Olympic Thoughts on Practice, Talent, and Picking Apart Perfection

I’m a self-confessed Olympics junkie. For those two weeks of sporting events, I follow the stories really closely, checking out events across all the disciplines, reading up on the different story lines. You name it. And so I’ve been watching a lot of winter sports the past few days, and as I’ve been watching it all unfold, a few thoughts have come to me that I wanted to get down on paper.

First up, the difference between practice and talent. I was kicked back (nursing a thrown out back) watching speed skating, and it occurred to me: these athletes were giving it their all. 100% of their ability, practice, and hard work–it was all getting left out on the ice for the world to see. And for all but three of them, their all just wasn’t enough. Worse yet, for most of them, the announcers knew it wasn’t enough the second the skater came out to line up at the starting line.

Some skaters were fast enough to contend for a medal, but most just weren’t–barring a huge series of bizarre screw ups.

My first response to that thought was to feel sad for the skaters. They could try as hard as they liked for as long as they liked, but they were never going to cut it. As much as we love to hear about underdogs winning it all, the whole reason those stories are memorable is because they almost always don’t (win it all, that is). But then again, that’s life. There’s a certain level of achievement we can obtain in any skill set, and that level is a combination of natural talent and the time you put into honing that talent. But in the end, there’s a wall you  just can’t get around, and that wall is the limit of your own ability.

It was kind of a brutal thought, but like I said–my back was hurting.

However, it gets better. Because I kept watching, and the amazing thing to me was the fact that despite everyone knowing from the beginning about how well each athlete could do, all the athletes showed up to compete anyway. I mean, even the comparatively awful ones. (More on that thought in a moment.) People who knew they had no real chance to win were still there, giving it their best. Some of them were setting personal records. They were all competing for themselves and their country. And that’s kind of inspiring.

We always focus on the best and brightest, and that’s understandable. But in many ways it’s just as inspiring to see people coming to do their personal best. No matter how I try to type that, it comes out wrong–but hopefully you get the main sentiment.

My second thought came while I was watching figure skating. It’s a bit easier to describe. The fam and I were watching these women do amazing, incredible things on the ice. Things I could never in a million years hope to be able to do, and yet the commentators were there to point out everything those women were doing wrong. They could put it all into slow motion and look at misplaced feet and wrong skate edges, and suddenly the awesome became the so-so.

Because we’re trained to look for the best–to praise the winner and ignore the losers–how often do we end up being unable to just appreciate the beauty of the competition? The fact of the matter is that whatever you do, you’re not going to be perfect. And somehow, watching those amazing skaters get picked apart made me feel better about myself. Not because someone else was getting torn down, but because I realized that perfection is pretty  much unobtainable. If these amazing performances could still get picked apart, then maybe I should go a bit easier on myself. Yes, there are rough edges I can find–but there are always going to be rough edges. You work on what you can, and just keep doing your best.

No clue why I’m having deep thoughts while watching the Olympics. I guess I should just taken ‘em where I can get ‘em.

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