I’m a little behind on my Olympics-watching, although I’m the sort of viewer that watches every. event. when the Olympics come around. Even the ones I suddenly find interesting after not even knowing they exist for the past 29 years, like…I don’t know. Synchronized diving, which came up as a discussion topic last night in the dog park, which I then spent the next 45 minutes searching for on the Internet to watch because it sounded cool. Let me tell you, I would never be remotely interested in synchronized diving at any other point in any four-year cycle.

Anyway, so I’ve been watching all of these events in the wake of my very anti-climactic exam (I still do not know how I did…) and plotting how to now spend my newfound free time (all 4 days of it). And I have to say – I’ve been watching the Olympics through a weird lens. Some of you know that I was a D-1 athlete, which, for some sports (including the one I played, and, in fact, this year’s US team for that sport has SEVERAL athletes from my program, ALL of who medaled – go my alma mater!!!) is the breeding ground for the national team. The athletes for some sports, like gymnastics, are culled from preschool programs; in others, like oh, I don’t know, others (maybe Track & Field? Swimming? I can’t think of examples other than my own sport), the muscles and drive needed to become amazing really don’t come online until late adolescence.

OK, so anyway. I’ve been viewing the Olympics through the lens of someone who has been an athlete at a very competitive level (not well. Watch what you read here. I was not awesome, but we had a phenomenal program and I happened to be fortunate to be part of it. If you really want to know more about that, you can leave a comment. Let’s just be clear here: I was not an amazing athlete by any stretch, and I did not make it all four years – only two, plus a little bit between the time that I recovered from mono and the point at which I realized that, actually, having a real life was kind of fun – and I want to be clear about that because there were others who did make it all four years and I don’t want them to read this and think, “Hey! Rachel is creating a false identity!”). So that is my lens, and I was just saying to DB last night that (ok, this is the embarrassing part) that I cannot imagine what it is like to be an athlete at the Olympic games who is NOT expected to win, or at least be fairly competitive to medal. Is that a terrible thing? I think it is. Because as I mentioned, I came from a phenomenal program, one that is fairly successful but fairly quiet about being successful. Kind of a la “walk softly and carry a big stick” sort of theme. So when we competed, by no means did we EXPECT to win, but we always knew that it was a strong POSSIBILITY. We had the CAPACITY to be the best, if we performed well.

So watching some of these athletes, who had absolutely no expectations to do anything but compete – I was in awe. Because would I work so hard if I didn’t expect to win? I don’t know. I know that’s horrible to say, so I don’t know why I’m sharing it with the internet, but my filter is, perhaps, more permeable today (maybe because DB suggested that my FBI blogging days are over) so here it goes.

And here is where I start to rant.

RIGHT AFTER I SAID THAT to DB last night, we were watching the pole vault, and this is why I am saying I might be a little behind on my Olympics watching, because HOLYCRAP HELLO SPORTSMANSHIP!??!? Have we all SEEN THIS?!? For those who did not install the plug in to watch the actual exchange, here is a text (and more focused commentary) of the exchange between the U.S. pole vaulter, Jenn Stuczynski, and her complete jerk of a coach, Rick Suhr. To save you clicking, here are the words of encouragement from Coach Suhr to his athlete RIGHT after she had won a SILVER MEDAL (second only to the reigning world champion in the sport. And oh, did I mention that Jenn Stuczynski has only been pole vaulting – is that the term? – for 4 years?!?):

(This is essentially lifted from here. I edited a little once I re-heard it again):

It’s the same old same old, you’re losing takeoff at the big heights. (shrug) Whaddaya gonna do? (shrug, looks away) Gotta learn to keep takeoff. You got caught at that meat grinder. I did not – and I told 10 people – I didn’t wanna be caught in a meat grinder between 65 and 80. Ya had to, though. You weren’t on, you know? Your warmup didn’t go well. You were at 55. You got caught up in that meat grinder. Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Whaddaya gonna do? (shrugs, looks away) Didn’t have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it’s a silver medal. Not bad for someone that’s been pole vaulting four years.

And, the announcer: Am I missing something Dwight, didn’t she just win a silver medal? Where’s the joy?

Now, critics may say that I do not know the first thing about pole vaulting. They would be 100% correct. Pole vaulting is one of those things that I watch every 4 years, and I only pretty much watch it because something more interesting to me is coming up on NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. I have no clue what a meat grinder is (except in its obvious function – to, um, grind meat?) and I don’t really know what those numbers mean. I mean, we can all agree, it certainly sounds undesirable to be stuck in a meat grinder. It is certainly not a place I’d want to be stuck.

What I do know, however, is what coach abuse looks like, having been at the brunt of it. And I know what is appropriate and inappropriate for highly competitive athletics, and I know that a silver medal – while possibly not the COACH’S aspirations – is pretty frickin’ awesome.

I had a horrible coach my freshman year in college. On one hand, he was technically incompetent, although we did well enough that those issues weren’t showcased for the world to see. On the other, however, he was emotionally abusive. He would scream at us in front of our teammates, humiliate us to “motivate” us, and would unseat certain teammates to “teach” us (not to commit whatever grievous sins we had committed). I cannot count the number of times I bit back tears at practice, sobbed at night, or questioned my competence as a human being (not as an athlete. That would have been appropriate to question. No, I questioned my worthiness as a human being). In that position, however, I was left with few choices if I wanted to continue with the sport I loved.

Many of my teammates were also in that position, and at the end of the year – in fact, before the final race of the championship – the head coach told us that our coach had been inappropriate, which was enough fuel for us to kick ass in the final. Eventually (over the summer), the incompetent, abusive coach was fired.

All of this to say…

It is completely inappropriate to berate an athlete after she has just won a silver medal! In front of international cameras! In front of the athletes she has just surpassed!! (And if this is what he says in the most public of public venues, can we begin to imagine his coaching behind closed doors?) What an insult to her, to the sport, and to the integrity of the Olympic Games! What a way to completely cheapen what should be a joyful event in U.S. track & field.

(And in any event, that is not a way to talk to an athlete in any setting, private or not. There are kinder, more effective ways to discuss meat-grinder-stuckedness.)

I am livid. Rick Suhr, you’re scum, and if I wasn’t trying to maintain my family-friendly status, you’d be way, way worse. If anyone is similarly livid, Rick Suhr can be reached at rsuhr@suhrsports.com.

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