What do you see when you look at an Olympic gold medalist? Like so many things in life, this depends on who we’re talking to, what their perspective is, and of course what they happen to think about the people in question. Dedication, heart, the spirit of competition, the desire to win, and the utter dedication to something greater than themselves is what a lot of people would say, though a lot of folks might realize how much pressure goes with being an Olympian and how tough it can be to focus on one thing your entire life without any distractions being allowed to take a person in a different direction. Many of us might think that we haven’t done anything great with our lives, that we have too many scattered interests, or that we simply don’t have the drive that Olympians do. It’s easy to affirm this by seeing the level of competition that these people experience and the greatness they’ve achieved, but what we don’t tend to see that often is what the physical and mental stress looks like since that doesn’t make for good TV. A lot of times this means that those that we idolize due to their physical skill and talents aren’t seen in a humanized manner, though in all honesty, it’s hard to think of them as anything but human, no matter the level of talent they possess.
Think about it this way, Olympians aren’t the type to simply say in their teens and possibly their 20s that they want to try out for the Olympics. Many of them have been training since childhood, and have been undergoing the rigors that come with their intense training regimens for years, sticking to strict diets, workout schedules, and adhering to a life that doesn’t allow them to live fully that often since they have to stay sharp, they have to be able to keep that edge, and they have to compete. The stress that results is something that many of us won’t ever understand but should be able to comprehend since stress hits everyone differently and becomes a serious issue that many people have to deal with on a fairly constant basis. This type of stress however is likely to be constant, unending, and can take a heavy toll on the athletes in a way that a lot of people might be able to listen to and comprehend, but likely won’t ever feel. Being an Olympian is an honor and proof that a person has reached the highest level of skill possible in this world. To be able to represent your country at the Olympics, a world event is one of the greatest feelings as many people would likely tell you. But what comes after that? What could possibly compare to the rush of knowing that millions of people are watching your every move? Many Olympians have already been lost to history as they have faded out after attaining their gold or their reputation upon the grandest stage of them all. Even those that have managed to remain known within pop culture for whatever reason continue to fade with each passing year, and it’s likely that in another generation or two children will have to reach into the history books to figure out who they were.
That’s the life of an Olympian. There’s glory, there’s gold, and there’s fame, but there’s also a great, yawning chasm on the far side of their glory that many of them know they’ll have to face one day since it could be injury, tragedy, or retirement due to old age that will force them to face the life that awaits them after the Olympics. Olympians have a shelf life thanks to the games taking place every 4 years, and some might not see more than a few Olympic events at best given the span of time that must pass in order for them to show the world what they can do again. So what’s left for them? The documentary coming to HBO is set to answer those hard questions and take a look at the lives of those that have come and gone through the years. It does feel as though there are going to be those that say ‘boo-hoo’ and attempt to trash the athletes for not planning ahead, perhaps not seeing what was coming, and even stating that they’ll simply have to adapt. People wouldn’t be wrong for saying this, at least not entirely, but without having experienced the same highs that come from winning gold in the Olympics, many opinions might need to be laid to rest before they’re voiced. There’s no way to really say “I understand” unless you’ve been there, any more than one might try to understand how a soldier with no wars left to fight might feel. Think on that a while.