Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Olympics Remind Us That Life Isn’t Fair

As we approach the Sochi Olympics, I thought the U.S. Figure Skating Team could provide us all with another lovely reminder that life isn’t fair.  In full disclosure, I was a competitive figure skater once upon a time, and I probably understand and appreciate this quirky sport more than most.  That being said, this year’s Olympic team selection process reminds us that there are unpleasant and somewhat controversial parts to it.

The U.S. Olympic women’s figure skating team generally has two spots to fill, or three if a U.S. skater medaled in the prior year’s World Championships.  This year we have three spots to compete in Sochi.  Typically, we host a National Competition that determines the two or three members of the team.   Whoever places in the top two or three in that two-part competition (short and long program) goes to the Olympics.

There is an exception in that a committee can override that placing, and send the people they choose instead. This is what happened this year.  The committee chose to send the women placing first, second, and fourth—instead of the third place winner.

Surprisingly, this happens somewhat frequently.  The committee is charged with the difficult task of choosing our best representatives for international competition, and the people with the best potential to win a medal.  Interestingly, though, the woman placing second (Polina Edmunds) is only 15 years old and has no real international experience.  But the third place finisher, Mirai Nagasu, the one staying home, placed fourth in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and has plenty of international experience.  The fourth place skater, Ashley Wagner, fell twice in what some would call an “embarrassing program” at Nationals.

What does this demonstrate?  Life isn’t fair.  You can prepare your whole life for something, and still not get there.  You can do all the right things, perform under pressure countless times, and do exactly what you are supposed to do on the day you are supposed to do it—and you still end up sitting on the sidelines.  We can land the perfect pitch (or at least a third place performance), and have someone’s “potential” still win.  We are often judged on perception, history, potential, and in the context of others’ bias—in figure skating and in life.

I didn’t mean for this to be a completely defeating post, just a reminder that we have to be ready to adjust to the Russian judges in life.  We have to prepare diligently, perform under pressure, nail the pitch, and demonstrate prior success along with future promise. On the other hand, we may not be judged entirely on one bad skate.  

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