It was a community. That’s what the Olympic Village felt like in those three weeks. As great as Facebook is in getting people with the same interest together in one space, nothing compares to actually having warm bodies around you, bodies that share the same interest as you. It truly felt like you belong.
That’s something that athletes constantly need, especially athletes who compete or strive to compete in Olympic or professional level or both.
An Outsider in my Own Family
Personally, I am the only one in our clan who chose to make sports my passion and my living. I belong to a large family, a supportive and generally happy family. However, as supportive as they all are, their support and understanding of what I do and the reason why I do what I do is “theoretical”. They really fully get why I do what I do and what I really do. They don’t get the commitment to wake up at 5am everyday come home to have lunch and rest, only go back to training in the afternoon. They don’t get why I pass on parties, vacation, alcohol… why I am in bed at 9pm every day.
They get it conceptually but not really.
They see me work but they don’t really understand how hard training is. They see me happy or sad but they don’t feel what I feel.
For once, it is nice to be around people who know exactly what I feel, what I go through, what I do, what I want and why I want what I want.
How U.S. is Different
But even in the sea of “sameness”, I am still different. Actually, Amercians are different.
I have never met any athlete from other countries that said their government does not financially support their athletes. In the US, we get zero funding from the government. All other athletes from other countries said they get support from the government, some more than the others.
I am not complaining about this. It has been that way for as long as I remember. I got into the game with that knowledge. We get financial rewards for winning a medal but we don’t get a salary or any sort of payment.
All our expenses are paid for by ourselves. Athletes get the money from prizes from competitions, sponsors, or where ever we can get them.
What works for us though, is the free economy, robust media, and a population that subscribes to the media. It is those things that create “stars” and “role models” and “images” which, in turn, motivates brands and companies to sponsor athletes.
Without the “images” that media form and the public subscribes to, we will not get the money we need. The media is not always kind, they are not always honest, and they are not always polite but without them, sponsors will not support us.
Without sponsorships, many of the athletes will not be able to live comfortably in prize money. Yes, sports like tennis, basketball, and other sports with professional leagues have a chance but not all sports have professional leagues or grand slam competitions like tennis.
It’s what makes US unique. We nurture a free market that, in turn, allows us to nurture sports, movies, music, and others. How strong our athletes and artists are depend on how strong our freedom is.
I find it fascinating.
Not Everyone Will Like This
Let me get this out of the way. I love competing for our country. I like wearing those uniforms made using our flag as an inspiration. I like running around with our flag wrapped around me. I like getting on that podium and hear our national anthem. There is no word that could possibly describe how I feel when I compete for our country.
But it’s not the primary reason I am in the Olympics.
I am there because I love the sport, I love competing, and I love winning. I would be doing this with or without our flag.
The fact that I have the flag with me and the millions of people cheering back home is great but I am doing this primarily for myself.
Perhaps it is necessary. It is afterall, the very nature of what we do. When we step into the field, ring, pool, or whatever it is an athlete compete on, I really have no one else but me. In that split second that could spell victory of defeat, it all depends on me. Sure, in team sports, there are teammates that we need to count on to pass the ball or whatever, but in that split second when I have the ball, it depends on me. If I make a mistake, there is nothing other people can do. Not my teammates, not my coach, not a single person in America.
Nobody Got Here With Their Looks
This country is obsessed with weight, their shape of their nose, chin, size of their breasts, waistline, and just about anything in their body.
But here, looks don’t matter and I honestly have never seen more attractive. They go around the village with no makeup and more than 90 percent don’t care if they are seen on live TV with no makeup and they all look beautiful.
They are seen sweating, growling, in pain but the whole world celebrates with them and cheer for them because the world knows that here, looks don’t play a part. You can have the best hair but if you don’t stick that landing, you’re going to lose. You can have the best pair of shoes but if you don’t cross that finish line fast enough, you’re nothing.
It is so different from Hollywood. I am not saying you only make it there if you look good but there, it is as important as your talent.
Here, looks take you anywhere. Either you become faster and stronger, or you go home with nothing.
Everyone Here Had to Work Hard
Usain Bolt talks about not thinking about the race but he doesn’t claim he never trains. In fact, he trains the hardest. The best ones train the hardest. It is the single greatest testament of fair play. Everyone has a chance at the gold but everyone plays by the same rules. Not a single soul in this competition didn’t train hard to get here.
No one took a shortcut, no one got here by beauty or by money or by whatever (save for a few). It was sheer hard work.
Everyone had to put in the hours, the muscle, the sweat, and the pain. It makes me believe that hard work is, indeed, rewarded.
In fact, the best ones are the ones who train the hardest – Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, Roger Federer. You see how focus they are. They are up by 6am to train to train and in bed by 9 to make sure they have enough rest so they can train again tomorrow.
Yes, sure there are exceptions but you get the drift.
One Step of a Woman, A Giant Leap for Mankind
I met Wodjan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar, the first female athletes to be sent to Olympics from Saudi. They didn’t win but it’s probably the most important story in the Olympics.
I have deep respect for the Moslems, the same way I have deep respect for all other religions. I have long wondered when they will allow their women to compete. Finally, in my first Olympics, I witnessed their first women in competition.
It was a glorious site, a woman, with her body covered, running and finishing last but it is by far a momentous event. Finally, they are allowing the rest of the world to witness the spirit of their women, finally they are allowing us to see their strength. It has always been there but it is a privilege for us to be allowed to witness it.
Being a father, I know my daughter is going to live in a slightly better world because of that.
Parents’ Support is Important
About 90% of the athletes I met had one thing going for them, unconditional support of their parents since they were kids. All of them said they are sure they will still be able to become athletes without their parent’s support but they are not sure what kind of success they would have without their parent’s support.
About 90% of them also said they were brought up to be highly independent. Most of them had at least one parent who “allowed” them to make mistakes, “allowed” them to get hurt. Their parents didn’t run to their side right away when they call unless it’s in an extreme situation. Their parents made them realize that they need to figure things out on their own. Their parents made them feel they will always be there but ultimately, it’s their life to live, their decisions to make and they need to do that on their own.
They all feel it contributes to their independence which is something you need in sports. Again, when it comes down to it, we are alone in that ring. It made us push through the pain. It made us develop a thick skin especially when no one else believed we can make it.
The result is that… the Olympics.
We Know It Doesn’t Matter
I know… in the greater scheme of things. What we do is insignificant. We don’t develop a drug that cures diseases and save lives. We don’t discover a new mathematical equation that improves processes. We don’t feed the hungry and heal the sick. We just play games.
But we also know that when we play that game, we give it our best damn shot. We give it our all. We give it everything we’ve got. We will lay our limbs and lives for that one game, that one victory, that one chance.
That’s all we have and we make it count.
And that’s all we could do. That’s all anyone could ever do. And if everyone does that, we will probably become a better world.
And so here I am.
Been here less than a week and I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. It’s all about fulfilling commitments. Guesting. Interviews. Pictorials. Talks. Meetings.
It will probably go on for two more months according to those who have more experience than I do.
I have to say I enjoy the attention but I also have to admit I am tired. I just want to stay home and spend time with my family but I can’t complain. After all, this is the media and the public that allows me to earn from what I love doing.
After the chaos, it will be my family’s turn. I’ll take them on their dream vacation… I’ll buy a house for my parents… a car for my brother… but after that… it’s Rio’s turn. For the next four years, it will be all about the next Olympics… new records to break… new goals to set… new dreams to fulfill.
I just can’t help but sit down and reflect about it. I am happy to be living in a country that does not just let me dream but gives me the means on how to fulfill my selfish dreams.