Sunday, February 25, 2018

That Medal Question

Yesterday I was a volunteer at the Coldest Night fundraiser walk in Grimsby.  My welcome station in the high school hallway was at the athletics bulletin board, and I got to read the schedule of activities for next week, read the chart of careers in kinesiology, athletics, and medicine, and check out the charts on self-assessment skill levels.  Sports are mature disciplines now.  Not the jumping jacks of my high school physical activity. 

It was a fitting context for this Olympic question that keeps coming up for me - do you ask it too? 

"Why did the U.S. performed so poorly at the Olympics?"

They previously had the record for medals - 36 at Vancouver in 2010.  The rails about this HERE but doesn't give any reasons.  These are Slate's reasons:
  • The United States’ marquee names have faltered.
  • The U.S. has gotten very bad at speed skating.
  • Team USA features athletes who are either very young or very old.
  • The U.S. has not typically excelled at the events that have been held thus far.
I check in with Time and their article quotes the USOC's chief of sport with a response that makes the question even more compelling:

“OK, medals are one story, but if you look at the depth of everything that’s going on, and the number of people who are fourth and fifth place, and the commitment level and intensity of the athletes, you can’t ask for more than that.” 

The top medal winner of all times is now Norway.  Norway is a nation of 5 million people, and they sent 109 athletes to the games compared to the U.S.'s 242.  Ovrebo, the director of Norway's elite sport for the Olympics, says that Norway is blessed with many advantages for Winter Olympics dominance, like snow, a history of excellence in sports like biathlon and cross-country skiing, and free health care.

However, he says the key to success is this:  In Norway, organized youth sports teams cannot keep score until they are 13. “We want to leave the kids alone,” says Ovrebo. “We want them to play. We want them to develop, and be focused on social skills. They learn a lot from sports. They learn a lot from playing. They learn a lot from not being anxious. They learn a lot from not being counted. They learn a lot from not being judged. And they feel better. And they tend to stay on for longer.”

Norway values the psychology of sports. “Your mind is where you experience your life, isn’t it?” Ovrebo says.  They understand some of the issues that occur when one country dominates a sport.  Other countries lose interest.  They are addressing this.

"Instead of holding back its athletes, Norway is trying to lift others everywhere else. It has conceived the Alpine athletics version of the Marshall Plan. For seven years, it has invited competitors from all over the world to visit for a weeklong training camp. A separate camp is offered to World Cup coaches. Attendees pay to get there, and Norway covers all other expenses".

There's more on the Norwegian sports psyche HERE in a NY Times article.  This is likely a question that will come up a lot, and linger for quite some time, so on to our pictures of the day. 

We seem to be heading from winter's snow sports into spring's rain landscape.

No comments:

Post a Comment