While in the midst of an Olympic frenzy, the only thing I appreciate more than the US winning a medal is seeing world-class athletes cry.
As The Star-Spangled Banner is blasted through the event venue, my eyes focus in on the eyes of the gold-medal winner for any trace of a tear.
Even when no one else in the room sees the sign of a lip quiver, I see it. I’m determined and I know it’s there.
Happy tears are great; tears of disappointment are even better.
No, I’m not jealous of the athlete's success—I applaud it. The value found in tears caused by heartache exists because he becomes one of us; he becomes mortal and in his open display of emotion I find him exponentially powerful.
The majority of people in our country will never feel the euphoria that Olympic athletes feel, but tears of frustration have choked us all. That is the link, the connection, the commonality between Olympic spectators and Olympic athletes.
Tonight, 15-year-old Hayley Ishimatsu failed to advance to the 10-meter platform diving finals when she placed 14th in a field of 18. As she was graciously answering questions regarding her performance, she couldn’t control her weeping.
Between answers, the talented diver covered her eyes and wiped her tears. Apologizing profusely, Ishimatsu emphasized how much fun she had. As her words expressed happiness, her swollen red eyes and sob-induced hiccups revealed her true emotions.
The thing is, many have felt an emotion similar to Ishimatsu’s. Many have felt that sense of loss and disappointment. Many have experienced the same hiccups that make it difficult not only to breathe, but to stop crying.
Another athlete’s reaction to her performance also triggered this analysis.
Lolo Jones. The stunning Lolo Jones. The Lolo Jones that was expected to win the 100-meter hurdles.
The speedy Ms. Jones earned the reputation as the fastest hurdler in the world even before the Olympic Games began. In her event final, she was 20 meters shy of the coveted gold medal.
Then it happened—Jones’ lead foot hit the ninth hurdle and slowed her down. In that last 20 meters, she went from first place to seventh place.
As she crossed the finish line ahead of just one person, Jones dropped to her knees in disbelief. The many emotions running through her soul were translated through the look on her face. She sat in her lane as she tried to absorb what just happened.
Although understandably upset, Jones put on a brave face and spoke to the media. During her interview on NBC she said, "You hit a hurdle about twice a year where it affects your race—and it's just a shame that it was on the biggest race of my life."
After speaking to the press, Jones was shown sneaking off to a hallway where she let go. Framed by the white-walled corridor and unaware of the camera’s presence, Jones wept alone.
The superwoman was mortal.
There were no reporters asking questions requiring her to relive the race and provide them with courageous answers that the public could fawn over—the same answers that make many say, “Wow, she’s taking this really well.”
Although I felt a tinge of guilt seeing this moment, I appreciated it. I was an intruder—it felt Truman Show-ish. Still, I felt nothing but respect for Jones.
She didn’t provide excuses. She accepted her seventh-place finish, and then she let her tears flow.
While few have felt the pain of losing an Olympic gold medal, many of us have slipped away for a good cry.
It was in that empty hallway that Lolo Jones became human.
Olympic champions are the ones who are remembered. I remember the passionate athletes whose struggles are portrayed through their faces—not just through NBC's pre-recorded featured profiles.
Real emotion doesn’t need a narrator and an instrumental soundtrack.