Guest editorial: Frenzied coverage of Olympics, including Park Record’s, too focused on winning
February 26, 2018
Our family loves the Winter Games but this year has been discouraged by the media hype including, unfortunately, that of our Park Record. As the hometown newspaper of so many Olympians, we should present a more nuanced portrayal of the games than a simplistic "Quest for Gold", and we should headline our homegrown world champion's very respectable 7th-place GS result as something better than "A Finish to Forget".
In the past few days, we've watched on national media as Lindsey Vonn sobbed apologies, insistent that she did her best and taking comfort in knowing that at least her grandfather would be proud of her. This, after winning the bronze. Mikaela Shiffrin, likewise, earned brief praise for her win in GS before falling from the network's grace, "failing" into fourth place in Slalom. In social media, my 11-year-old follows his hometown hero's Instagram posts. Ted Ligety, after placing seventh in the world, mused that at least his son didn't care he didn't perform well at work that day.
What are we doing to our athletes, and what, in turn, are their responses teaching our kids?
If we are somehow disappointed, we have ourselves to blame. Disappointment, after all, is the differential between expectation and outcomes. Olympic expectations are shamelessly inflated by our ratings-driven media, and we willingly buy into the delusion. Math tells us that very few Olympians will come away with medals, and only one-third of that minuscule minority will win gold. We know, too, that event results rely on multiple factors, many out of individual athletes' control. Furthermore, as any coach will tell you, a first-place finish means you simply bested the rest on a single day. No more, no less.
Even so, our media-frenzied delusions persist. Gold medals morph into anticipated, neutral outcomes for promoted athletes, anything short of that defined as failure: If you didn't win gold, you failed. And more so, you failed us.
I get that athletes may buy into the hype, too, and that most hold high, intrinsic expectations of themselves. That's good, and that's why they're great. But as hometown and cradle to many Olympians, and as an Olympic host town, both past and perhaps future, let's celebrate the remarkable achievements of our athletes on the world stage, whatever daily results might post.
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The Olympic Spirit is about pursuing excellence and, alongside the world, inspiring one another to be our human best. These are quests much nobler than network ratings and gold medals. To our local kids aspiring up Park City's "pipeline", whether in athletics, academics, or service: Go pursue excellence, and wherever you land, we'll be proud. There's a lot of really good ground between failure and first place.