3 Things About the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

I love the Olympics. Something about the combination of unity, diversity, and competition appeals to me and gets me excited. Fortunately the Summer Olympics usually happen when I am not working and I can take in all the coverage, and I mean all the coverage. I watch whatever they will put on tv. I enjoy the “big ones” of swimming, gymnastics, and track. But you can also find me learning the nuances of the mixed team archery finals, cheering on the duos in beach volleyball, impressed by the strength of the rowing teams, or doing my best to follow the quick swipes of fencing.

Here’s my take on 3 things from this year’s Olympics:

1. Simone Biles

Like most of the country, I woke up to news of the G.O.A.T. of women’s gymnastics, Simone Biles, dropping out of the team competition. I had recorded the live broadcast that occurred in the wee hours the morning and was eagerly anticipating witnessing some US dominance. When I turned on the television, we didn’t yet know why Biles had pulled out and I was disappointed.

When I heard the reason for Biles’ withdrawal and began to understand the danger her mental state would have put her in if she competed, I was just as proud of her. She made the decision because she knew she needed to take care of her mental health and that her team would have a better chance with a different teammate that night. She had trained for this exact moment for years. She obviously would compete if she was at all able to.

That being said, I hope that Biles’ spotlight on mental health paired with the stances of other major global athletes like Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps will help to address an issue I see every day. I will never understand the pressure a world-class Olympian faces. But I believe that one of the major ingredients to their mental struggles is the same as what I see when working with young people every day: social media.

Now more than ever young people live their lives for everyone to see. From the most popular celebrities and athletes to the high schooler surviving an Algebra class, the expectation is to present your life for all to see and comment with approval or disdain. Desperately seeking “likes” and “follows” is an epidemic all its own. And the devastation that comes from one anonymous comment made through a screen can be very real.

Our young people easily spend more time interacting through screens than face to face. It is adversely affecting their mental well-being. Schools, athletic teams, families, work places, and society as a whole needs to recognize this shift and address the need for more complete mental health awareness and programs.

2. Caeleb Dressel is Human

One of the things I have enjoyed at these Olympics is when the athletes finish their completion and come to side for a quick interview. Since families and fans were not allowed to attend, NBC has cameras in the homes and watch parties of many of the competitors. In regular competitions families are often shown in the stands, but something about the connection the athlete makes with them right when their competition ends has been a touching addition by subtraction.

Caeleb Dressel has been one of the stories of these Olympic games. He has won multiple gold medals in the pool and carries on a great tradition of American success in the sport. After winning his first individual gold medal of the games in the men’s 100m freestyle, Dressel was shown a live feed of his family at home saying how proud they are and how much they love him. Dressel was overcome with emotion and could not contain himself for the remainder of the interview.

The outburst of emotion was one of those heartfelt and sincere moments that we often don’t get from an athlete in the middle of competition. I saw him in a later interview with NBC host Mike Tirico before he left Tokyo. When Mike asked about the incident, Dressel commented that he “is really good at containing his emotions…until he isn’t.” I think many of of can relate to that and share in this piece of Dressel’s humanity. His vulnerability was refreshing.

3. Two Golds Twice As Nice

The men’s high jump had an awkward decision when the two leaders were both perfect until the bar reached an Olympic record of 2.39m. I am usually one to encourage friendly and exhilarating competition, but the moment when Mutaz Barshim of Qatar and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi decided to share the gold instead of continue what could have been an endless overtime “jump off” was priceless.

Their combined joy expressed in their unique personalities is so contagious that it doesn’t need added words. Enjoy…

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