The glory of being elite

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As we sit in the comfort of our armchairs watching the many hopeful olympians from our own country as well as others, it’s easy to feel dismayed and disappointed when the boys and girls on our team fall short of our expectations. As a nation, the tension has been building during this first week of competition as so many hopes and dreams crumble as a number of our athletes fail to fire.

Watching our kids, we’re prone to the odd bit of bias seeing great potential in their developing skills. Could they be the next star All Black, cyclist, swimmer or runner? If we’re honest, we want that for our kids, we want the world to see the special qualities that are so obvious to us as parents.

Be careful what you wish for. At a talk by Dr Tony Fernando, a psychiatrist at Auckland University cited some alarming statistics on depression amongst medical students. By the time these kids reach medical school they’ve become accustomed to excelling and pushing themselves to be the best and brightest. But this is when they’re thrown into an environment where this history of experience is the same for all of their peers. The outcome of being unable to truly shine amongst a sea of stars can be destroying. At the time of this talk Dr Fernando hadn’t produced any children, but he said that when he did, his hope was they’d be average, he doesn’t want super-bright or especially talented offspring. A good solid average has a significantly better chance of experiencing true happiness.

But where would we be if that was the norm, if nobody was prepared to invest themselves so wholly despite the very real risk of failing? Who would be our heroes and ignite our passion?

As we watch the likes of Portia Woodman and Mark Todd devastated with a sense of responsibility for the loss of a Gold medal. Mark Todd one of our best and most successful olympians ever, who despite having brought New Zealand such enormous pride and joy over the years, at this moment is at the centre of such overwhelming disappointment. Gordon Tietjens, Linda Villumsen, Zoe Stevenson and Eve MacFarlane all of whom for now are fallen stars, despite each and every one of them being past or present world champions.

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In most cases, we’re really only responsible to ourselves, and in the face of enormous distress we’re able to take ourselves quietly away to grieve. This is not the case for our star athletes, as along with their own emotions, they carry the weight and responsibility of a country. As they stand before journalists, TV cameras and about 4 million people exposed and vulnerable, they do their best to satisfy our need for insight and explanation.

Yes, they need us... but we also need them. Us that sit on the edge of our seats in our lounges with eager anticipation... yearning... hoping.

We should be grateful. Grateful that Mark, Portia, Gordon, Linda, Zoe, Eve and the many others were prepared to risk it all, for a chance of sitting on that highest podium spot and making room for an entire nation to pile on there with them.

So all the competitors thank you and congratulations. Thank you for those days, weeks, months and years of giving everything and giving us hope.

Regardless of the result — gold, silver, bronze or no medal at all, you’ve done your country proud!

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