Friday, 31 January 2014

I think we expect too much of our

Olympic athletes - and anyone else at the very top of their field of sport. Yes, it really has become ridiculous. I know I wrote about this once before - probably while the Olympics were on.
I pointed out that there has to come a time when records cannot be broken any more. We have probably reached that point already if we only include records broken without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs.
Anyone who has read an account of Roger Bannister's first "four minute mile" will know that even that was mired in controversy. He was, it was claimed by some, "assisted" by the wind. (The fact that he was running laps of an oval both into and ahead of the wind apparently cut no ice with his critics.)
Bannister's time is considered very ordinary in these days of performance enhancing drugs, special training regimes, scientist designed shoes, clothing and diets. It should however be considered extraordinary. He was the first man to be officially recorded to cover that distance in that time. Yes, others may have done it before him but we will never know about them. I doubt Bannister thought he was the first when he did it. He just wanted to show it could be done.
Now runners worry about the one thousandth of a second they need to shave off to "beat the record". Beating the record has become even more important than winning the race. It puts them under enormous pressure.
There is a photograph of swimmer and Olympic medallist Ian Thorpe on the front page of our state newspaper. He is apparently in hospital. He's depressed. He has drug and alcohol problems.
I know some people will say "Why didn't he seek help sooner? Why didn't he talk to someone the first time he felt that way?"
The media, and thus the general public, put people like Thorpe on a pedestal. They are expected to be a certain sort of person - strong, able, always at the top, unfailingly polite, cheerful and on top of their emotions as well.
It doesn't work like that. The expectations we have of people at the top are simply too high. They are human beings like the rest of us.
I can remember talking to another boy who had spent hours in the pool as a younger teen. He had been told he could make it to the top. I can remember him describing the hours spent staring at the bottom of the pool, the mind numbing laps, the early rising every day of the week right through the year. I can remember him saying how it was not just what he had to do it was what his parents had to do to get him there. I can remember him talking about the financial and physical cost.
"It just wasn't worth it," he told me. He was right. It isn't worth it. Perhaps if we stopped treating such people as gods and heroes then they might actually achieve more. They might not need to go into rehabilitation.

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