Olympic athletes endure excessive public pressure

With the closing ceremonies yesterday, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics concluded in a solid but still disappointing finish for Team USA. We finished second in total medals with 28, behind Russia’s 33, and fourth in gold medals with nine. The talented men’s hockey team went home without a medal after an extremely one-sided loss to Finland, and the women’s hockey team lost the gold medal game in overtime to Canada. The U.S. speed skating team degenerated into finger pointing over who was to blame for their incredibly underwhelming performance, having failed to win a single medal in what is usually a pillar of strength.

Other individuals who failed to win predicted medals include Shaun White, Hannah Kearney, Jesse Diggins and Bode Miller. The bar was set high for those individuals and for many others, but in the end they failed to bring home the gold.

This raises the question: do we put too much pressure on these athletes? Are our expectations too high, and do they generate too much stress? The massive pressure we place on individual athletes, particularly those favored to win Olympic gold medals, may negatively impact their performance.

The Olympics are a gathering of incredibly skilled and specialized athletes who have been training for years, sometimes decades, to achieve the goal of even competing, let alone medaling. Winning is critically important in American culture, but perhaps we should take a more relaxed point of view when it comes to the Olympics. These athletes are already under enormous pressure from family, friends, teammates and, most of all, themselves.

If there is one thing Olympic athletes do not need, it is more pressure and even higher expectations from a public that is used to having American athletes dominate in competitions. The goal of the Olympics is to bring the world together to appreciate the talents of the athletes in healthy competition.

As more countries send top athletes to each Olympic Games, the competition becomes increasingly stiffer. Expectations for national favorites rise. Each win, each medal, is a source of national pride; failure to secure one can result in national scorn, particularly if the athlete in question has medaled previously.

Olympic athletes may miss their shot at securing a medal by a miniscule margin, making the stress that these athletes are under even more extreme. Our athletes do not need us to question their efforts and to badger them as we did with Bode Miller after he won bronze. They need and deserve our support and our appreciation for their efforts.

Despite how we may feel about the American athletes’ performances at the Sochi Olympics, we should appreciate the effort they have put in to even engage in such a high level of competition and respect the results that they did manage to obtain.

Jordan Hiller ’14 hiller@stolaf.edu is from Chaska, Minn. He majors in biology.