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The toughest Winter Olympics event? The postrace interview.

At the Winter Olympics, developing the ability to speak thoughtfully on your feet like Gold medalist Evan Lysacek or downhill skier Lindsey Vonn is as important as training to shave off seconds and strokes.

By Christine K. Jahnke / February 26, 2010



Washington

Are you like me, sitting in front of your television hoping the Winter Olympics never end? It’s not the record number of medals Team USA is racking up that I can’t get enough of, but the pure joy exuding from the athletes.

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Have we ever witnessed a happier lot than the snowboarders? Even after spectacular crashes they simply pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and carry on – smiling all the way.

The Vancouver Games are showcasing winning performances by America’s best athletes on the snow and ice – and off. No member of the women’s snowboard team won a gold medal in the halfpipe, yet you would never know it by their sideline behavior.

There’s no evidence of whining or complaining. The freestyle skiers cheer each other on with every gravity-defying inverted aerial maneuver and revel in how superb execution is upping everyone’s game.

Those of us glued to the screen are on the edge of our seats, hanging onto the sheer delight they express with perfection.

As a speech coach to athletes and politicians, I can tell you this exuberance cannot be taught. But an articulate manner can. And for top athletes – who often depend on endorsement deals and speaking engagements after they hang up their skates – savvy media skills can be just as important as performance on the field.

Staged events like Tiger Woods’s recent apology are rare. But postevent interviews are not. That’s why Olympic athletes have to train for them, just as they train to shave off seconds and strokes.

Russian figure skater Yevgeni Plushenko should take note. Mr. Plushenko’s boorish behavior after finishing second in the men’s finals tarnished his Olympic appearance. His comment deriding his competitors as girlie-girls because they didn’t attempt a quadruple jump contrasts sharply with the poise exhibited by the skater who bested him. Gold medalist Evan Lysacek seemed to know better than to take the bait from Plushenko and NBC’s Bob Costas.

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