What World-Class Athletes Taught Us Through the Olympic Games

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Sarah Sjoestroem (SWE) after the women's 100m butterfly heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

What World-Class Athletes Taught Us Through the Olympic Games

By Vanessa Steigauf, Swimming World College Intern

The Olympics are over but what stays for a little longer are the memories we’ve gained, the chance to share the thrill of all the athletes we followed in front of our TVs. The Olympics made us realize what sportsmanship really means. We got to experience brilliant examples delivered by the world’s best athletes throughout every sport: Swimming, track and field, gymnastics, and others. Here’s to some of the most impressive character traits we know we have because of practicing our sports – and how this year’s Olympic athletes left their marks on them.

We Know How to Win

As athletes, we have gone through a bunch of competitions, many coaches have pushed us to do our best, and we all have celebrated some victories. We know it is never as simple as others might think. After all the effort we put in our preparations, achieving our goal creates a feeling that is indescribable. Usually, only one gets to experience the feeling of being No. 1. But not in this year’s Olympic high jump final. Thirteen men were fighting to get one of the three Olympic medals. Two of them, Mutaz Essa (Qatar) and Gianmarco Tamberi (Italy) battled each other through every round. They were jumping the same heights until they were the only ones left, fighting for the gold medal. When they had to do a jumpoff to figure out the winner, they asked if both of them could have gold. They could. The two high jumpers erupted in joy, celebrating each other’s win at the Olympic Games.

…And We Know How to Lose with Dignity

After a tough year recovering from an elbow injury, swimmer Sarah Sjöström had to battle to simply compete at the Tokyo Games. Without her injury she would clearly have been the odds-on favorite in several events. Now it wasn’t clear how she would perform at this year’s Olympics. After qualifying for the 100 butterfly final, the reigning champion touched the wall in seventh in the final. That race didn’t go as planned. But her reaction was impressive: after her first look at the board, she immediately had a smile on her face for the victory of Maggie MacNeil, who was swimming next to her. Of course, she was disappointed with her own performance, as she stated in a later interview, but she knew how to handle the situation and inspired all of us with her spirit of sportsmanship.

We Are Disciplined

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Florian Wellbrock (GER) wears his gold medal after the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

German swimmer Florian Wellbrock had big plans for this year’s Olympic Games. He had the chance of winning three gold medals in and out of the pool. After leading the men’s 1500 freestyle for 1450 meters, two of his opponents passed him on the last lap, leaving him on the third place. But he channeled his emotions and came back even stronger in the 10k open-water event, winning by 25 seconds. It takes discipline for such a victory.

We Know Our Body …And Our Mind

As athletes we definitely get to know our body over time. What kind of practice works for us and how much recovery time we need couldn’t be more individual. But in recent years, it has become obvious that we shouldn’t only master our body but also our minds. Mental health has become an emerging topic in sports. Simone Biles is one of the leading athletes in this regard. She was able to listen to her body and know when it would be best to stop competing. When she withdrew from several of her Olympic events, this decision had a huge impact on the world’s perception of the role of mental health in sports.

We Are Experts in Motivating Ourselves and Others

We practice it every day: Motivation. If it is in the early mornings when we search for a good reason to jump in the cold water or if it is during a hard set when we are racing a teammate, motivation is the key to success. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi and Netherland’s Abdi Nageeye delivered a perfect example of what motivation and sportsmanship mean. During the Olympic marathon, they were in third and fourth during the last minutes of the race as Nageeye started to attack the runner in second place. But he didn’t do this alone. He gave Abdi several winks and motivated him to pass the runner in front of them together. He finally did and couldn’t believe what he had just achieved when he crossed the finish line as the bronze medalist – motivated by his opponent who got second just half a second in front of him.

We Do What We Do with Passion

If we didn’t love our sport, we wouldn’t practice it as intensely as we do. And when you qualify for the Olympics but get injured right before, it must be your worst nightmare come true. Gymnast Danusia Francis had to go through exactly this nightmare at this year’s Olympic Games. She tore her ACL right before the Games, but she didn’t want to quit. Even if it seemed impossible to participate, she decided to go out there and do the simplest exercise she could. Despite her injury, she was an Olympic athlete and made her dream come true.

We Write History

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Erica Sullivan (USA) and Katie Ledecky (USA) show off their silver and gold medals during the medals ceremony for the women's 1500m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports

Yes, we do write history, even if our impacts on the sport may seem small and unremarkable. We leave our marks, and we are inspired by swimmers like Katie Ledecky, Erica Sullivan and Sarah Köhler,who went down in history as the first Olympic medalists in the women’s 1500 freestyle event.

Just like these Olympic Athletes inspired us, we can write history with our actions – even if they may seem too small to be noticed. Not being shown on the big screen doesn’t mean you don’t leave a mark on somebody else with the actions you take today.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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