Think for a second about winning an Olympic silver medal. All the broadcasters counted you out, failed to mention you in the pre-game show and never even prepared a video package on your Olympic preparation.
Sure, you’re not standing atop the podium and your national anthem is not blaring from the stadium’s speakers, but you’ve proven yourself as a pretty darn good athlete, and no one can take that away from you.
Now remove all countries not named the United States of America, Romania, China or Russia and you’ve dramatically changed the circumstances as well as the expectations. That’s because you’re competing in women’s gymnastics.
Take Russia’s Viktoria Komova, for example. The seventeen year-old gymnast has accomplished far more than most teenagers of the world. Most people have barely experienced success at the DMV at that age, let alone the Olympics—the world’s biggest stage.
A few days ago, Komova finished second in the women’s all-around gymnastics program, missing out on the gold medal and the glory experienced by Gabby Douglas by less than three-tenths of a point.
Visibly upset after the competition, Komova opened up to reporters.
“I was not very lucky at these Olympics. I failed them 100 percent,” Komova said. “I don’t know if I will continue sports. I will go back home take some time off and think through the situation. My parents say everything is okay, but I don’t feel that.”
Read that again and think if that’s something a perfectly healthy seventeen year-old girl should be saying.
This statement brings up a painfully true reality for women’s gymnastics. These young women, unless they are very, very lucky, are put through more pressure and more heart-wrenching disappointment than any person should ever be exposed to. It shows.
McKayla Maroney, who made the United States Olympic team as a vaulting specialist, looked as though she had seen a ghost after slipping on her second vault to finish second to Romania’s Sandra Izbasa.
For Americans at home, having to sit through the end of America’s team qualifying, when Jordyn Wieber saw her Olympic dreams being ripped away at the hands of teammate Aly Raisman, was uncomfortable enough. Imagine living that moment.
Why do these emotions exist? Why do we never hear the words, “I’m happy just to experience these Olympics,” from the women of these countries?
Financial security might have something to do with it. Analysts project that Wieber, the favorite to win all-around gold in London, will lose millions in potential endorsements over the next five years.
They’re right; we love our all-around gold winners. Gabby Douglas has been featured in cereal aisles all across the country this week and has a golden smile that could sell just about anything. Stay tuned.
No, there’s something deeper with this disappointment. Many of these young girls sacrifice their childhoods for the dream of winning Olympic gold. When that doesn’t happen, the question, “Was it worth it?” slowly starts to creep up and present itself—even when silver seems dream-worthy to the non-Olympian.
Still, the intense training that gymnastics requires will likely never change, meaning that the seemingly misplaced, defeated facial expression we’ve seen so many times in London is not just an anomaly.
Unless there are drastic changes in the next four years, young girls will continue to be held accountable not only by their parents, but also by the rest of the world watching on TV.