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Defeat

“Defeated misery is what all sport is about, eventually, if you follow the story for long enough; all sportsmen know this.”

– Nick Hornby

Anyone who follows sports often fall prey to becoming myth-makers, especially after watching any athlete, man or woman, demonstrate incredible feats of athleticism.  We take their exploits and turn them into hyperbole, retell their experiences as legend.  Sports writing boils down to this very purpose and honestly, I’m a sucker for reading those types of article (my favorite sports writer, Ralph Wiley, was very good at doing this in his very distinctive voice, while also weaving in a number of pop-culture references along the way).

It’s hard not to take these athletes and turn them into tall-tales, especially after watching the Olympics for the past few days.  Watching athletes deliver under pressure, knowing they have so many people believing in what they can do, and actually delivering, is inspiring.

Of course, there is a flip-side.  Having your beliefs betrayed by those you believe in, often leads to some drastic and horrible behaviors.

With information readily available and easily shared throughout the world, it’s easy to tear down these athletes, voice your displeasure as a fan, especially if these athletes let you down in terms of your expectations.  Talk to any sports obsessed fans and you’ll hear what they truly think about their teams when they fail.  I definitely don’t fault the passion, though it definitely gets carried away.  During the Olympics, you’ll hear a lot about patriotism and representing the United States though anyone participating in the Olympics are definitely under a tremendous amount of pressure from their country.  For example, Tom Daley, the diver from the United Kingdom, who fell just short of the podium, was subject to a tweet that addressed his deceased father (though the person responsible, a 17 year old, claimed he didn’t realize Daley’s father had passed).  The person responsible for the tweet was arrested for his post and later released (another subject entirely!).

Anyway, what I truly want to write about tonight is the individual gymnastics competition, especially what happened to John Orozco.

As I said above, I’m often guilty of using hyperbole to describe certain athletes.  Watching someone like LeBron James in the open court is sometimes transcendent.  He was essentially built to be a basketball player.  And likewise, he was revered and then torn down quite violently, only to find some redemption this year with his first championship.

John Orozco is also an amazing athlete.  Watching any of those gymnasts, you could almost argue it’s transcendent if they manage to get through a routine with a relatively strong score.  However, watching John Orozco come up short was disappointing to see.

Watching him walk off to the side, however, was absolutely heartbreaking.

Watching the pre-packaged segments about these Olympians, the amount of dedication, sacrifice and hard-work that these people go through along with their families, it’s easy to get swayed into their legend.  Watching the segment on John Orozco, you can tell he’s an extraordinary person, like most of the Olympians.  Not only do they train for an incredible amount of hours, they also contribute quite a bit to their communities.  Yes, it’s easy to get swayed into their legend.

Then came the pommel horse.  John was definitely nervous, as pointed out by the announcers.  He started improvising.  You could sense a bit of desperation as he moved through his routine.  He snagged a piece of his uniform during his dismount.  Once he landed, it was easy enough to see his body language.  And with the “intimate access” that NBC is allowed, a camera was there to capture the anguish he felt, the frustration and sadness that was building within.  As I said above, it was absolutely heart-breaking.

I can relate on a certain level (in fact, the level I can relate to is so far below his, but I can empathize I believe) the type of emotion Orozco was feeling.  Honestly, I don’t think I truly want to.  Thinking about being in his shoes at that moment, I would have been beyond distraught.  To say I felt sadness for him isn’t remotely close to an adequate description.  To not come through on that stage is nearly unimaginable for me.  But athletes at this stage, at this level, know how to handle defeat. They don’t get there without understanding the depth of that frustration, knowing that you’ve failed. I’m curious to see how athletes actually see it.  I’m sure some of them see it as a monster or a beast to be tamed.  Other, I’m sure, see it as something to dominate or even destroy.  And when defeat comes, when it wins out in the end, as it did with John Orozco, I’m even more curious to see how they react to it.

As I read another blog about the Olympics, there was a quote from John Orozco about his performance.

“I wish I would’ve done better so I can go back and have them be proud of me,” he said of family and friends in New York. “But what are you going to do? I guess this was just meant to happen.”

*     *     *

When I played basketball in high school, there were plenty of times when I’ve lost, and yes, I’m a definite sore loser.  I’ve cussed out friends and family, but at the same time, I still felt that I’d let them down.  Yet one refrain I always heard from my friends or family (yes, even after I cussed them out) was that they were still proud of what I had done.  Back then, I never understood why they said that or I just elected not to hear it.  Yes, it was a bit stubborn, but that’s who I was (still am to a certain extent).  But now, as I watched John Orozco fail, the only thing I could think of to say was “I’m still pretty damn proud to have someone like him represent our country.”

The quote above just confirmed my thoughts.  Instead of really feeling sorry for himself or even lashing out at those around him, the only thing he thought about (or at least said first) was about everyone else “back home,” how he let down his friends and family.

I’m almost absolutely sure, John Orozco’s friends and family don’t feel that way.

I’m not going to say that he shouldn’t feel ashamed about what happened.  It’s up to him to handle that and I have some confidence he’ll move past that.  I just hope he knows that there’s a least one person out there who is now a fan of his because of what he did in defeat.  I am extremely proud to have someone like John Orozco to represent the U.S. as an Olympian.

In victory or defeat.

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