Friday, January 22, 2010

The tarnished gold standard

This was pretty predictable, given the great American obsession with success in the Olympics, but I saw a story the other day with the headline "Will 2010 Games become the Vonncouver Olympics?" The play on words was a reference to Lindsey Vonn, the talented American skier who is currently battling it out with her close friend Maria Riesch of Germany for the lead in the overall World Cup standings.

"The what standings?" you ask. Don't worry, you're not alone. Even if you're a skier, if you're not a fan of ski racing, you probably have no idea that there are a whole host of races and events every year, and not just every four years when the Winter Olympic Games come around.

This is especially true in the United States, where it's almost as if ski racing didn't exist, except for the Olympics. That's one reason why that headline bothered me, because we've gone this route before, mostly notably in 2006, when Bode Miller arrived in Turin, Italy, as a favorite — at least as far as the American press was concerned — to sweep all five Olympic skiing events, but left without a single medal.

So was Bode a failure? There's no point in delving into that question, particularly since all things Bode can get a bit complicated. But I do know that were I to ask any male racer on the World Cup circuit which prize in skiing he covets the most, he might just as readily answer the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzb├╝hel, Austria, as any Olympic gold medal. Female racers would probably say it was the overall world cup title, something Lindsey Vonn has won the last two years.

If Vonn doesn't win a single medal in the mountains near Vancouver next month, she will still rank as the most successful female ski racer in U.S. history to date.

So if you're not a skier, you're probably saying, "Who cares?" Well, like most of my seemingly obscure posts here, I see a parallel to our everyday lives. This occurred to me a couple of nights ago when my partner's niece called to tell us that she had made the dean's list at the University of Vermont. While I was genuinely happy for Chrissy, I said to her, "Congratulations, but we were very proud of you already."

Chrissy reminds me of my own niece, Stephanie, who recently completed graduate school and embarked on a career as a physical therapist. They are both highly intelligent, talented, genuine and compassionate young women whom I admire — the sort of people who make you think, "If only there were more like them in this world, the world would be a better place."

My point is, I think we focus too much on outcomes, the "gold medals" in our own lives — the high test score or job promotion or whatever marker of success we happen to be striving for — and not enough on the process, the small accomplishments that make us who we truly are. Gold medals are perhaps overrated.

Lindsey Vonn is a ski hero no matter what happens in the upcoming Winter Games. And my nieces Chrissy and Stephanie are everyday heroes, dean's list or not.

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