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.
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.
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.
In their sit-down interview, Mr. Costas seemed to attempt to elicit a snarky response from Mr. Lysacek: When Costas asked if he could be a true champion without the quad jump, Lysacek graciously praised his competitor. There was no arrogance or self-congratulatory spin. In fact, while making the point that he edged Plushenko in the technical scoring on jumps and spins, Lysacek good-naturedly joked that the Russians probably would not allow him into their country to defend his title in the 2014 Games slated for Sochi, Russia.
Athletes with the ability to follow those rules in life and on the slopes deserve our admiration.
The pregame buildup surrounding downhill skier Lindsey Vonn led me to fear she was just a Pepsodent smile. The perception was dispelled with her skillful handling of the media onslaught about her ability to ski while injured and the way she brushed aside inane questions from CNN about how it feels to be considered a “sex goddess.” Ms. Vonn’s deft handling of reporters helped show that she isn’t a gloating ice princess, but an athlete with grit who gave a heartwarming shout out to her grandparents watching at home.
These Olympians are skilled athletes and savvy communicators. They slalom through the media circus that envelops the Olympic Games, not allowing it to dampen their camaraderie or competitive spirit. Their joy helps explain why so many, like Bode Miller, keep going back again and again. What a thrill it is to watch them. They’re stoked and their ability to communicate it makes us feel good, too.