Dear Olympians Without Medals,
Trust me, it will get better again soon. Right now, you are surrounded by the five rings of Olympic circus, where everyone you meet is a member of the same elite club. And you may be feeling like a second-class citizen, or worse still like a loser, because you don’t have anything shiny hanging around your neck and you weren’t standing on that damned podium.
But in a few days, you will leave the Olympic world and come back down to earth again. And almost instantly you’ll realize that, outside of that shiny five-ring bubble, your new status as an Olympian is incredible all by itself. More people get struck by lightning than get to do what you’ve just done. It’s special. You’re special.
Some of you will start training again right away for 2020. Some of you will take a break and then jump in again, deciding that the adrenaline rush is worth all the hard work and sacrifice—and maybe feeling that you and the Olympics have unfinished business. And many of you will decide, after reclaiming some perspective, that another four years of total devotion to your sport is too big a sacrifice: that instead you want to pursue a more stable career, or a steady relationship, or even just the daily pleasures of a less nomadic and less goal-driven life.
No matter what you decide to do next, being an Olympian will help you achieve your next dream too. Yup, it’s a great thing to have on your resumé. But besides the opportunities it can bring in sponsorship, or job offers, or just bragging rights at your favorite local hangout, competing at such a high level has already taught you more about yourself and what you need to do your best than you realize right now.
But don’t worry about your future just yet. The Olympic experience only comes around once every four years, so enjoy it—bask in it. Go to see other sports, and appreciate the grit and drive and focus of all those other athletes who are still competing. Best of all, go cheer on all of your fellow Olympians Without Medals, the ones who finish sixth, or eighth, or even last—they put in just as much hard work as the winners, and nobody else realizes that quite as well as you do right now.
Don’t worry about cheering on the medal winners; they’ll get plenty of attention from everyone else—and rightly so, of course. Instead, be the one who follows the race behind the leaders, that battle for twelfth place that happens after all the cameras have left that part of the track. There’s nothing like the Olympics, and that’s what makes the sacrifice and hard work all worth it—for each and every competitor, no matter where they finish.
As you’re cheering and flag-waving, focus on the achievement it is to be an Olympian—and try not to dwell on what you didn’t win. That gritty feeling of losing will fade a little, with time, but the shiny memories of doing your best on the world stage will not. Olympians are never former, never past—no matter what they don’t bring home.
27 Replies to “Rio 2016: An Open Letter to All Medal-less Olympians”
How thoughtfully and well put, by Olympian Carol Newman Cronin, Yngling skipper 2004. My Olympic hero.
Beautifully said. I have heard some of Carol’s exciting Olympic stories. I have never heard any bragging rights from her. A truly accomplished and capable person, Carol is one of my favorite Olympians!
Thanks Emily. Plenty more stories where that came from. (And how many Olympians do you know, anyway?)
So well expressed! Medalist deserve their due, and so do all the competing athletes.
I hope I didn’t come across as not supportive of medalists. They well deserve all the attention they get. But as you say, so do all the competitors, and usually the rest get left out. Thanks for reading this and your kind words.
So well put and written. Only someone who has lived it could express it so meaningly.
I’m sure your words will be appreciated by all that did not podium.
Carol, Thanks for your heart felt words. It is always a pleasure to read your thoughts. You are the example that every parent and grandparent needs to teach our offspring to emulate. Always humble, respectful, helpful to all. It was one of the highlights of my life helping you and your team win the 2004 Trials in Miami. I am proud to call you
” My Friend”
Great words, Carol.
This is a call to arms for any sportsperson giving it their all and perhaps not achieving a personal best to match the personal best of another athlete on the day.
Olympian – no-one can ever take that away from you or anyone else who’s been in that special 5-ringed circus.
Ian, thanks for the comment. Personal bests don’t always come when you want them to, and with the Olympics only once every four years for each sport that makes it an even bigger challenge. And a bigger honor to have been there!
Great article Carol, I am currently in Rio cheering on Team USA Sailing Olympians. Brianna Provancha (470 sailor) and Caleb Paine (Finn) grew up in my Yacht Club where I was their Junior Director. Both are amazing young people and the best of friends. Right now my heart is soaring celebrating Caleb’s Bronze Medal and breaking for Briana who lost a medal on the last race. One race does not define a team or the many many years of sacrifice and preparation. When things settle down my extra hugs, extra words of encouragement will go to Bri, we will celebrate all her achievements and Caleb will be there next to her celebrating as well. Thanks for remembering 7th place.
Jana, Thanks for being there to support the team, and especially Bri. And give her an extra hug for me!
Thank you Carol for saying what many of us feel but can’t express as well as you have. It means so much to so many.
And thank you Sam for all that you do for Olympic sailing!
Great piece. I was at 2 Olympics and returned from both without any bling but the experiences and lessons have stayed with me ever since and have defined the person I am today.
Thanks and congratulations!
Beautifully said Carol. Thank you for putting truth into public words for those who have worked so hard, helping them realize that they too deserve a big congratulations. Congratulations Olympic Athletes!!
Thank you. It’s all too easy to forget the rest, which is why even 4th place is such and achievement and still so hard to swallow!
I am not an Olympian, and never will be one. That’s the reality for me, one who isn’t fast or strong or fit. But I could relate to your article. I particularly love “That gritty feeling of losing will fade a little, with time, but the shiny memories of doing your best on the world stage will not.” You see, I am medical doctor who kept faith with my oath to help the sick, to put their interest above all else. And so I helped 5 desperate patients to the best of my ability. I even shared the way I helped them with the rest of the medical world, so that other patients in similar circumstances may be helped. Several prestigious international medical journals accepted and published articles about the method. In return, the medical board of my country charged me for professional misconduct. I was convicted and sentenced for what I believe was exemplary conduct. The punishment was severe and painful. The persecution is not over yet as I am facing the prospects of a long prison term. But, as you said, that gritty feeling has faded a little and the pride of having acted honorably and ethically has not. Thank you.
So glad to know that this letter helped you deal with a very different kind of challenge and disappointment. Good luck with the future.
Carol – very well said! Your words are deep and meaningful – and refreshing. This article should be essential reading for all Olympians! Even 32 years after the LA Games, especially during the sailing events, I have vivid memories of my experience. Some regrets but so much more to celebrate. Success is not just about winning it’s more about meeting challenges and persevering to reach one’s goals. I will be sure to pass on these words of wisdom. Many thanks for enriching us.
Alan, thanks for the kind words. It’s been great to hear from so many other Olympians with “some regrets but so much more to celebrate.” And we get to relive it all, every four years…
I had the absolute pleasure of “carrying the bags” for Carol and her wonderful group of mates as a PT working with the USA Olympic Sailing program in the lead up to Beijing.
She gets it … plain and simple.
A medal does not define you as an Olympian and its a mistake (by both athletes and the public) to think that a moment of success on that stage somehow defines who you are.
What defines you is the training and the effort, the gritty feelings of winning and loosing along the way and most of all the sacrifices and risks you took in setting your sights on the goal of being an Olympian … before you ever were one.
Nice job Carol.
Mark, you did much more than carry bags… you made it possible for us to keep going a little past our sell-by date! Thanks for the hard work you’ve put in over the years. And thanks also for pointing out that that daring to set one’s sights on being an Olympian is perhaps the biggest achievement of all.
The wonderful thing about working with sailors is that they never have a “sell by date” Carol.
They just move into a (slightly) bigger and more comfortable class and do it all again (usually) with the wonderful friends and competitors that they have been competing against for most of their lives. Which is why I enjoyed “carrying the bags” for so many years. Especially for Team USA. Special.
Thanks for the reminder. Tomorrow I head up to Marblehead, MA to sail bigger, slower boats (yes, even than the Yngling) with my buddy Margaret Podlich. We will miss our after-sailing PET boys!
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