You with the top hat, your nation requires your service

Sometimes I feel guilty for loving the olympics. The IOC’s corrupt, the host cities often go into hock in order to build the facilities and host the games, the same cities often exploit the most vulnerable residents in order to make room for the facilities and guests, and all the problems with nationalism.

But I get sucked in to the confluence of so many athletes of all different shapes and sizes competing at the highest of levels. I love the passion that comes from training so hard for four years for that one moment and the inherent drama that comes when eight people are peaking at the same time. I usually don’t care which country comes out on top, but it’s hard not to root for USA, where I’m from, and Canada, where I live. But occasionally, you’ll catch me cheering for Lithuania even against the US or Canada.

I seem to be in the minority when it comes to different countries performances in the games. Pretty much every website or newspaper has a medal count broken down by different nations and I’ve been increasingly impressed by the United Kingdom, or, as they like to call themselves, Team GB. Team Great Britain has been Great. Apparently, GB only historically excelled in sitting down sports—cycling, sailing, rowing, and equestrian events. But they’ve been earning medals in all events this year, including swimming, gymnastics, diving, track, as well as the sitting down sports.

The reason seems to be partly attributable to a talent identification program with the hashtag #discoveryourgold. Their greatest success story is Helen Glover who started rowing through the program in 2008 having never rowed before. She is now perhaps the greatest rower in the world and is undefeated in the last 4 years, breaking world records along the way and wiping out the competition Ledecky style, with her partner Heather Stanning.

From what I gather, one applies online giving some information about age, height, weight, dominant eye and hand, and then goes through a physical to determine what sport he or she would be best suited for and to determine whether he or she could potentially become world class in said sport.

I love this idea. Often, we start doing sports because we want to be like Mike or because it’s what we’re good at that’s nearby. That’s great for the vast majority of people. Most people are not world class in any sport. It’s best just to find a sport that teaches fitness, comaraderie, a healthy sense of competition, and a skill set that you can do into dressage20hatadulthood. But what if you’re leaving something world class on the table? What if you have what it takes to be the greatest rower of all time but you grew up in north Texas where no one rows?

But there’s danger in such a program, too. Rowing’s one thing. I swam competitively and training for crew seems like training for swimming without the speedo and shaving. If it turned out I was an okay swimmer but had the potential to be a world class rower, then send me to wherever people row well.

But what if the results come back and the talent ID program thinks I’ve got the right stuff to be a world class Olympian in something like dressage or race walking? I’m not sure how maxresdefaultI would respond. I like to tell people that I’ve never lost at the game Twister, but if Twister were an Olympic sport, would I want to train everyday for the bragging rights of becoming the best Twister player in the world? Even for Olympic glory and the stake of the pride of a nation?

  Could I turn down the chance to become among the best in the world at anything? Even if that something is as goofy as walking really fast or wearing a top hat and dancing with a horse to “Ice Ice Baby?” I don’t know if I’d have the courage to enter the program for fear of letting down my country in the end after all.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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