During my time as FIFA Medical Officer in at the Rio 2016 Olympics, I bore witness to some incredible feats of athleticism. From competitors demolishing long-held world records to countless athletes achieving personal best times in their various sports and events, the Victorious Spirit was alive and well at these Summer Olympic Games. But I would be remiss if I glossed over the few (and it was a FEW) embarrassing (especially for the United States) examples of what we teach our youth about being “sore losers.” You see, the Win Within can be displayed, perhaps even shine brightest, when you’re not actually WINNING. Let’s explore:
Ryan Lochte – One of the most talked about athletes of this year’s games, not for his spectacular accomplishments in the swimming pool, but for his late-night antics with fellow US Olympic team swimmers. The story of Lochte’s fall from grace certainly doesn’t warrant repeating, Google his name and you’ll find it. And perhaps that’s the point. Arguably one of the most storied swimmers in Olympic history is now a punchline, not because he did something foolish, but because he told an outlandish lie about it that cast himself as a brazen hero when he later admitted he was anything but. Character counts my friends, in the pool and out. You take it with you everywhere you go.
Hope Solo – After defeat by the Swedish team at last month’s Games, the goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s national team for soccer called the victors “a bunch of cowards,” resulting in her six month suspension and termination from U.S. Soccer. Again, this isn’t the first time Solo was sanctioned for unsportsmanlike conduct. But it’s probably one of the most notable occasions, since much of the world was watching or in this case –reading and listening. When you live in America and you play for the “Stars and Stripes,” it’s important to understand your role on the world stage. Ours is a country that many in the world would give ANYTHING to live in. Behavior like this puts a blindingly negative light on our sports programs and our nation. When you’re wearing a jersey for your country, your city or even just your local team, you’re representing so much more than yourself.
Kerri Walsh Jennings – After playing their hearts out during every round of Olympic beach volleyball competition, she and her partner April Ross received a crushing defeat by the Brazilian team. This was a particularly tough blow for Jennings since she returned to these Games after undergoing multiple shoulder operations and was bound and determined to bring home a gold medal. But here’s the difference between Jennings and the aforementioned Team USA members – she never once badmouthed her opponents nor did she create a spectacle of herself. Was she disappointed? Absolutely. You could see it on her face and you could hear it in her voice. But she maintained her dignity, sportsmanship and stellar character when she simply said that she and her partner were “outplayed.” With such high hopes and exhaustive efforts, the humility displayed by Walsh-Jennings is something EVERY athlete should watch and emulate. She lost like the winner she REALLY is – on the court and off.
The next time you find yourself in a disappointing situation, in sport or in life, where your pride wants to get the best of you, take a moment to consider how you’ll react. I guarantee that people are watching and listening. How do you want to be remembered? As the one who took it in stride like a champion or the one who whined like a brat? The choice is all yours.