On Friday, American figure skater Jeremy Abbott made waves for all the wrong reasons, going on a tirade when a reporter insinuated that Abbott choked at major events.
On one hand, the comments are a glimpse of what we imagine many Olympians are saying in their heads as journalists stick microphones and notepads in their faces after crushing disappointments. Yet they also point to the potential dark side of America's Olympic fascination. Athletes often speak of their frustration with America's Olympic attention span – that what they do over an entire career is rendered irrelevant by the two weeks of the Olympics.
No medal and you are a failure.
On Friday night, after finishing 12th and crashing violently in the short program the night before, Abbott plainly decided he'd had enough.
With Barb Reichert, a spokeswoman for US Figure Skating standing next to him, Abbott snapped when asked whether his repeated poor performances at major international competitions opened him to criticism as a choker.
"I would just love to – alright, Barb, you're going to kill me – I just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big 'F-you' to everyone who has ever said that to me, because they've never stood in my shoes, and they've never had to do what I've had to do," Abbott said.
"Nobody has to stand center ice in front of a million people and put an entire career on the line for eight minutes of their life when they've been doing it for 20-some years. And if you think that that's not hard, then you're a damn idiot," he continued.
Abbott supposedly spoke more in the sense of giving his unfiltered opinion than out of anger. Either way, he has a point. The media, at times, can seem heartless. This is the cold reality – the price of being an elite athlete, one might say. You have to take responsibility for your performances, and Abbott's performances on the international stage certainly beg the question that was asked.
Yet that sort of question, if not asked delicately, comes across as malicious and antagonizing. If that was your son, your heart would break for him having to answer such a question.
Usually, athletes handle it with grace – and particularly at the Olympics. They know it's part of the deal. Win a medal and you're the king for a week, a month, a year. But lose – and, in particular, if you're prickly about it – and you can become a target.
Ask Bode Miller.
And that's what this feels like, in a way. In Turin, America did well in the medal table, finishing second overall with 25 medals. But in many of the events Americans were watching, there was failure after perceived failure, and the tone turned negative.
Miller was the "choker" then, and he had far more on his résumé than Abbott. He had been the World Cup overall champion a year before and would be again in 2008. Then there was the feud between speedskating teammates Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick.
The same general mood is playing out here.
While American athletes seemed to have few problems with Sochi, the overall tone coming from American coverage was negative even before the Olympics began. Since then, many of America's most prominent athletes have badly underperformed. Shaun White pulled out of the slopestyle then missed the podium in halfpipe. US speedskaters are blaming poorly designed suits for their string of shocking results. And Friday night marked the worst figure skating performance for the American men since 1936.
All this, and the US is still standing joint top of the overall medal table with 13.
But once a narrative turns negative, it can be hard to reverse.
"Whatever other people have to say about me, that's their own problem because I'm freaking proud of what I've done and I'm not going to apologize for anything," Abbott said.
But he might well have to apologize.
He knew he shouldn't say what he did, but he did anyway.
For the American Olympian, so disciplined in diet and training, the discipline of forbearance is no less imperative. American Olympians are packaged products as much as athletes. F-bombs are not a part of that package, and Abbott knows it.
The life of the American Olympian is thankless in so many ways, and this is just one of them.