I loved watching the Olympics with my kids this year. I always love the Olympics, but this is the first year Joshua and Sophie have really enjoyed it, and it was so fun to enjoy it along side them. Sophie was, like most little girls, really into the gymnastics, especially since she takes gymnastic lessons herself (although I don’t think Marta Karolyi needs to hold a place for her at the 2024 games. Sorry Soph. You are your mother’s daughter.)
We recorded the gymnastics, since they were on so late at night, so that Sophie and I could watch them together the following day. She was thrilled when Team USA won gold and again when Gabby Douglas won gold in the all-around. When we were watching the all-around competition, we couldn’t help notice how devastated Russian gymnast Viktoria Komova was when she won the silver. Komova faltered on her vault early in the competition, so her fate came down to her floor routine, and she could have overtaken Douglas for the gold, but the judges chose otherwise. After the Russian saw her scores, she broke down in tears. Silver, it seems, was not what she had come to win.
She's so excited. And she just can't hide it.
To someone like me, who has never been great or almost-great or even in the running for great at anything, Komova’s reaction is really hard to understand. But logically I know that all athletes of that caliber make their sport their entire world so that they can be THE BEST. Not the second-best. And some of them are incapable of feeling anything but despair in what you and I would see as a moment of elation. I’m all “A silver medal? That’s AWESOME!! ” And when an athlete who isn’t favored to win or even medal gets a silver, you might see that elation. But not so with Komova, who certainly had higher expectations for herself.
A few nights later, Sophie wasn’t feeling well late at night, and so I let her get out of bed and watch some gymnastics with me. It was the individual event finals for the floor exercise, and it must’ve reminded Sophie of the all-around finals, because she looked up at me and said, “Mommy? Do you remember Viktoria who was trying to beat Gabby? I feel really sad for her because I think she just likes winning, like I do.”
Sophie was awfully sleepy, and I don’t know if she even remembers our conversation. But I took the moment to reassure her that while it is hard to lose, what matters most is doing the very best you can do, and working at it with all your heart. And I told her that I was sure Viktoria did that, and Gabby did that, and that Gabby’s best was just better that day. So she wins, and that’s the way it supposed to be. I told her it was okay for Viktoria to be sad but that I bet her mommy was still really proud of her.
I am one of those people who doesn’t think everyone should get a trophy just for trying. The culmination of talent and years of hard work need to be rewarded. For some, the reward is simply participating at a world-class level; medal or no, their efforts have brought them into a select group. For the very top achievers, though there does need to be a special award. And to give everyone a medal de-values the ones who have truly achieved greatness.
But anyway, I must say for all my “teachable moment-ing”, I think my little girl got it right. (And I can *ahem* verify that Sophie comes by her sore loser-dom honestly.) It sucks to lose. And for an athlete who could on another day be good enough to win, second place can at that moment seem not so much a shiny silver as a dingy failure.
I am hoping that today, more than a week later, Komova and all the athletes in her place that competed and did so amazingly well can so how great their achievement truly was.
And I hope my little girl one day understands that giving your BEST is truly winning, even if someone else’s best is better.