A follow-up on Olympic reflections


Some have expressed disappointment at the overall performance of Team USA. We all like medals, but I’d like to submit that medal counts are not what the Olympics are about. Let me illustrate:

Many years ago at the Cross-Country World Championships, John Bauer (USA) had a very bad first day of the cross-country pursuit race. Because of the rules in a pursuit race (if you’re in 30th place, 7 minutes from first, you start 30th, 7 minutes behind the winner, who starts first: the idea is to try to catch him/her, and the first over the line wins). On day two, John started way back, skied magnificently to gain 12th place (I think it was). He had the third fastest time of the day — but the press was interested only in who won. John’s incredible performance was completely ignored — yet I would venture to say that John’s race was the Story of the day.

If you followed the Olympic results, the American women’s cross-country gold in the Team Pursuit was dramatic and historic: Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randal won the U.S.’s first Gold. It was especially moving to read that Kikkan had her 2-year-old son at the Olympics; how she managed motherhood and the grueling training and travel involved is a story in itself.

The U.S. won 23 medals, and 35 Americans finished just off the podium between fourth and sixth during the Olympics. Yet the Washington Post headed their end-of-Olympics report with “Team USA falls short of expectations at PyeongChang Olympics. Figure skating, men’s skiing and speedskating are among the sports that didn’t produce as much hardware as hoped by officials.”  Hardware? Come on, WaPo – a LOT of women and men put thousands of dedicated hours into their sport (cross-country skiers train between 800 and 1,000 hours per year at the Olympic level). Let’s celebrate their dedication and accomplishment!

Gold medal of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo courtesy Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service.

And maybe we might reflect that dwelling on winning-before-all may not be the best way to develop athletes. There were several articles during the games about how Norway’s “secret” lies in deliberately encouraging and developing a happy, positive and supportive team environment.  Contrast that with WaPo’s apparent disappointment, and think of the many kids who are pushed, pressured and derided if they don’t “win,” and either quit sports or clutch under the stress. I’ve seen it too often. It’s not what sport is about.

Norway also has long-term development and support programs. In the U.S., I’ve seen coaches fired after one year because they didn’t produce medals. America — we need to de-emphasize winning as the only justification for sport.

The U.S. contingent deserves praise and a warm welcome home. Join me in praising not “just” the medalists, but all the athletes who dedicated so many years to the discipline and joy and fulfillment of sport. They — and we — are the richer for their efforts, and we need to make them feel that their accomplishments are recognized.

Team LGBT:

In my last post, I mentioned “Team LGBT.”  Final results:  a record 15 “out” LGBT athletes at the Games, four of whom won seven medals — two golds (Eric Radford and Ireen Wüst); two silver (Wüst); and three bronze (Radford, Brittany Bowe and Adam Rippon). Not bad for a “nation” with 15 athletes! And a stunning testimony to the power of being able to live an open life, true to who you are. (Which also relates to competing for joy and fulfillment, not just for “winning.”)

Nathaniel Brown

— By Nathaniel Brown

Edmonds resident Nathaniel Brown taught and coached cross-country running and skiing for 16 years before joining the US Biathlon Team as wax technician, switching to the U.S. Cross-Country team in 1989. He coached at three Olympics and 14 World Championships, edited Nordic Update for nine years and Cross-Country Skier for two. He has written three books on skiing and training. He owned and operated Nordic UltraTune, an international freelance ski tuning service, until retirement six years ago

2 Replies to “A follow-up on Olympic reflections”

  1. Thanks for your article. I enjoyed the excitement of watching young athletes giving their best, win or lose, and seeing how most were suportive of whomever won. Just think, in some instances skiers came in 6th or even 10th and were only fractions of a second behind the first place racer! I wonder how us armchair Olympians would do on our best day in any of the Olympic events.


  2. What the USOC does to hamper success: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/the-olympic-flame-has-been-extinguished-the-usoc-should-be-next/2018/02/26/a00648ca-1b05-11e8-9de1-147dd2df3829_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_jenkins-1054am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.99a60dd23862

    Having been there, I can only add that this article makes a large number of very accurate points. When I was working, our CEO made more than our team’s budget, while we staged fund-raisers to keep our athletes from having to quit…


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