The pressure of pressure on our Olympians

Cate Campbell is comforted by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen after her shock 100m loss. Photo: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd
Nanjing Night Net

I have always enjoyed watching theOlympic Games on TV.One of my first memoriesof watching theOlympics was when I was 11 years old,standing on a chair in my school librarywith my classmates watching one of the most historic Olympic swimming events at the1996 Atlanta Games–a22-year-old Kieren Perkinswinning the 1500m freestylefrom lane 8.

I find watchingathletes pushing themselves to extraordinary limitsnothing short of inspiring.But thecomments of Olympic gold medalistswimmer Cate Campbell have taken watching the Olympics to a completely different level for me this year.

Cate was a hot favouriteto medal in the 100m and 50m freestyle events at Rio.

After finishing sixth in the 100m final, Cate said –when asked by a Prime news reporter about what she’d like to say to her family –“I hope this doesn’t change the way you feel about me, I hope you still love me”.And then when she camefifth in the 50m final, she described her performance as“possibly the greatest choke in Olympic history”.Her coach was interviewed saying it’s not that she wasn’t ready, “she was” he said. He described coaching swimmers on how to handle their nerves on the day was near impossible.

Then followed the news reports, one Sydney Morning Herald article writing a“stunning development that asks more questions about the ability of Australian swimmers to step upwhen it counts”.

Now Cate vies not to end her career “like this” with plans to go to Tokyo in 2020.

The pressures the world puts onto these young adultsto win are at its worst during the Olympics and can have devastating effects –take for examplethree-time gold medalist swimmer Shane Gould who quit after one Olympics, Ian Thorpe who retired when many thought he still had so much potential and I’m sure the pressure of being the best helped sendMichael Phelps to dark places at one stage. Thankfully he returned to show us all how superhuman he really is.

Olympic rowing champion Kim Brennan of Australiasummed it up perfectly –“I feel like I was doing it for everyone not just myself”.We know we want our country to be the best,there’s no denying that but at what point do we stop and say well done for just getting thereand giving us a performance that only comes around once every four years? Well done for not quitting when you could have? Instead of making them feel like they’ve failed their whole country when they don’t come home with the gold-ware.

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