I was keen to learn more about a woman who came from very humble beginnings to becoming an Olympian figure skater. Three of my biggest inspirations growing up came from watching athletics, gymnastics and figure skating as a child. The men and women were powerful, strong, intense, yet graceful and it was so fascinating to see what their bodies were capable of doing. It was absolutely breathtaking.
I followed my passion of wanting to represent my country at the Olympics, as a professional tennis player. I did not reach that pinnacle but I do find the journey of an athlete that does very intriguing.
What kind of person do you need to be? What are the characteristics that you need to possess? How do you overcome challenges or adversity? Is there ever an element of luck and timing? Can you truly be in control of your destiny?
I decided to watch the trailer for I,Tonya, a film about a US figure skater and the story behind representing her country at the Olympics and creating history in that sport. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was all very unfathomable and almost unbelievable. I won’t give anything away for those who have not seen the film, but I decided to not do any research into Tonya Harding and simply let the film speak for itself. The trailer was that impactful. See for yourself.
I watched the film and indeed, there were a few themes that strongly resonated with me.
In Tonya Harding’s case, figure skating was her entire life, where performing the jumps and perfecting the choreography in the routine meant everything. After all, that’s what figure skating is, right? Her mother worked multiple jobs to pay for Tonya’s lessons and Tonya herself worked part-time alongside her 8 hour training days at the ice rink in order to make end meet. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being that focused on your goals. How else do you think Tonya became the first woman to land a triple axel in competition? A feat that only one other woman has accomplished to date. But something was missing. The judges scores didn’t seem to suffice in Tonya’s eyes. She didn’t understand what was missing from her performances. She didn’t understand what the judges were penalising her for. Tonya did not know what else she needed to do for the scores she expected. Here lies the truth about sport at the highest level…
The Industry’s Expectations
There really isn’t a rule anywhere in the world of sport that says “an athlete that represents our nation must possess the technical ability and results in their sport, in addition to portraying a standardised image that the industry deems acceptable for prime time viewing”. If anyone knows of such a rule, I’d love to see it because as a coach and mentor, I would advise my students and their parents that this is a hard and fast rule of sport at the highest level. After 20 years within the sports industry, I have not come across a rule with that subject matter however something tells me that sport at the highest level is all smoke and mirrors.
If you ask any child what they love about their favourite sport or athlete, they will tell you it is all about what they feel when they watch that performance. It is never about where that athlete came from or who their parents are or how much money the athlete earns.
My expectation of both men and women that govern sporting bodies and associations across the globe is to understand and realise that the attraction to an athlete for a child is always about how they feel when they watch their performances. It is all about what they see and hear that makes that child want to emulate the athlete that inspires them. That is the ultimate draw card in every sport.
The concepts of branding, image and status are all made for the consumption of adults. Sport at the highest level should never serve the purpose of adult consumption because it’s core market is children. It is about every child who catches a glimpse of a performance by an athlete and subsequently that sparks a desire, a dream, an ambition to become a professional athlete and/or Olympian themselves. It is time that we become driven by empathy, truth and reality because that is what will inspire and empower a generation.