Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Maybe our reactions are part of the problem?

Just take the way so much of the media reacted when Gabby Douglas dared to follow up her two gold medals by making a mistake that cost her in her next event. Just like that her successes seemed suddenly erased. It was like she had gone to London and wasted our damn time. All of the headlines bleated about her failure, that she had “fallen short”.

In fact, even when Douglas was busy succeeding, people spent more time prattling about her damn hair than about her incredible accomplishments, and at such a young age. The public outcry over her natural roots was so discouraging that it led her mother to fume: “How ignorant is it of people to comment on her hair and she still has more competitions to go? Are you TRYING to ruin her self confidence?” It's hard not to conclude that this may be part of an ugly agenda. It's sad not to notice that it seems to be working.

Maybe players feel like failures for coming second because they anticipate that this is the way much of the world will view them. Coming second makes you a loser, because you didn't come first. The pressure of expectation can be crushing. Coming in third may, in contrast, end up being interpreted as not quite failing altogether. At least you're not like that sad person in fourth place. The one who seems to have lost his sting.

Victoria Azarenka had the twin joys of winning both bronze in singles and gold in mixed doubles. If the original researchers are correct, her happiness should therefore be reflected two-fold. There should be no trace of negativity in her language. And I actually could find none in her post-tournament interviews:

Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
On how the Olympics compare to other achievements, like reaching the world No. 1 rankings and winning the Australian Open title...
AZARENKA: It's definitely very different emotions and very different accomplishment. The feeling I had yesterday on the court, just also winning a bronze, it was absolutely amazing. It's been a dream come true for me to achieve gold because I think every athlete in the world is dreaming about this prize to get. You don't get so many chances. In the Grand Slams, you kind of have a few more, but definitely I'm really proud of all of those achievements. This is definitely something special.

Compare this with Maria Sharapova, who when asked what it was like to be the silver medalist, responded as follows:

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, it means a lot. This is my first Olympic experience. I mean, this is probably one of the toughest events, playing six matches in the span of eight days against tough competition. It's such a unique experience for all of us. For me to be a first Olympian and to leave with a silver is an amazing accomplishment. Obviously it's always disappointing to lose in the finals, but it's great to get a medal, that's for sure.

Notice always the mention of disappointment. I'm not judging it. I'm just saying that maybe there is something to this notion of counterfactual thinking after all. But then along comes Roger Federer whose response throws the entire theory out on its ear:

Roger Federer (SUI)
On whether he's happy to win a silver, or disappointed not to win a gold...
FEDERER: No, no, I'm very happy. I am satisfied. I think this is as good as I could do during these championships. Andy was much better than I was today in many aspects of the game. For me, it's been a great month. I won Wimbledon, became world No. 1 again, and I got silver. Don't feel too bad for me. I am very, very proud honestly to have won a silver. Had a very emotional tournament from start to finish. I could have lost in the first round against Falla. Same thing obviously with Del Potro. I felt like I won my silver, I didn't lose it, so I feel very, very happy.

Do you think Roger is speaking the truth or is he just media savvy and knows better than to give the public the opportunity to cut him down?
(Part 2 of 2)

1 comment:

Klaas said...

Fine articles, which underline the strong emotions the Olympics unleashes.
As for Federer, he has often proven he can take a stride back, and look at the bigger picture, so I am going to take him at face value.

By the way, anybody wants to read more excellent writing about the Olympics, I can recommend Joe Posnanskis blog, at http://sportsonearthblog.com/ .