vaulter. My guess is that, in the moment the original pic was snapped,  McKayla Maroney was not impressed with McKayla Maroney.

And if I can think that, then maybe I have to give athletes like Lochte and Bolt the benefit of the doubt as well. Let’s be honest, Usain Bolt is the most gifted sprinter of modern times. Almost every time he steps on the Olympic stage, he smashes some long-standing, “unbreakable” record. In fact, maybe by calling himself “the most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen”, Bolt’s actually being humble. He’s not calling himself the “hardest working” or “most deserving”. Perhaps he’s just acknowledging that some higher power saw fit to gift him with a talent that the rest of us will never come close to, even with Malcolm Gladwell’s touted 10,000 hours of practice.


I don’t really think Usain Bolt is a humble guy.

BUT, I do think that maybe – in certain cases – humility is overrated. Remember a few months back, when that book The Psychopath Test came out, and there was all this talk about how corporate CEOs tended to score higher than average on the test?

I don’t think you need to be a psychopath to make it to the Olympics. However, I do think that in addition to the ideal build (and the access to the best training and equipment, and the sponsors that allow you to devote your life to training), you need to think just a little bit differently than the average person. You need to honest-to-God believe you can win an Olympic medal.

Come on. That’s like saying you’re going to become president of the United States or start a company that makes a billion dollars.  For most of us, it’s crazy talk. Or it’s the sign of a hugely inflated ego.

But for these guys (and gals), the ones who actually do win Olympic medals and smash records, it HAS to become the norm. This is all supposition of course, but if you really want to win the Olympic marathon, you probably can’t go in saying, “Well, I’m just going to try to run sub-2:10 and see how that works.”

You need to go in saying, “I’m going to run the best race of my life, and in that last couple miles when sh*t starts to go down, I’m going to hang with it until I collapse.”

Now, let’s not get all crazy. “Hanging till I collapse” is NOT a valid strategy for your average training run. But assuming you’ve done your homework in training, believing in your own potential probably IS a valid race strategy. In fact, Rogue coach Amy Anderson recently wrote a great blog about how confidence is an essential trait of any great marathoner. She’s all accredited and stuff, so if you don’t believe me, read her post and take it from a professional.

And maybe, maybe, even give Ryan Lochte the benefit of the doubt.

Well, except when those drunk pictures of him show up in People magazine. Then you’re totally justified in rolling your eyes. Unless of course you actually remember half the stupid stuff you did in your 20s…

2 comments on “Olympic Spirit and Olympic Egos

  1. Jeanine
    August 12, 2012

    I will be the best at napping and eating pancakes today!!

  2. Rich Y.
    August 22, 2012

    Quasi-related: Phyllis Diller's obituary stated that her reading a self-empowerment book turned her from a housewife to one of the best comics in the past century. in your self is an incredibly healthy and powerful force. Once self-belief is achieved, the next coaching step is to teach the athlete that all their opponents feel the same way and get to work.

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This entry was posted on August 12, 2012 by in confidence, motivation, Olympics, pride.
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