Of Dreams, Teams, & Gold
The 2012 Howlympics is an open call for writing about and inspired by the London Olympics. Everyone is encouraged to submit their writing. Find details here.
Since I reached my full height of almost six feet tall by the time I was in 7th grade, it’s no surprise that I played a lot of sports. When they assembled the first USA woman’s basketball Dream Team for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, I even had (short-lived) dreams (or maybe it was delusions?) of one day joining that team. Needless to say, my formative years were spent training, practicing, and playing while my coaches inspired us with the ideas of “There’s no “I” in team!”, “Give it 110%!”, and other classic sport mantras.
While my Olympic experiences are now relegated to sitting in front of the television and cheering on my team(s) from the comfort of my couch, the training, coaching, and yes, perhaps even a little brain washing from when I played competitively always manage to influence how I watch the different events. This past week has been no exception.
On Tuesday, July 31st, the two big events were the women’s gymnastics team competition and swimming—particularly two races featuring Michael Phelps that would determine if he would become the most decorated Olympian of all time. As I settled onto my couch for the night, I was a little perturbed. All the recent commentary had centered around how gymnast Jordyn Wieber, a potential all-around gold medalist, had failed to qualify for that individual event and how Michael Phelps didn’t seem to by living up to all the hype he had created by his astonishing performances in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Instead of focusing on the potential of the teams—how America had a chance to win its first woman’s gymnastics team gold medal since the Magnificent Seven of 1996 and how the USA swimming team was basically rocking it—the stories focused on the shortcomings and failures of these two elite athletes.
Then, an interesting thing happened. Ironically, both competitions that night focused on sports that are largely individual. Gymnasts and swimmers both compete for individual medals and often compete against their teammates in order to win. However, that night, both Jordyn Wieber and Michael Phelps were forced to band together with their teammates and compete as one in order to reach their goals. Wieber depended entirely on her team (including the gymnast who edged her out for the all-around competition) to keep her gold medal hopes alive, and though Phelps first competed in an individual race, the race to determine if he would be the most decorated Olympian ever was a four-man relay (including the swimmer who is seen as his biggest threat).
This leaves me with one simple question: Who am I, and who are you, banding together with in order to win gold?
Watching the athletes that night, I couldn’t help but go back to those classic mantras my own coaches drilled into my brain. Though all these athletes are, understandably, fiercely competitive on an individual basis, that night they saw the wisdom, necessity, and potential opportunity of giving it their own 110%, and then, most importantly, working together with and fully supporting the people on their team in order to achieve something that they could not do on their own.
As the night unfolded and each athlete got a little closer to his or her goal, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if individual theatre artists and theatres—a fiercely competitive group of its own—followed suit. There have been great efforts made to point out the shortcomings, inequalities, and failings of our field; artists who aren’t paid enough, big institutions that don’t seem to contribute anything worthwhile, audiences who don’t come, and so on. While the identification of these very real problems is a helpful and necessary step, the great heroes of our field are found in the artists and institutions that are done talking and instead focused on doing. Sometimes this involves readjusting dreams, re-evaluating priorities, and often it means rising above individual aspirations in order to collaborate with the artists around you. The people who are stepping forward, giving it their 110%, and supporting and relying on their teams are those who have the potential to make something better than they originally dreamed of.
By the end of the night, Wieber and Phelps had proven their superior athleticism, but they had also demonstrated that even the best of the best need the support, ability, and contributions of those who share similar dreams and goals. This leaves me with one simple question: Who am I, and who are you, banding together with in order to win gold?