Image: you work your whole life to compete in the Olympics, only to blow it, not just for yourself but for your entire team. Sure, most people (aside from a few mean-spirited bloggers and critical sports reporters) say it wasn’t completely your fault. Other girls on the team messed up too. But you know that you made the most glaring errors. It’s your routine that they keep replaying from every angle in slow motion, inserting the usual gasps and “That’s it. Wow. She really needs to get it together now. How DO you come back from that?”
A few days later you get a chance for redemption. The whole country is rooting for you. Although you make a couple of small mistakes you do not disappoint. When one competitor steps out of bounds and another falls those watching assume that a medal is yours. So do you. Then the unthinkable happens. Despite their blunders those girls score higher than you, sending you to the cruel 4th place position. How could this have happened? Everyone keeps repeating the phrase “higher difficulty level.” Shouldn’t that go out the window when one steps out of bounds and/or falls? Did any judges give you a high-difficulty-level break when you fell off the beam?
At least this time reporters and bloggers are all on your side, saying you’ve been robbed instead of “She single-handedly blew the gold medal for the U.S.” But how can that make up for the unfairness of it all? Sure, Google practically crashed due to the mass searches for your name. You’ve gained a few fan sites from the whole mess, and a country full of moms who wanted to hop the next plane to China so they could give you a hug. A large percentage of guys apparently think you’re hot. Still, you’ll always be remembered as that poor girl who fell off the beam, who followed it up with a tumble in her floor routine, who got cheated out of medal on vault. Snap shots of your career will always include a close-up of your feet losing contact with the beam, you biting your lip as you wait for those dreaded scores, and your tear-filled eyes as you see your goals dashed, not once but twice.
What do you do?
Comfort yourself with the idea that at least your family’s livelihood doesn’t depend on you bringing home the gold. At least your team didn't arrive at the games weighed down by the pressure that less than a certain number of golds would equal failure. At least you didn’t spend your entire childhood in a training center far from your parents. That might help for say, five minutes.
Adopt the attitude of all the non-Olympians who pat you on the shoulder and remind you that you’ve gone further than many can ever hope to—that at the end of the day you are an Olympic gymnast with a silver medal to prove it. Maybe when you’re a mom comforting your own daughter through a disappointment this will stick. For now it’s one of those truths that sounds great but doesn’t take the sting away.
Challenge the judge’s ruling and get a little trash talk going about the girls who beat you out for medals on vault in hopes that at least one will be disqualified, giving you the bronze? Not only would it be a waste of time but it wouldn’t help your reputation. All those moms out there might want to give you a swat instead of a hug.
At some point you’d have to choose to move on, hold onto the goals that you accomplished instead of dwelling on those that didn’t happen and somehow take some good from the experience, even if only “this is what I’ll do next time.” At some point you'd have to thank God for getting you as far as you got.
Watching Alicia Sacramone and so many other athletes get to the Olympics only to make a costly mistake, have to drop out due to injury, or have some strange circumstance remove all hope of gold reminds us that disappointments can come at the worst possible time, including when we’ve sacrificed and worked our hardest. The question isn’t why such crushing blows come but how we respond to them. You and I may not have to worry about losing our shot at a gold medal or making the mistake of our lives on international television, but we all have days when our best attempts fall apart, our plans fizzle for no apparent reason, or we are shoved aside thanks to sheer unfairness.
No matter what anyone says, it hurts and just doesn’t seem right. As God’s children at least we have the hope that He still loves us, that He can use it all, including the ugly snap shot reminders, for His good.
How do you handle disappointment? Consider how you would handle things if you were in Alicia’s spot. Would you show the professionalism and grace that she did? I’d love to hear from you.
Oh and just so you know I don’t always handle disappointment or failure well. I’m still beating myself up for mixing up the words in a solo three years ago and nobody noticed but me. So don’t feel bad if you have to admit to responding the same way.