I’ve been watching the Olympics Gymnastics competition this week, and it got me thinking about success.
Success can come suddenly. Gabby Douglas, the new Women’s All Around Gold Medalist, wasn’t favored to win. In fact, it was a surprise that she was even in the games at all. But as Gabby lept onto the uneven bars and swung like a monkey on Ritalin - she suddenly caught the attention of the world and became America’s new sweetheart.
Success can end just as suddenly. While Gabby Douglas was in, with a few bad moves, the favored woman, Jordyn Wieber, was out. Meanwhile, the hunky American Men’s Team was touted at being the next wave of gymnastics golden boys, but somehow tumbled out of our hearts as one after another succumbed to the mighty pummel horse. It was almost painful to watch.
Sometimes, a near success isn’t good enough. American McKayla Maroney looked like she had bitten off her tongue when she earned silver instead of gold. And those Russian gals, they literally wept when they learned that they had come in second instead of first. They cried so much I was actually worried about what would happen to them when they returned home? Did Russia ship off silver medalists to work camps? Or worse, make them work the Starbucks Drive through window in Moscow? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to smuggle a few of them back to the states because the looks in their eyes said their next few days with coach were going to be really, really bad.
Success is something we all want, strive for, sacrifice for, and once attained, do everything in our power to keep. It’s in our DNA. From the moment we enter grade school and start chanting “We’re number one, cuz number two won’t do,” we strive for nothing less than perfection. When the Great Britain team, a team who had never won a medal, suddenly secured the Silver, the crowd went wild. Only minutes later, however, the Japanese team, who had won second in 2008 and weren’t happy about being pushed out of medal contention, actually paid the judges to revisit the scores. The newly tallied scores put them back into Silver status, knocking the Brits to bronze. The London crowd, who would have been happy to win any medal only moments before, sat scratching their heads, dazed and morose. The same look my twenty-something friends had when they realized the Twilight movies were coming to an end.
When someone succeeds, someone else loses. Above all I ponder this. Why do we want to win so badly? Does being Number One mean we are better, more loved, and more important than the person next to us? And as viewers, why are we so heavily invested in our teams? Not only in gymnastics but in any sport. I know adults who let a loss by their favorite team ruin their weekends. If Aly Raisman hadn’t medaled, I’m not sure how her parents would have gotten through the week. My guess is with a lot of alcohol and some Sylvia Path poetry.
Is being the best really showing what human beings are capable of or just another way to say nanny nanny boo boo? We can’t really live through athletes, nor should we try. We should enjoy the games, celebrate the successes, appreciate and learn from the losses, and move on with our lives. In the Olympics, the NFL, or the Fourth Grade Spelling Bee. There’s no dishonor in being second, or even tenth. There’s only dishonor in not trying.
We are each given gifts, but too often we are afraid to let that gift shine because Billy down the street can do it a teensy bit better. So we sit on the sidelines because society has taught us that being number one is the only number that counts. That’s sad. Life isn’t about being the best. The Best is a fleeting place to be, a chapter in our story. But it isn’t our whole story. Our real story is about coming together, learning from each other, and honoring one another. And that’s what the Olympians, or any contestant of any event, should truly celebrate.