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Opinion

The Spirit of the Olympics: Are Olympians Influencers in Their Own Right?

Nothing captures the essence of the human spirit more than the Olympic Games. Following a pandemic, the Olympics have inspired people to strive to do better and perform, whether it is in life, in our careers, our education or even our health and mentality.

As we reminisce on the event and hand over the baton to the Paralympics after two years of Covid restrictions, it is clear the tone of the event was slightly subdued due to the circumstance. However, athletes were still able to rise above this and show us the way in the spirit of the Games.

It is important to discuss the significance of endurance, comradery and persistence to achieve in challenging times, explaining how channelling the Olympic spirit has put athletes at the forefront of our social media feeds and has inspired a nation.

Utilising online presence

Utilising their position online to have a genuine impact on people’s lives, Olympians and Paralympians have become influencers in their own right. As role models to many, they have even garnered the attention of non-sports fans. For instance, famed this year for a memorable image of knitting in the stands, diver Tom Daley has inspired the LGBTQ parenting community.

Let’s face it, we are in extraordinary times, fresh out of a pandemic, and people need to believe and dare to dream again – faster, harder, stronger, together. These athletes ignite hope in us, just like an Olympic flame.

The Tokyo Olympics was a remarkable event, all things considered. Beijing’s 51 medals were expected to be the benchmark but instead, Team GB equalled its medal tally from the London 2012 Games – an impressive 65 medals. They also came incredibly close to matching the total from Rio five years ago. 

Making history with medals in skateboarding and weightlifting helped bridge the gap to some of the traditional powerhouses such as athletics and rowing.

The women’s park skateboarding competition also inspired future generations by laying a strong foundation for young women that resonate with sporting accessibility through social media and sports that stray away from the norm. 

However, if Tokyo is to leave one positive legacy above all others, it should be a timely full-stop to the relentless striving for excess.

Athletes are just human beings, not superhumans

Simone Biles made it profusely clear that the world’s greatest athletes can only stretch their muscles – and their minds – to certain limits. She put her physical and mental health above all else rather than push herself to the limit, which signalled a seismic shift in the mentality of the Games.

As the four-time Olympic champion, Biles stumbled on the landing of her bailed vault jump before leaving the arena, she announced she would not be competing further, with Jordan Chiles brought in as her replacement.

She set an example for her young audience stating on social media of the event that she just couldn’t put her body through that pressure. Social media was quickly flooded with posts supporting the 24-year-old star and this prompted the former US Olympic champion gymnast Aly Raisman to also speak out saying that the culture and intense pressure of elite sport meant she felt like she didn’t want to make waves and that she was ‘competing out of fear’. She added, “I felt like nothing besides a gold medal was enough.”

The authenticity that ‘athletes are just human beings, not superhumans’ has helped audiences to resonate with them as individuals, increasing their profile for such down-to-earth sentiments.

The Tokyo Games were raw and authentic and the athletes who reflect these values have shined through for triumphing through adversity.

This was the Games where Tom Daley finally won gold, after debuting as a 14-year-old in Beijing in 2008. He went on to win another bronze medal too for good measure.

Today he is a popular health, fitness and parenting influencer, as well as an Olympian and his prominence in such, has led to him becoming a national treasure. Tokyo was a journey where something shifted in his mentality, and he attributed this to being a father, dedicating his medal to his son as he achieved his life goal and proved family comes first.

Continuous influence

One athlete who knows the impact of focusing solely on the prize at the risk of mental health is Champions motivational speaker and Olympic champion rower Matt Langridge, who has competed in four Olympics, winning three Olympic medals and multiple World Championship titles.

At the end of his 16-year career, Matt achieved his lifetime goal of becoming Olympic Champion at Rio 2016. He said: “When I was younger, I was fixated on the end goal – the Olympics themselves – and didn’t give the emphasis to all the other aspects that the Games represent.

“Physically my mental approach was focused on the end goal (a gold medal), and I forgot to enjoy the journey.

“After Beijing, I made a mental note to enjoy everything around me and it helped me when I got to Rio, and I sat on the start line in a happier place. That meant that the whole four years was not defined by that one race.”

The Olympic spirit requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play. To ensure resilience other aspects include learning to be a team player and embracing authenticity.

Other values encompass competitiveness and compassion and diversity as Champions speaker and Paralympian Sam Ruddock, who competes in three disciplines including cycling, shotput and sprinting, advocates. When asked what diversity and inclusion mean to him, he says: “Everyone deserves a fair chance.

“Everyone has a different ‘ability’ based on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. When it comes to disability sports, everyone is the same.

“Yes, there are differences and coaches make adaptations based on their ability. Rio allowed me to focus on what a person with an impairment can actually do as opposed to what they can’t do.”

The end of the Tokyo Games also saw the end to the references to superhumans, and in its place is a realisation that Olympians and Paralympians are simply authentic and honest humans who can achieve incredible feats in extraordinary times. Something which during an online age we all must reconnect with, and therefore, these are the influencers for the people.

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