Blame it on Rio
The Olympics are a unique and challenging event. It's the best athletes in the world, all trying to win for their home nation. And it comes once every four years. When you reach the mountain top, people expect you to repeat it. But a lot can happen in four years.
Conversely, when you fall short, four years can be a long time to wait for absolution. During Monday's events, the third night of competition, we saw both these stories play out in disappointing fashion for team America.
Men's Gymnastics Team:
In London in 2012, the Men's Gymnastics Team finished first in qualifying only to see things get away from them in competition. The team finished fifth in the team competition, out of the medals. It was a performance that haunted them, and something they sought to put right in Rio in 2016.
The men got off to a decent start, looking solid in team qualifying on Saturday night. They finished second, making the eight-team field easily. Then came Monday's team final and a shot a redemption. But it wasn't to be. The first two men to compete on floor exercise, the first rotation, flew out of bounds. By the end of one rotation, the men were in eighth place.
The Men's team fought back, but ended up falling short. The Americans finished fifth, again, leading to more questions and more what ifs to this point in the competition. For three of the Americans, this was a shot at a do-over after they fell short in 2012. For another two, it was a chance to get into the game after serving as alternates in 2012. For all five, 2016 will ultimately feel like a disappointment.
On the other end of the spectrum is Franklin, who was America's golden girl in London. She won five medals, four gold, to set an America record. At just 17-years-old, the future looked bright. But in the four years since, Franklin has seen her swimming career head down a different path.
Franklin qualified for only two individual events in Rio, and is favored in neither. On Monday, she competed in the semi-final for the 200M freestyle. She finished eighth in the semi-final, 12th overall, and missed the final.
A far cry from her demeanor in a dominant 2012 performance, Franklin looked deflated as she finished her swim, realizing she had no shot at even competing for a medal. The look of frustration and deflation was understandable. Franklin has the name recognition that drives expectations that the past four years have left her unable to fulfill.
I love the Olympics. I love the competition. I love seeing people's dreams come true. And I love seeing them be beautiful ambassadors of what it means to be an athlete. But it's a lot of limelight and a lot of pressure, and not all can be molded into diamonds under that scrutiny.
At the end of their diving competition, Americans David Boudia and Steele Johnson said something profound. When interviewed and asked about the pressure to succeed and what it meant to win Silver, both were incredibly humble. They were appreciative and showed gratitude, but also said they were free to go out and compete without pressure because they didn't find their identity in in being great divers, they found their identity in Christ. It was a simple interview that probably went unnoticed, but I found it incredibly inspiring and moving.
Boudia and Johnson were thrilled to win the silver medal, but they would have felt complete without it, too. They found peace in something bigger than themselves. When I looked at Franklin a few hours later, seeing the pain and disappointment reflected on her face, I didn't feel that sense of peace.
I love the Olympics, but it's a brutal challenge. The pressure is enormous, the attention is immense, and the window to shine is tiny. You get one or two Olympics if you're lucky, more than than if you're truly blessed and depending on your sport. And you have four years of constant training and pressure between games to stay at an elite level and get your next shot.
All of sports can be a cruel mistress, but the stakes of the Olympics, and it's timing, make it a class all its own. We revel in the victories and the amazing moments, but the disappointments and failures are quickly forgotten by most, but not the athletes.
I was elated on Sunday night when Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps won gold. But I was just as moved, albeit in a much different way, seeing Franklin and our men stumble on Monday.
But like our athletes, it's important to have our identity rooted in the eternal, not the temporal. The things of this world will pass away. Success can turn to failure in a matter of years. But Christ is eternal. When our identity is properly rooted in Him, we have the freedom to soar no matter the results.