Focus, in hindsight

Posted 03.15.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | I am an unashamed admirer of the Olympic Games, both winter and summer. The massive expenses of both the Sochi and the Peking Games may have dismayed many people -- myself included -- but why are we surprised by such extravagance when every year we learn of multi-million dollar contracts to hockey and baseball players, or the huge amounts invested in sports training? Are these our nation's priorities?

It's also worth asking what became of the original Olympic commitment to showcasing amateur athletics. Do we really need more of hockey dinosaurs smashing into each other and grunting their clichés to the press?

There may be plenty to criticize, but in the end it is the athletic performances themselves which justify all this craziness. We can watch spectacular efforts, successes, and disasters -- none of it staged, none of it programmed or scripted, none of it designed to sell products or places.

Because there are so many Olympic sports and so many contests, we spectators get a thorough sense of the competition.

There are the team sports -- hockey our default, but also bobsled and many small-team events. There's even team figure skating. This is our weekly ration for most of the year, as we glide through hockey, basketball, baseball, football, soccer, and some other team events.

We do have individual sports outside the Olympics -- tennis match-ups, golf tournaments, and various modes of racing -- but the Olympics seems to favour individual contests slightly, perhaps due to the history of the Games. It is in these contests where individuals face each other, for three medals, that seem to me the most exciting and most admirable. The individual athletes are putting themselves out on the line; if they fall or fail, it is their fall and their failure, not their team's.

This applies most of all to figure skaters, who are out on the ice by themselves. They may chase records or the performance of another competitor, but for their moment in the spotlight, it is only them, alone, shouldering the challenges and the expectations of their countries. Hard to beat the drama of the individual contest!

The strongest feature of these individual athletes is their focus. Over and over, we are impressed by their single-mindedness as they are interviewed, as they warm up, and as they compete. Focus is one of humanity's rarest and most valuable skills or gifts.

Charles Hamelin, for example, could tell the announcer just after crashing in the gold-medal final he was to win that he has already shifted his focus to the next race. It burns in his eyes. This ability to marshal all energy and attention -- his focus -- is what defines an individual athlete.

The ability to focus can stay all life long, and can be applied to every challenge in life, from the personal to the most public. Focus is something we ought to admire more and something we ought to teach more of to our kids as they grow up and face their own challenges.


Copyright © 2014 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.14