Ghosts of the Olympic Dream
‘I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me, and I walk alone’
-Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Green Day
The Olympic Games, a world wide four year sporting tradition where the best in the world have a chance to compete against each other – to find out which athlete, and nation, are the best. Looking past the political implications of such an event, special attention should be paid to the stars of the show – the athletes, for it is they that encapsulate the competitive spirit, they are the ones who give us the show.
For many athletes, earning a podium spot at the Olympics will be the pinnacle of their sporting careers. It is those that earn a podium spot that are glorified, they’re the ones praised, they’re the ones who receive worldwide attention. The sad reality is this, the ‘losers’, the ones who do not podium – are likely champions not only in their country but their entire region. I feel it is very important that we view every single competitor as champions competing against other champions.
The stronger a particular country is at a sport, the higher likelihood that the pool of athletes are greater. When a country has a large pool of athletes, they have the benefit of a higher chance of identifying natural talent. These natural talents will outperform their colleagues after a given amount of time – from where they are likely moved to higher levels of competition. Then, these gifted athletes compete against each other, and from there, the elite are separated from the talented.
The elite then compete against the other elite – to crown the truly world-class. And THEN, they’re at a level that is fitting for the Olympics. What I’ve just described is a bastardised, reductionist manner of talent identification and a competitive tier system, but that is not the point of this article. For every one Olympic champion, for every Olympic champion that has achieved their ‘Olympic dream’, there are at least a thousand ‘Olympic Ghosts’. Such is the brutality of sport. There is no ‘everyone wins’ in the athletic world. There is only one. Every Olympic champion you see, carries with him hundreds of ghosts. The only people who truly win are the fans – because in a tightly knit competition, we are the ones who benefit from the drama.
Competition serves to make everyone better. If I run 100m in 11s, you’ll have to run it in 10.99. And because you beat me, I’ll run it next time in 10.98. Without a strong field of competition, there is no incentive to push yourself beyond your current limits. Every champion you see has been tested and pushed by their fellow competitors to that point. Although they are competing against each other, they actually need each other, and in that sense, act as a team. The winners will receive their glory – deservingly so. But their competitors, the ones who played a part in pushing the winners to that level – they’re the ones who we will never know. They are the ghosts.
Hence this article is a thank you, to all the athletes who have dedicated half their living life to the pursuit of gold in their sport, who will never see their dreams come true.
This is an appreciation for your resilience, in all those times that you chose to push through pain. I know it wasn’t easy.
This is an appreciation for your discipline, in all those times you chose to stay at home and head to bed, instead of going out drinking with your friends.
This is an appreciation for your focus, in all those times you said no to minor distractions, for you knew it would set you off course.
This is an appreciation for your courage, for all those times you found yourself alone in your path but marched forwards regardless.
Last of all, this is a thank you for all your sacrifice – such that your choices pushed your competitors to do the same. You may not win. Many will never even know your name. But because of you, we, the fans, are able to witness greatness.