Tokyo 2020: Much to be thankful for

Nicholas Paul of Team Trinidad And Tobago, right, competes in the track cycling men's omnium scratch race at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. AP Photo -
Nicholas Paul of Team Trinidad And Tobago, right, competes in the track cycling men's omnium scratch race at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. AP Photo -

THE EDITOR: The Summer Olympic Games are arguably the biggest sporting spectacle on Earth. Throw in a pandemic and the stakes grow even higher.

With our lives and livelihoods turned upside-down as a result of covid19 restrictions, some of us were looking forward, almost desperate to have something that seemingly defied those restrictions – tens of thousands of people gathering in a city to engage in face-to-face sports.

You see, we are creatures of habits, cycles and rhythms, a concept we owe our existence to.

The Olympics as an event we’ve grown up with every four years offered us a sense of normalcy during these abnormal times when our rhythmical existence was upended by covid19.

Despite the immediate protests against hosting the Olympics in Japan and internationally, I think most of us were happy when it happened, and that it happened successfully without being the super-spreader event for covid19 many said it would be.

We were fortunate to have had the Olympics but now the talk has turned to Team TTO not winning a medal in Tokyo. I think that may have been a good thing for us, just like how the pandemic has forced us to rethink how we have been living.

I heard it somewhere that we were “spoiled,” having medalled at the last seven Olympic Games. I add to that sentiment that most of us had no idea of what it took for the athletes to get there and far less what they had to go through to step on to the elusive podium.

Cost-wise, a likely range just to get to the Olympics is about $800,000 per athlete, not including the mental strain from years of training and competing at one of the highest levels of sport.

I speak from experience as a coach when I say that many athletes in this neck of the woods sometimes have to go through unnecessary obstacles with administrators in their own sports, which have negative effects on performance.

It is unfortunate but misdirected egos within national sport federations do get in the way of their purpose – to facilitate the goals of national athletes. There are opportunity costs for having to forgo furthering education or employment because serious preparation for Olympics can sideline them.

The mental health of athletes has been put under the spotlight with high-profile stories about tennis stars and gymnasts. What about others who don’t have the support mechanism to deal with dreaded issues?

Whether you earn millions doing your sport or lose a fortune from it, the fact that the pressure of having to deal with all the issues related to your performance, while being expected to win when people expect you to win, is heavy, real and has serious consequences.

We pay a lot of lip service to sport but truly do not understand or appreciate the sacrifices that people make to realise their goals. Our athletes did their best without being accused of cheating. There are athletes, coaches and, allegedly, countries that go so far as to cheat via doping. Our athletes do not have a reputation for cheating, which is something to be thankful for.

To be clear, we should want our athletes to aim for gold every time, but not at all costs. Things like a positive drug test, or a mentally or physically scarred athlete who is no good to himself or to others, do not lend themselves to the high ethical and moral standards that sports promote.

It is fair to examine the administration of sport in TT at all levels but that in itself misses the whole point of this discussion. It may seem Pollyanna-ish but first we need to be aware of and thankful for the sacrifices our athletes and others make to contribute positively to society. That helps to reconcile our prejudices with the reality on the ground that the Olympics is an extremely competitive endeavour.

It is important that we do not see ourselves as being in any rat race for medals. Win medals, of course, so long as that goal is a result of hard and honest work to be used as an example of our integrity as people of TT.

It is usually how we do things that others don’t see that is profound and what helps to define us. In the end medals aren’t going to show others who we are.

That our athletes were able to qualify for and participate in this great sporting event, and to do that with dignity and honour, serve as the foundation for real success, for medals and beyond.


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"Tokyo 2020: Much to be thankful for"

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