USA Hubris: Going For The Gold

One of my favorite experiences from the Olympics was back in 2008 when Michael Phelps won a record 8 gold medals in the pool. My heart was practically on fire when he beat out Milorad Cavic by .01 seconds. It made me exuberant; it made me ecstatic; it made me extremely proud to know that the USA was being represented by first class athletes, such as Michael Phelps. It didn’t hurt either that he set a record for the number of gold medals ever won in a single Olympics. 

Now, watching the Olympics is quite the chore, especially when you see some of the comments made by Americans about American athletes.
Here in America, we have quite the standard. Frankly, our nation has to be no.1 all day, every day, in every situation, in every event, no questions asked. We have to have the highest GDP. We have to have the best technology. Heck, we even have to be the best at being obese.
When it comes to the Olympics, we have to be no. 1 as well. As this article is being written, Norway is currently in the lead with the most medals awarded and that doesn’t fly for most people in the US. It isn’t that we have to be no. 1 by the end of the games, but that we have to be no. 1 at all points during the games, regardless of anything.
With this mentality, one could assume the opinions of most viewers go something like this: the athletes aren’t trying hard enough, they didn’t train hard enough, they didn’t focus well enough, and quite frankly as a citizen of this nation I am rather embarrassed.
There’s a common phrase among athletes that being second simply means being the first at losing. People don’t enjoy losing. Anyone that does enjoy losing must derive more utility from losing, which is rather odd. The way these Winter Olympics have been marketed, viewers have such a close-up view of everything, even though thousands of miles separate the athletes from them.
Because of this, Americans feel that these athletes are representing them, and that is generally true.
The athletes represent the best in their profession from this country. So when one of our own loses, heck if one of our own gets second place, Americans seem to get offended. They feel the athletes aren’t living up to the American mantra of always being no. 1. It’s gold, or it’s nothing to these people. This is crazy.
The mentality of always being no. 1 is good and it’s bad. It fosters a healthy competition among people, but it creates a solipsistic philosophy that permeates the entire nation. We cannot always be no. 1, and I am ok with that. Quit trying to expect so much from these athletes. They are performing to the best of their abilities.
Athletes have the privilege of representing our country, but that in no way forces them to have to live up to some insane and archaic standard of always being the best in their specific sport. That’s asinine, asiten, asieleven, asitwelve, well you get the idea (if you caught that reference, please email me so we can be friends). The expectations placed on these athletes are absolutely appalling. The idea that since they are “representing” America they have to always be at the top seems like something right out of communist USSR.
We should be proud of our athletes. We should envy them for their dedication to their sports. These athletes have literally trained their entire lives for moments like this. They eat, drink, breathe, and live their sport. And just because they don’t achieve gold doesn’t give Americans the right to ridicule them.
Did you put in the work? Did you endure endless 5 a.m. mornings of training? Did you have to put aside your life to be dedicated to your sport? Probably not — so why are we complaining so much?
If anything, take a cue from those who are competing in the snowboarding events. The level of respect and love the athletes have for each other is something we should all emulate. For one moment, they put aside the fact that they are from different countries and competing with one another to embrace the fact that they both are united by their sport. Regardless of who wins, everyone has respect for each other. Isn’t that beautiful?

David Vu is a fourth-year public health policy major. He can be reached at davidnv@uci.edu