Whereas Plantboy is out of town this week, I had to have a paper sub this morning. Rather than being really smart and actually catching up on my sleep, I have been staying up to watch the Olympics. Insane, really, because by the time they show the "prime-time" events here, I can get all of the results on-line.
I truly meant to tape (we are too primitive for DVR at this house) the gymnastics last night and catch snippets of it during the day today, but after watching this girl for one round, I couldn't take my eyes away.
I like the little power packed girls like Shawn Johnson, simply because they are so strong, but Nastia Lukein turns gymnastics from a sport into an art. Remember Svetlana? She changed gymnastics by virtue of her unique body shape and innovative moves. She pioneered a new era in the sport with her graceful lines and poetry-performances, but she was just too angular and diva-ish, and well, unattractive, for me to take seriously. But Nastia's performances were truly a thing of beauty.
There was a bit of weird scoring last night and if the Chinese girl had overtaken Nastia at the end, I would have definitely said she'd been home-cooked. The two Americans were consistently great on each rotation and definitely deserved to go one-two.
But what I've been thinking more about was this girl, and the team final from a few days ago.
These young women prep their whole lives for for few minutes' worth of competition in the Olympics. Yes, there are American awards and World Championships which are wonderful to win, but the rare Olympics, the holy grail of sporting events, is a once in a lifetime (usually) experience for a select number of elite athletes. There are plenty of young athletes who dream of becoming a household name such as Nadia Comeneci or Mary Lou Retton or Michael Phelps or Tara Lipinsky. But there are only a few, genetically gifted and intensely driven young people who will make the choice to put in the thousands of hours it takes to stand on the podium and hear their anthem played. In the US, this means tens of thousands of dollars invested in lessons, coaches and traveling to meets.
Some friends and I got to talking the other day about our kids and their gifts. The conversation went to, "If you had a child who was truly gifted, would you encourage them to pay the price to make it work?" We also talked about the concept of sending your kids away for the kind of intense training that is done in China, or even to boarding school (something I perceived as extremely romantic when I was a teenager). I think we all said that we couldn't do it. Of course, none of us in the conversation had a child that we believed to be gifted in any extraordinary way.
Poor Alicia Sacramone. For her thousands of hours of training, the picture inserted above is the easiest one to find doing a Google search under her name. Wikipedia tells about her many and varied accomplishments: she is on a short list of just 4 gymnasts who hold as many world championships medals as she does. Despite awesome performances in the early part of this decade, a disastrous tournament to qualify for Greece kept her home in 2004. She stuck with it, being one of a handful of female gymnasts who has attempted to juggle university studies with the level of training necessary to win competitions against younger gymnasts. Despite a fantastic career, and the mathematical impossibility of the US beating the Chinese even without Sacramone's falls, she will be remembered in the minds of many as the girl who lost the gold for the Americans in 2008.
Though I can pinpoint some moments where seemingly small decisions sent my life in a different direction, I cannot say that I've ever had a moment that I believed was a make or break point for everything I'd ever wanted or worked for. I hope that in the end, these amazingly talented and dedicated young women see how much more there is to look forward to in life than what they have sacrificed their childhood for. I hope that Alicia Sacramone can get to a place where she says, "I did my best. I'm grateful for the lessons learned. Even my failures can translate to a different kind of personal success, despite what others think."
To close today, I think a little bit of Dr. Suess is appropriate. "You'll be the winningest winner of all. Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV. Except when they don't. Because, sometimes, they won't. I'm afraid that sometimes you'll play lonely games too. Games you can't win, cause you'll play against you." I guess for each of us, with whatever mediocre talents we posess, have to realize that if we don't feel adequate enough without the world's adulation, we will probably never be complete even when we do recieve it. Good luck with the rest of your lives, Nastia and Alicia.