While the Olympics have been taking place, I have been reading a devotion on YouVersion that features stories from Olympians. One story that caught my eye was that of Lauryn Williams. Here is a section of it below:
After Lauryn Williams ran her first event in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, tragedy struck.
Lauryn had just earned a silver medal in the 100 meters and her father, who had watched from the grandstands, had to be hospitalized with leukemia. Doctors weren’t sure if he would live. He encouraged Lauryn not to worry about him and, instead, to prepare for her next race. To the best of her ability, she followed his advice.
Now back on the track ready to run the final leg of the 4×100 meter relay, Lauryn watched her teammate Marion Jones race toward her with the baton in her hand.
Reaching back, Lauryn began running, waiting for the baton that didn’t come. Marion slowed down as Lauryn sped up, and they missed the handoff.
Lauryn had stepped out of the exchange zone, disqualifying the team. Disappointed, she couldn’t believe what had happened.
“I just embarrassed our whole country. This is all my fault,” she thought. “What am I going to do next?” After the botched race, Sonya Richards Ross prayed with Lauryn, reminding her that she would survive this.
Leaving the stadium, Lauryn faced reporters asking questions she didn’t know how to answer. She hadn’t yet had time to figure it out herself. She had been part of a very fast relay team with high hopes of breaking the world record when the unthinkable happened. “There is no way to get through a moment like that without faith in the Lord. It’s just really a hard experience.”
After reading that story the thought occurred to me: these athlete who we watch in the games are people too. People who have bad days, make mistakes, experience loss. I think sometimes we forget that. When an athlete makes a mistake we do not think, ‘I would have made the same mistake’. No, we usually think, ‘How can they do such a thing’? Our usual reaction to certain sportsperson lacks compassion and grace. At this year’s Games, the likes of Yulia Efimova, Hope Solo, Justin Gatlin and Gabby Doulgas have all been the target of critics.
It is obvious that some of the athletes have done wrong. Yulia Efimova and Justin Gatlin have taken performance enhancing drugs. Hope Solo has behaved in an unsporting way. So maybe some of the criticism thrown towards them is somewhat justifiable, however, I would not consider the criticism of Gabby Douglas to have much credibility. The things recieved criticism for, are things that I have seen other athletes do (who have not receive any critism)
A good question to ask ourselves before we criticise is: what would I have done in their situation? And how would I want to be treated if I had done what they did?
The fact is most of us do not know what it is like to be in the position that they are in, yet we make judgments upon them. As this episode of World Have Your Say shows, if an athlete (or their team) are not keeping on top of things they could end up failing a drug test. The Chief Medical Officer of the 2016 Australian Olympics team points out, ‘Medical practitioners need to be aware that, when treating athletes who are subject to drug testing, certain medicines that are not illegal to prescribe to the general community could result in the athlete breaching anti-doping rules’. An athlete should not mistakenly take drugs on the banned list but at times mistakes can happen. And as James Willstrop reveals it can be very easy to miss a test. So not everyone who fails a drug test is trying to cheat. But even if they are, let me ask: have you ever tried to cheat at something? Naturally, people take short cuts if they can.
Then there are the unsporting comments by Hope Solo. Hope does not lose well, but do we? If things do not go our own way how do we react? Do we blame others or take a look at ourselves? The American goalkeeper blamed her team’s opposition for Team USA’s exit from the Olympics women’s football. It was not nice of her to say such things, but how often do we blame others for our mistakes or the wrong things we do?
As for Gabby Douglas, it has been completely unfair for her to be targeted in the way she has been. It seems to me there are people who are constantly looking for a reason to criticise her. At London 2012 it was her hair, and at this year’s Olympics, it is how she conducts herself during the national anthem and how she reacted to her teammates success. I find all the criticism Gabby has received to be so unbelievably petty. The fact is if you can find faults with anyone if you are constantly looking for them. Could we not give her a break?
Now I am not saying doping or unsporting behaviour is a good thing? No, it is not and there is nothing wrong with speaking against it. But what I am saying is let us not be so quick to judge, let us remember these athletes are human too, and like us they can make mistakes and be selfish. Let us show some compassion towards them because none of us are perfect.
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