Jessica Zelinka

Jess' Blog: Two Views of the Olympic Games, Olympian and Parent

The Olympic torch is lit and the global festival of sport has begun in Rio. I fondly remember how inspirational it was to watch the Olympic Games (OG) on TV growing up, watching the athletes put themselves on the line in front of the entire world to see. I've competed at the past two summer Olympics and I certainly have a better understanding of what it feels like to be on the other side of the TV- being the one stepping up to the line. It's easy to get caught up in the hype of the Games; the medal count, the stories of the athletes and in wanting to see them succeed. Being at home for these Games (after not qualifying), I'm able to witness the messaging around the Games that I usually miss out on. The bombardment of images, media coverage and advertising; and it's nearly impossible to have a conversation about the Games without all the controversies coming up. As a parent of a 7 year old, I often wonder what my daughter's experience has been in being a part of my athletic journey and in experiencing all the hoopla around the Games.
This is the messaging that resonates true to me that comes from my experience of being on both sides of the fence- as an Olympic athlete competing at the Games, and as a mother of a young girl that is in the early years of trying to make sense of the world around her.
Athlete= Point of view based on my experience competing at multiple Olympic Games
Parent = Point of view based on trying to guide the messaging behind the true meaning of the Games for my daughter

Fair Play and Drugs in Sport:

Athlete: I choose to believe you can be the best in the world and stay clean. It took me a while, but I eventually got to a place where it served me better to drop the anger and frustration I felt around the doping issues. It became disempowering to me when it came from a place of hatred and judgement, and I eventually started to see how unfortunate it was that an athlete (or system) would go to such extent in the name of glory. I know I would not be able to live with myself if I had to resort to cheating; and I definitely do not envy those who will have to carry the heavy burden of their secret their entire life.
Parent: There will always be people looking for short cuts, for ways to get ahead; butting into line to get what they want faster, cheating on tests to get a higher grade without doing the work. The rewards in life come from putting in the work, believing in yourself, and sometimes even failing, or not getting what you want right away. Even if you don't get caught- for example, for cheating... you know that feeling you get in your gut that's telling you it's not right? This is a message from your conscience that is telling you to be true to yourself and to try to make good again. Listen to it.

Athlete: I've always felt very proud and honoured to represent Canada. Through my travels, I've been accepted with open arms; people around the world respond positively to the maple leaf flag. That being said, there have been times my Canadian pride has fed my ego in allowing myself to feel superior to other countries and/or competitors (based on stereotypes). However, the moments that stand out for me were when I was able to see my competitors as equals. When I could connect with their pain and their joy. When I can see that we are all human beings, just trying our best in a sport that we all just happened to choose.
Parent: We are very fortunate to be living in Canada (no war; many opportunities, freedoms, etc.). There's some luck in life, and we are all very lucky we have landed on this land. It's inspiring to experience the Nation rallying together in support of our Canadian team.When we watch the OG we want to support our Canadian athletes, but it's also important to remember that a lot of athletes from other countries (especially at the Summer games) didn't have the same support, opportunities, and resources as our athletes. Keeping that in mind, many of our Canadians athletes have also had their own individual challenges in just getting the opportunity to compete at the Games. Let's focus on what unites us all; the human spirit to strive for excellence and the willingness to step into the ring and represent something larger than ourselves.

Athlete: The OG are only every 4 years, but athletes continue to compete every year until then (World Championship, Pan Am Games, Commonwealth Games, etc.). We know that the large corporations are only willing to invest in the big show, which means there's only a small window of time for athletes to take advantage of all the attention on the Games in order to find endorsement opportunities that will help to financially support them for 4 more years. If we turn away an offer, another athlete will be waiting to pick it up in a second. I've always tried to remain true to my brand and make decisions based on whom I want my image to be associated with.
Parent: The biggest corporations are associated with the Olympics and they're brilliant in taking advantage of amateur athletes who are usually underfunded and/or actually want to make an income while competing in their sport. Soda companies, fast food chains, and products full of chemicals are using images of athletes to promote their products to make people think that you can be healthy-looking, fit and strong if you use their products. People are hired to find ways to sell more products to make more money. They're called marketers- and that's their job.

Games being held in Rio:

Athlete: Growing up I was astonished at how grand the Olympics were when I watched them on TV, and leading into my first Olympics in Beijing I was actually worried they weren't going to live up to the hype I'd imagined after all these years. Well, they did live up to the hype- my experience competing in the stadium was unimaginable. The host country and the volunteers in the athlete's village and at the venues were always so friendly, welcoming and excited! It's an amazing vibe being an athlete at the Olympics, and it's easy to forget at what expense it came. It's also easy to forget that the Olympics are not about the athletes- that's right...surprise, surprise, it's about the multi-million dollar spectacle; and we are the players putting ourselves on the line, as politicians and corporations reap the benefits.
Parent: There will be images of the slums and poverty in the coverage of the Games in Rio and I think it's important to not skip over this. There can be some really good lessons to discuss with kids; such as the importance of keeping promises and why consequences are important to keep people accountable for their actions. In giving the Games to Rio the agreement was they'd clean up their sewage-contaminated waters. It was the responsibility of the IOC to make sure the host of the Olympics can follow through on their promises and have a plan that will support their economy. What's unfortunate is that there are currently no consequences for not following through on these promises and responsibilities, and because of this we can't expect change. As a result, it will continue to be at the expense of the poor and powerless.
Meaning of the Games/Value of Sport:

Athlete: What has sport given me? Everything. It's been my life- it's been my reality for as long as I can remember. In a world that I initially found to be intimidating to find my own way, sport ended up being the arena I could safely find the space to express myself. To me, this was freedom. Sport has been the means that has allowed me to focus on my personal growth, and mental and physical health. I've learned how to listen and respect my body, especially through coming back to sport after having a baby, and through my injuries. Freedom and health- I could not ask for any better gifts.
Parent: As a parent, my number one message about sport is that it's actually not about winning. As Canadians, we sometimes don't like it when we can be percieved as the "nice guys" that won't fight for the win (except in hockey of course). I don't believe we need to disown one of our very few Canadian identities of being kind and polite people. I don't think we need to try to be anyone but ourselves...we don't need to pretend we have "ice in our veins" or that we want to "own the podium". The meaning behind sport is playing fairly, respecting yourself and others, working as a team, challenging yourself, especially when it gets tough, and being true to yourself- win or lose. If our own sporting system can miss the meaning of sport in their messaging, it's easy to see how our kids can also at times. Let's use the opportunity of the Olympic Games to reconnect to the power of sport.

Posted by Jessica Zelinka on August 10th, 2016
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