Olympic failure: a few tentative thoughts

As a general rule, good news does not make it into the media as much as bad news. However, this trend seems to be reversed in terms of the current Olympics coverage.

My TV news channels seem to be blocked solid with heart-warming stories of the truly deserving gold, silver and bronze medal winners. Occasionally, there is a rather awkward interview with a tearful silver medal winner who feels he or she ought to have gained gold. This usually involves an apology about how he/she/they let everybody down.

Many of the gold winners seem eager to stress how many others have contributed to their success: parents, family, coaches, clubs, and so forth. Often, commentators speak about the funding that has gone into gold medal success and frequent mention is made about the level of government support for sports facilities, corporate investment or, in the case of GB, lottery funding.

I do wonder how failure figures in all this. After all, there is only one gold, one silver and one bronze for each event. We do not see many interviews with the athletes who have failed to achieve a medal, yet presumbably they will have been training roughly as hard as the winners over the past four years or more. I would like to hear more about how failure has affected them. Do they feel they have wasted a lot of time in what has turned out to be a fruitless chase for a medal? What does it mean to an individual to have competed at that level, and yet to have come away with nothing, apart from the knowledge that they did not win? Do they get counselling, and to what extent is that effective?

As all the world seems to be embracing wall-to-wall enrapture of the Olympics, I cannot help but feel wet-blanket syndrome as I carp. It reminds me of how I felt at the recent royal jubilee celebrations in England. I am neither a revolutionary nor a flag-waving union-jacker. Roll on christmas.

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