Sunday, August 05, 2012

Run Faster, Jump Higher

Tonight (at least 'tonight' in Eastern Standard time in the the US), McKayla Maroney slipped on her second vault, and surrendered the gold medal to the Romanian competitor.  She was expected to win the Gold, and her distress and disappointment were obvious as the cameras zoomed in on her.  As someone who is neither athletic nor coordinated, I am in awe of all the Olympians, and I find it sad that a young woman would be so disappointed after winning a silver medal in a very competitive and difficult sport.  She was, I might add, no where near as gracious as Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner with the double leg prostheses who finished last in the 400 meter semi-finals.

Maroney reminded me that years ago, I published a short piece in the American Journal of Psychiatry, an Introspection piece titled "Going for the Gold." If you can't get in to the site, try here. (It's short, I promise).  

I suppose we all are left with the question of how good is good enough?  


Simple Citizen said...

I think her reaction to getting the silver could be either completely appropriate, or completely wrong. It depends on her.

I would be pleased as punch to earn a Silver Medal - because I'll never be good enough to even try-out for the Olympics. If I had that ability, and had worked that hard - it would be different.
In my world - if I'm asked to compete at a Resident research competition - I expect to win. I have worked and honed my presentation and research skills, and I know I am good enough to win.
So when I earned second place in February I was happy, but disappointed. I did well, but not my best.

It is, like all things, a question of ability, opportunity, and expectation. All should feel proud for competing at the highest level, but all should also feel some regret at not reaching their potential.

It shouldn't lead to depression, it should lead to introspection, reevaluation, and trying again next time.

jesse said...

Two axes on which we can assess this issue are those of the external reality on one hand as contrasted with the inner reality.

One might be terribly disappointed in not meeting an external goal: a pilot not having been able to safely land the jetliner in the river, with disastrous consequences. That he had piloted the plane with superb skill, and that he had performed better than any other pilot could possibly have hoped for, is cold comfort.

Then there is the inner reality: Living up to our internal self-image (we used to call it the "ego ideal"), the image we try to maintain of ourselves. The athlete had made that jump many times, and knows she can do it. Her disappointment is at herself.

There is almost always an overlapping of these two considerations. Whatever the external reality, it is important to consider what the loss meant to the person involved.

Dinah said...

Jesse, when it's my patients, I agree. I feel badly when wonderful people see themselves as failures. When I'm watching the Olympics in my family room, I get to be a non-shrink observer. I don't have to consider the loss to the person. I realize that the young gymnast is a teenager, and I've grown to appreciate that "teenager" should probably be classed as a separate species, but as such a public representation of a country, I believe the young disappointed gymnast should have faked (or been coached to fake) a more gracious response. Her private feelings and disappointment, or even anger at herself, may be very valid (and if she'd like to come see me for services, I would be happy to help her with these) but as a representative of her country...well, the guinea pigs are doing better.

Anonymous said...

Um, it's standard in gymnastics. Probably because it's primarily a sport of young teenagers. Russian gymnasts have been behaving like prima donnas for as long as I can remember - at least two decades - and far more ostentatiously then McKayla Maroney.

Just saying. Let's keep it in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Please, let us look to some of the swimmers. After Missy Franklin came in 4th in one of her events, the press asked her what it felt like to be 4th in the 200M Free. Her response? "Fourth place at the Olympics is NOT bad." She went on to win 4 gold medals and 1 Bronze.

Also of note, another swimmer -Caitlin Leverenz. Over the moon with her Bronze medal earned in the 200M Individual Medley. She wasn't expected to medal at all... She cried, she was elated - with a bronze.

Anonymous said...

Please, let us look to some of the swimmers. After Missy Franklin came in 4th in one of her events, the press asked her what it felt like to be 4th in the 200M Free. Her response? "Fourth place at the Olympics is NOT bad." She went on to win 4 gold medals and 1 Bronze.

Also of note, another swimmer -Caitlin Leverenz. Over the moon with her Bronze medal earned in the 200M Individual Medley. She wasn't expected to medal at all... She cried, she was elated - with a bronze.

Anonymous said...

Research by three U.S. academics, who analyzed heat-of-the-moment reactions, medal-stand temperament and interviews of Olympians, shows that bronze-medal winners, on average, are happier with their finishes than silver medalists. Take silver, and you tend to fixate on the near miss. Score bronze, and you are thankful you were not shut out altogether.

"When you come in second," said Thomas Gilovich, chairman of Cornell's psychology department and one of the study's co-authors, "it's the most natural thing in the world to look upward. 'I got the silver and that's what it is, but what is it not? It's not the gold.'

"With the bronze, the natural place to look is downward. 'I got the bronze. That's what it is, but what it isn't is off the medal stand.' "

By the way, NPR did a story on this regarding the current Olympics. Unfortunately, I can't find the link.


Dinah said...

Missy Franklin, and Gabby...what sweet kids.

I do understand being disappointed, I just think that as representatives of the country, they should be gracious.

And as per my article, I see so many people who angst because they never live up to whatever. I can fully relate to this, but it's unfortunate that we live our lives this way (shrinks included).

It's all a matter of perspective.

Jane said...

Eh....their young. Their teens. I think it's natural to get emotional. Women don't break down in tears once they finally push a baby out cuz they are in pain. It's just such an emotional experience and takes a lot of time and energy. It's hard to be composed under those circumstances. I think if I ever get pregnant and go into labor I will be one of those women who screams her head off and then starts crying uncontrollably once the baby is in my arms. A psychiatrist will walk by and probably diagnose histrionic personality disorder cuz I will bring so much attention to myself.

And if I were in the Olympics...I could see myself bursting into tears from winning or from failure. Just saying, being composed under such intense circumstances is hard. I think women in labor should be allowed to be as emotional as they want, and I give this same pass to Olympians. They have my blessing to be show as much emotion as they want.

Anonymous said...

If we all set our own goals, then who is to say what sort of reaction is too 'much', or inapproriate, or inconsiderate to the other athletes/selfish/bratty, even, like the post suggests (?... my interpretation). "How good is good enough" is a personal question that should not be judged, it has as individual an answer to the individual as any other, and can only be answered as such... it is not 'objective' (which the suggestion imposes), rather subjective by the person setting the goal for themself... that is, so long as the goal was set by herself, or whether she is living (or attempting) someone else's dream... which is seen in many sports, but I should hope by the time one becomes an Olympian is of their own veration. Many gymnasts are teens... once you reach something like Track and Field many have reached their twenties, or thirties... I bet those same women (and men) are little effected at that point in their careers- yes, careers- by another's goals (not withstanding, teams... which each runner- or individual- also represents as a country reaching for the most medals, the most golds)... and aren't we ALL driven to do the best in our work, in our careers?... at least I would like to think so........

Anonymous said...

It's all in how you look at it. Telling, Dinah, that you are so judgmental.

Anonymous said...

It would be great if people could realize the enormous expectations placed on these young athletes. Only one can win gold but they are all pushed by coaches, often their parents,and feel that their country expects something great of them too.They feel the pressure of most other people magnified a thousand fold. So try to imagine what it feels like. In reading the blog I have learned exactly what it is that I do not like about my shrink. It has bothered me and baffled me for some time but now I know.

Unknown said...

Here's another olympian (non-teenager) that showed disappointment for not medaling - Lola Jones took 4th place in the 100m hurdles. However, in her case she had a negative media following that offered up insult-to-injury. In my opinion, our expectations for our athletes reflect expectations we hold for ourselves and on a societal level we can get pretty nasty when we collectively aim this at one person. I think this is articulated well in one of the running blogs I read:

Carrie said...

I must say - doing the best you can is a different standard when it comes to performance: athletic, music, etc. I was just relaying a story the other day: the general view is that nurses never get to sit down to eat. When I began nursing school, I could not believe that I actually got to eat for a change. How many years I sat in a windowless basement practice room at lunch with a sandwich in one hand and drilling piano runs with the other! When I went home after 8 hours of this, I sometimes still played the runs against the wall and over and over again in my head. If I flubbed even one thing in performance, I felt that I should have not come home as early as I did or taken that day off way back when. And we're not even talking Olympics. The stakes are actually much higher with regards for caring for someone's life but the isolation, practice and everything that goes on with performance can really put a strain. She represents her country, but she is only human! When she was far and away favored the best, silver is an absolutely crushing disappointment for her. We are still proud!