On February 13, 2014, two men suffered devastating injuries either before or during the men's short program in the Olympics. They each handled their obstacle differently, and we can - and need to - learn a lesson from them both.
Lesson 1: When to Get Back Up
Jeremy Abbott crashed hard when he failed to land his first jump - the incredibly difficult quadruple.
Now, to me, a normal human being who would get excited if I could do a bunny hop on the ice, falling from that jump would be a given. But we spectators become a different breed of critic when we watch the stunts pulled of by these amazing men. Still, I think each one of us held our breath when Jeremy did not get up. We had seen others fall and get up so seamlessly that it looked like part of the routine. Jeremy clutched his hip and winced in pain, and we wondered if this would be the first time we would ever see some kind of ambulance zamboni.
To our continued amazement, we millions of viewers watched the young man rise and CONTINUE his program! The rest of the routine showed so little flaw, so little expression of pain, that more than a few of us must have questioned whether he faked his injury.
He didn't. After he finished and waved to the crowd, the wince returned. He again grabbed his side and he returned to his coach with the words, "That really hurt."
How much more painful was it to wave to the crowd when he felt he hadn't given them his best? To his country members who hungered for more medals? How much did it hurt to sit in front of cameras recording his reaction to a score being issued that was nearly 30 points less than what the gold medalist would pull in. A score well less than he expected himself before the routine began.
But we clapped. The Americans clapped, the Russians clapped, and everone at home clapped. (Admit it - you wanted to.) We were more amazed at his performance after seeing his failure than if he would have done it perfectly. And here's why.
He finished, even knowing there would be no hope of a medal. He was there, and he did what he came to do. Here are his words in a post-performance interview.
"First thing, I was in a lot of pain and I was laying there kind of shocked and I didn't know what to think," Abbott said. "I was waiting for the music to stop. The audience was screaming, and I was, like, 'Forget it all, I am going to finish this program.' As much of a disappointment as this is, I am not in the least bit ashamed. I stood up and finished this program, and I am proud of what I did in the circumstances."
He wanted a reason for what he had done. His first thought was to quit, but he didn't know how that was supposed to happen. So he just went on.
Lesson 2: When to Stay Down and Know You're Done
Another skater was supposed to perform first that night.
The Russian, Evgeni Plushenko, had already given the audience a preview of how dominant his performance could be in the team competition. He placed first, overwhelmingly. No doubt, his country, the host, was awaiting their moment to shine again in men's figure skating.
However, something was wrong. After Evgeni's warm-ups, more time passed. Audience members could only watch him approach the judges and wonder about the conversation. We didn't see any problems.
We at home heard the conversation on TV, though. He spoke to the judges in English. "My back is bad. I cannot skate."
Evgeni took the ice again, and his Russian fans were excited. He waved a thank you salute to the audience who mumbled in confusion. He was acting like he had already finished. An annoucement was made in English to a mostly silent reply from the audience. Once the announcement was repeated in Russian, there was a pause again. No one knew how to respond when they heard their hero would not skate for medical reasons. And then the faithful audience knew what to do. They applauded. And, after answering a few questions, Evgeni Plushenko retired.
What do we learn from Evgeni Plushenko? Time.
Time is the one thing that is so precise, it can choose a winner in a race by a fraction of a second - literally less than the time it takes to blink.
On the other hand, the scale of time in one's life is so very different that it varies from person to person. Because no person is exactly like another, there is no exact manual that explains when your body is done. No athlete is ever 100% sure when his healthy body has finished its maximum amount of quality work. Many will try to continue their trade, only to find that dimishing quality brings out the worst in viewers. Armchair coaches complain that "he should have retired long ago." Those perfectly-hindsighted coaches always know best, you know.
Most of us are not Olympians. So few are professional athletes. Does this principle apply to us as well?
You know it does. It might not be our body. It might be a friendship, a parenting style, a job, a volunteer assignment. You probably know right now what it is. Something is done. Something has to go. Something's quality is starting to diminish.
Some of us are going down the hill now. We are no longer growing, but just fighting decay. But when we recognize such things as getting up and moving on or staying down and moving on, we are still growing. As we grow in maturity, we can be smarter with the time we do use.
Jeremy Abbott showed us sometimes we keep going.
Evgeni Plushenko showed us sometimes we need to stop.
Being far enough removed from Super Bowl XLVIII today for the sting to be faded, I can now examine my theory of why my beloved Broncos lost. so. badly.
Note that this is based on my perception, and not statistics. Sometimes, women notice little things that aren't translated into facts.
But take a look.
My first clue that something was off was when I heard a pre-game announcer report (somewhere around 4:00) that he had seen many Seahawks out for pre-game warm ups, but few Broncos. When I heard that report, I panicked. Surely the Broncos weren't that confident to think they didn't even need to warm up.
Denver was favored- winning was nearly a given. They were favored by statistics and by the fans, after Richard Sherman opened his mouth.
After the game, it was admitted by the Broncos that they had not prepared enough. The problem was, who would have thought they needed that much preparation? No one, apparently
And now we have our problem. Big heads.
When we look back at the season, the veteran teams were the ones that didn't buckle under pressure. Denver was the king of that. If they had a bad play, they picked themselves right back up and got back on track. We might call that confident leadership, under the leadership of Peyton Manning.
I can't stand when quarterbacks get nervous and scurry all over the place. Let your offensive line do their jobs. Nervousness leads to mistakes - bad passes that are usually picked off.
The Patriots don't do that. Have you ever seen Tom Brady look nervous? And of course, Peyton was the king of steel nerves.
Younger guys get nervous. I love Colin Kaepernick, but he scurries a lot. His advantage is his athleticism. When he sees no options, he makes them himself. Still, a good defense will eventually stop him, which is why he has no ring yet.
But did you watch Geno Smith this year? I don't doubt he will grow into a decent QB for the Jets at this level, once he has built trust. Until then, he will need to work on having faith in his team.
It seems I have built a case for the veteran teams, haven't I? So why didn't the Broncos win? Why didn't they come back after that first botched snap?
Here's what I've noticed about all teams. Big wins tend to give big heads. And I'm pretty sure that's what happened in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks came out of a game where they nearly lost the NFC championship to the 49ers. They had been down at their home field most of the game, and had the last pass not been intercepted, they would have lost. At their home field.
There's my point in action again. How could Seattle be down at home? It was the most dreaded field in the NFL this year. But perhaps their twelfeth man hadn't had enough practice either.
Denver, on the other hand, completely stomped all over New England. This was after New England had trampled Indy, who had just beaten the Chiefs in a very exciting game. Do you see the pattern?
As an Eagles fan, I have relied on this principle. (Because we have some pretty, uh confident, shall we say? players. <ahem> Desean) However, EVERY time we are embarrassed, we come back the next game. Or the next quarter. Whatever it takes. Do you remember the game we played after Denver this year? Neither do the Giants. I'm not sure they were even there.
It works the other way too. The next time we played the Giants, we actually lost to them, scaring us enough to trounce Oakland 49-20 in our first home win in over a year.
I thought Manning, Welker, Bailey and all the other long time pros were above the headiness. I thought they were immune to what people said about how good they were. They all said the right words about it being another game and not getting caught up, but in the end, they proved to be just as human as everyone else.
They also had one thing against them - something no one had told them. To their detriment, I had picked Denver as the winner of this year's Super Bowl. (For the record, I picked them after Week 1). And since everyone I told last year on Facebook forgot what I said, no one could warn the Broncos.
I haven't successfully picked a Super Bowl winner since 1985. Another blow out where defense took the title. Only that time, it was no surprise.
So watch out next year and be sure to ask me who I have jinxed.
T.C. Slonaker, Eagles fan
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