Okay, full disclosure—I was not a huge fan of snowboarding being in the Olympics. There, I said it. I never have been. No, I’m not some Olympic snob hanging onto a narrow and stuffy interpretation of what sport is—at least I like to think I’m not! But, I will concede that I’m a purist. I have a deep affinity for the original events of the Games and what they represent—to me.
However, being glued to our television these past few days since the Opening Ceremonies in Pyeongchang, it’s been hard not to watch and, in my case, appreciate both the agility and the spirit of these young snowboarding athletes. Yes, athletes.
WHERE TO BEGIN:
Much of what has influenced, or perhaps clouded, my perception of snowboarding and the likes of who it attracts is what I knew as a young rower. Sport was supposed to be hard—tough, even. I hung my identity on the fact that I was part of an elite group of athletes who could endure levels of discomfort that most couldn’t. Ego driven? You bet. But, it’s what I knew.
Therefore, when events like snowboarding came along, I was less than impressed. They were perceived as just a bunch of partiers. “Where’s the work ethic?” I asked. “Where’s the commitment? The pain and sacrifice?”
Watching these young men and women over the last number of days, I have FINALLY allowed myself to appreciate what they do. Consistently, when it matters, they execute quite literally death-defying maneuvers that have clearly taken years of training and hard work to master.
Having said all that, what has struck me more deeply is who they appear to be as individuals and how they conduct themselves as teammates and competitors. There’s a genuine appreciation for one another. A brotherhood. A sisterhood that I find moving.
Yes, they’re competitors—yet they support and celebrate one another like athletes from no other sport I’ve ever seen. There are no petty head games or macho-laden antics on display. They don’t waste time trying to psych-out one another. They just love what they do. And, it’s palpable.
In fact, during the weather delay of the woman’s slopestyle event, the athletes were dancing and joking with each other while hunkered down in a tent atop the mountain protected from the elements. Can you imagine that sort of conduct in another ‘traditional’ sport given the same circumstances? Truth-be-told, I got choked-up watching that with my daughter!
Furthermore, if you haven’t seen CBC’s mini-documentary on Mark McMorris, you should—it’s inspiring beyond words. It shines a light on the character of these young men and women. And, it calls into question my definition of tough!
At a time when the relevance of the Olympic movement is in question, maybe these crazy snowboarders have something to teach us—all of us.
As a young rower racing for Canada, some of my coaches taught me that hating your competitor was the best strategy for defeating them. My guess is that rowing was not and is still not alone. Demonizing competitors, sadly, continues to be the go-to strategy for too many athletes and coaches.
Listening to some Canadian women’s Olympic hockey players turned media commentators at these Games go on with pleasure in describing the hatred that exists between Canada and the USA and how it ‘fuels the fire’—wow, we’ve got some work to do!
Instead, let’s look to the snowboarders where I’ve seen none of that ridiculous sentiment. They have exemplified the often forgotten true meaning of competition—to strive together. In doing so they have displayed incredible athleticism and conducted themselves in the true spirit of the Olympic Games. I, for one, have forever changed my interpretation of what an athlete is and, more importantly, found an unlikely role-model for the work that I do.
Going forward, maybe we could all embrace our competitors and our life-challenges with the same spirit as these mountain maniacs—playful and light, yet as focused and purposeful high-performers. We could be so lucky!
Photo Credit: Getty Images