OK, admittedly I am a big fan of the Olympic Games; the intrigue of highs and lows in competition, the individual athletes, their stories. Stories of extraordinary sacrifice, excellence achieved by amazing God-given ability, mental and physical toughness, and the kind of hard work shouts perfectionism. Stories of regular folks doing extraordinary things. The athletes’ highest achievements in sport display national, sport-specific, and personal pride.
I find myself especially enjoying less popular sports, those only in the spot light for a blip of two weeks every four years. The athletes garner mere moments in the limelight compared to their counterparts in sports plastered all over 24-hour sports television and the world wide web.
On the final Saturday of this Olympic Games from Rio, we were busy with our own family weekend and its whirlwind of activity, and unable to watch much Olympic action. So, during a down moment, we huddled around my wife’s smart phone to check out results. One of my sons is a novice diver, so we checked out the rankings of divers from the semi-finals of the 10 meter men’s platform event. One USA diver, David Boudia, made it into the finals, but American Steele Johnson had not. We were stunned to see that Tom Daley of Great Britain, ranked first from the preliminaries, did not advance.
But, it wasn’t so much the results that captured our jaw-dropped attention. Rather, a single comment below the results columns jumped out of the screen and screamed the kind of ignorance that still permeates sport and society. How unfortunate. It asked a one-line question: “Are these divers men or WOMEN?”
Yes, I am sure that the person commenting meant it as a joke, however, what purpose does such a question in the comments serve? Covering up for that individual’s own inadequacies maybe? But, I’d like to point out that these divers, young men, are very much male. This is not by any means intended to slight the equally talented and amazing athletic young women of diving, but the very nature of the young men participation in their sport speaks to the kind of man—masculinity and character—that I am hoping my two teenage sons possess.
Alright, I am sure that this joke originated from … oh … say … the athletes wearing next to nothing—AKA “The Speedo.” I suppose now the skimpy Speedo means that the divers are not men in the eyes of some. Hardly. In fact, most reasonable folks would understand that the young men have to wear the Speedo. #1: I assume that the sport must mandate them to do so and, #2: More important, if they’d like to maintain their “manhood,” chances are they need things “down there” to be fully secured. There is no question, it would be riskier if divers wore loose board shorts. Falling from thirty feet in the air at 30-35 miles per hour, full of twists and turns and somersaults and flips, then hitting the water with such force that if the entry is less than perfect, it would cause serious injury … well, you get the point.
Perhaps, the joker felt that since the male divers movements are filled with rhythms of ballet and acrobatics of gymnastics, perhaps they are less male. Hmmmmmmmm I wonder if our commenter would belly flop from ten meters and prove how manly he is? I digress. Enough about the ignorance.
Here are just a few of my takeaways and lessons I hope my sons, and my daughter as well, can learn:
Courage: Anyone who jumps, dives (backward and inward), twists, turns, flips, etc. from thirty feet at 30-35 mph is pretty brave in my book.
Perseverance: I wonder how many actual dives and on-land practice it takes to perfect their craft? I’d say thousands.
Resilience: Even after a poor dive that had to “hurt,” they’re right back up there. From Rio, TV and web coverage honed in on a couple of mishaps by male and female divers that resulted in flops. OUCH!
Physical Strength: Handstands held straight for more than a few seconds, oh … and by the way … at the very end of the thirty feet-in-the-air-platform.
Facing Immense Pressure: How would you like to be the gold medal favorite from a country that expects you to win or else … oh, and everyone in that country of over 1 billion are counting on you to bring home the gold?
Faith: David Boudia and Steele Johnson were not afraid to reference their Christian faith after their silver medal performance in the synchronized 10 meter event.
Mentoring: Most every athlete thanked their coach repeatedly. It was referenced many times that David Boudia has mentored Steele Johnson over the past few years. Giving back. Modeling. Serving. Accepting.
Humility & Grace: Tom Daley, who did not make it out of the semi-finals a day after serving notice that he was the best diver in the world, spoke candidly with reporters immediately after the devastation of his Olympic dreams dashed.
Excellence, belief in self, effort, supporting one another ….. the lessons could go on and on.
There were a whole host of memorable moments during these Rio games. And, I’d say that these young men are more than manly. They epitomize what it means to be good men of the 21st century. Asinine comments questioning their manliness by calling them “women” demonstrates that we have a ways to go.
Photo: Getty Images