Sometimes it’s impossible to change the narrative.
Remember when it was All Michael Phelps, all the time? He of the giant ears and terrifying jubilation? You probably don’t remember that he had a bff on the team, this other dude who was a pretty okay swimmer himself, but never beat Michael. His name was Ryan Lochte, and it always seemed like they were both able to maintain their friendship because Michael was the better swimmer, but he was so goofy looking that he still didn’t get the girls. And gold medals are great and all, but it’s hard to be all that bitter when you’re the one with the hot girlfriend.
This time around, it would seem the bff is the winner. He’s beating world records! He’s winning gold medals! His ear stay appropriately close to his head! He’s every sports reporter’s wet dream, coming out from behind the shadows of his best friend to beat him hands-down. And yet. And yet. At the beginnings of every race is it Ryan we talk about? Is it Ryan’s mother and sisters given an awkwardly long interview? When he was the one anchoring the relay – and lost within an hair’s breadth, with his fingers reaching as far as they could go to get to the wall first – the first person they turned to was still Michael Phelps. America knows Michael Phelps. They love Michael Phelps. They’ve been mentally prepared for four years to cheer him on to even more ridiculous numbers of medals. And apparently we’re not quite ready to give up on that hero, even if we do have another one who’s been patiently waiting in the wings. And desperately trying to get our attention via embarrassing grills.
Second place = failure.
Speaking of that silver medal that Lochte, Phelps, and the other dudes won… they were upset about it. Not that I don’t get it; they wanted gold. They got gold last time. The story demanded that they bring in gold. BUT COME ON, GUYS. You won silver. A fucking silver medal at the Olympics. Anyone who tries to tell you that’s not good enough is a douchebag. And since you’re clearly all telling yourselves that’s not good enough… I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
But it was worse during the original Olympics.
Back in the day Greece was a hardcore place. Think about it – these guys basically lived on a bunch of rocks. They couldn’t grow anything other than olives, and while that’s pretty swell you can’t exactly live off a diet of nothing but olive oil, no matter how delicious that plan may sound. So they made their livings being mercenaries. Badass mercenaries, in fact. If you wanted to kick some ancient butt, you hired yourself some hoplites. We all know the kind of culture that made – Spartans shoving their kids out the door at the age of seven to learn to kill each other. So it’s hardly surprising that these were not a people who were into the concept of “personal best”. There were no comforting pats on the back if you lost. Hell, traditionally if you came in second place YOUR MOTHER WOULD NEVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN.
Nobody says, “I’m proud of myself,” anymore (actually, did they ever?).
I love the post-race/vaulting/shooting/speed-walking interviews, and not just because watching people try to remember their media training while also desperately trying to catch their breath is inherently entertaining. It’s because, by and large, these athletes are proud of themselves. Not, like, “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” but deeply, truly proud of themselves. And they’re willing to admit it. Out loud. On national tv. Think about it – that’s pretty amazing.