My son, A.J. is a three time Olympian. In order to reach his goal in just being there at the Olympics (Turin, Whistler and South Korea), he had to train year round, travel in awful conditions, save money where he could, was not even able to compete and travel many times because of that lack of funding, did not have the best equipment and so to even reach the Olympics was a feat in itself. I was so used to hearing people (perhaps sarcastically) say “did A.J. win a gold?” and I would smile thanking them and then just make a small innocuous comment. People can be so cutting! My son’s sport was luge. In order to perform well, and slide against G forces, he had to utilize and control every one of his muscles. Again, many people would comment that all he had to do was ‘lie on a sled and let nature take its course down the track’, but that was so wrong also.
When he came in 16th in Turin when he was 22, with better results than 2 Americans who had been sliding longer than he with that better equipment and those years of competing in world cups, it was quite a feat, and so he had obtained some funding for the next Olympics. He competed for Great Britain. How did he end up competing for Great Britain? A.J. had been training for luge since the age of 12, and would go to Lake Placid and train and compete there for the U.S. At the age of 14, he was the Top Junior slider for athletes 16 and under, but with politics, he was told that he would need to reach that Number 1 spot again prior to being invited to travel for the first time to Europe and compete for the U.S., An athlete can only perfect his sport if he can travel, compete with the best athletes, best coaches, have the best equipment, and many times that can evolve into missing their window of opportunity due to age and that training, etc. He knew that he wasn’t going to being Number 1 again based on the lack of competition. His friend and past coach, Duncan Kennedy (a 3 time Olympian also) spoke on his behalf to Great Britain, and since A.J. has a dual citizenship (I am British), he went to Great England to train when the American team dropped him when he was 18. (They invited him back after Turin and his great performance, but his loyalty was then with Great Britain).
That is why I had to write this blog post. With Covid 19 postponing the Olympics last year, my heart went out to all of those athletes who had been working so hard, so diligently to reach their peak, only to be informed that their chance to win that coveted spot to be on the Olympic Team would be curtailed by a year. https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/tokyo-olympics/11-iconic-us-athletes-not-going-tokyo-olympics-2021
I was searching for the many (I am sure) heart breaking stories of athletes who excelled last year, but either due to injury this past year, age, illness due to Covid 19, and/or just lack of training/competition did not make it to the Olympics in Japan. The Olympians who win gold are in the spotlight, but there are so many athletes who were Olympian in their determination to be there.
The opening ceremony was always so exciting, and for the athletes to walk into an almost empty arena was sad also. Any athlete who just makes it to the Olympics is a true Olympian, and an Olympian for life. No athlete should allow that be taken away from them by negative commentary. The pressure is constant, and they should be commended always and at all times.
My son crashed during his training at Whistler. The track was super fast, and his hip was torn out of it’s socket. This was in November 2009, and A.J. was told that it would take him a few years to recuperate from the injury. That Olympian inner strength came through, and after a few months of rehab in England, he was back not only qualifying for the Olympics but coming in the top 10 during the pre-Olympic training. Unfortunately, during a training session and 2 sliders before him, Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luger and just 22 years of age, crashed and died. As a result of the crash, the track was shortened and therefore the speed was less, and A.J.’s forte was always in the speed and longevity of the run, and so as a result he came in 16th again which meant no special funding for training. He could have been daunted by that death a few days earlier, and recalling his own crash, but he went on, and tried his best.
No one can know the pressure an athlete faces. Simone Biles has faced so much during her young life, and has conquered it all. Respect was warranted rather than the negativity that arose when she stepped down from competing. Bless her for her fortitude, her perseverance, and overcoming so much and knowing when her body and mind needed a rest. That took a great deal of inner strength. Let’s applaud her. She will always be an Olympian whereas the rest of us who are so quick to judge will not nor ever will be.
Westchester is GREAT!