Let’s do an experiment, I want you to close your eyes and make a mental picture of what you think an Olympic athlete looks like? Did you do it? I have a feeling that what you thought of doesn’t look like a large amount of Olympic athletes. What I thought of definitely did not.
With the Summer Olympic games starting in less than a month, I have been watching some of the USA Olympic trials. I have watched some of the Weight Throw, some Gymnastics, and I hope to watch some of the trials of sports that I don’t typically watch like Archery or Shooting. I was watching the trials for the Men’s Weight Throw one day and I noticed the different body types of the throwers. I saw what I typically think an Olympic athlete looks like; a large and strong figure with powerful legs that stepped in circles in order to throw the heavy weight. What surprised me was there were men that did not look like my stereotypical idea of an Olympic athlete competing as well. They were large, undefined and even had a gut on them but they would throw better than some of the men that looked more typical, physically. What did I learn from this? That my stereotypical idea of an Olympic athlete’s body is profoundly different from reality.
There are a large amount of different sports at the Olympic Games and many different body types that complement those types of sports. As I have already mentioned, the large muscular man is well equipped to throw the men’s hammer. In gymnastics the female athlete typically is lean, toned, and shorter. In basketball, the taller athlete that can dunk will excel on the court. What about a golfer’s body though? That looks incredibly different than all the other sports. With all these different images of what an athlete’s body could be, why is it that we have a set idea of what an Olympic athlete should look like?
Media portrayals may be a part of it. It may also be the popularity of certain sports. When I think of the summer Olympics I automatically think of Track & Field events. I sometimes forget about the Fencer, the Ping Pong player, the Archer, the Rowing team. These are all strong and talented athletes that may not look like what we typically think of. I think ESPN’s The Body Issue does a good job at bringing the diversity of an athlete’s body to light.
It is also important to not be discouraged if you don’t fit the criteria of what a stereotypical athlete looks like. I think this is important to realize especially for youth sports or at the high school level. Just because you aren’t large or tall or muscular or depict the look of an Olympic athlete that you see on TV, it doesn’t mean you can’t have great success in the sport you do or can compete at the highest level. Take Steph Curry for example, you would have never thought that at one point in Steph Curry’s life as an NBA player was a longshot. Following the footsteps of his dad, a former 6’4’’ NBA player, Stephen Curry decided he wanted to play at the college level. He was only 5’6’’ and 120 pounds. He had a drive and a great work ethic and was able to work through college and into the NBA despite comments that he was “not strong enough”, “he can’t play defense”, “he’s not tall enough.” Curry’s story is only possible from his desire to be the best. If you are on that Little League Baseball team or Softball team and you didn’t make the All Star team, don’t give up, and don’t think that you are defined by one sport or one skill. Never let someone’s opinion of you become your reality. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket when you are young when you don’t know what you will grow up to be or enjoy.
What about those who structurally don’t look like a typical Olympic athlete? Going back to what we typically think of an Olympic athlete, I’m sure you didn’t think of a person in a wheelchair or an athlete that is blind. For paralympic athletes that were born impaired or were injured doing what they love, they still saw themselves as an athlete which is why they weren’t discouraged to pursue their dreams. Even though they may not fit your initial reaction to my question above, these athletes meet every single criteria or the quintessential definition of an “athlete”. And by the way, they dominate their sport! What an athlete looks like doesn’t have to include limbs or senses, all it requires is a heart and a drive to be the best.
We here at isplack are passionate about being a part of the spirit and experience of sport, so don’t be insecure about what you look like or what your body makes you think you can’t do. Know that you can be a star no matter what the physical circumstances. Get out and find what you love and work to achieve your goals.
Get your colors on!
Cooper Nelson, isplack Intern