'Failure' and 'Disappointment': have we lost perspective?

This morning we woke up to the news that Stephanie Rice is considering retiring from swimming after being disappointed by her race results in London this week. She isn’t the only athlete who has been visibly distressed at their own performances at the Games.

Yesterday, we saw swimmer Emily Seebohm in tears after winning a silver medal. And James Magnusson wasn’t even able to speak to the media after his ‘devastating’ swim in the men’s relay.

True, these athletes train for years and sometimes even decades to make it to the Olympics, it’s completely understandable that they’re deeply upset when they don’t perform at their best. However there does seem to be a public mood around this year’s Games that is a bit……off.

24 hours after her second place finish, Emily Seebohm made some revealing comments about the kind of pressure she was feeling to perform for fans back home.

“I know I haven’t let anyone down but I let a little bit of myself down and it was really tough last night, I’m sorry… The emotions are really high and there is so much pressure on the Olympics, and you put so much pressure on yourself. All you want to do is just go out there and represent your country and do a good job, and I was just trying to do that,” she said.

Mamamia’s Mia Freedman tweeted last night:

Here, health ambassador, Grace May writes for Mamamia about the pressure that athletes are under to perform – not only for themselves – but for country, their fans and followers back home – and the role that the media and social media play in magnifying that pressure…

Stephanie Rice, James Magnussen and Leisel Jones have been under huge media scrutiny and have received an equal amount of media attention and support.

Olympic silver medalist Christian Sprenger, Olympic silver medalist Emily Seebohm and the Gold medal winning women’s relay team arrived in London relatively under the radar and their hard work paired with their humility has made them the great stories of the games thus far.

I think we often look at our Olympians as if they were born great, born better, more talented, stronger, faster and then we expect them to win. Until I got to know some of the Australian swimmers over the last few years I had no idea what was involved; the effort, the sacrifice, the motivation and the pressure. There is no doubt that these athletes are naturally talented yet it is their physical and mental preparation that defines them.


It’s hard not to feel after the first three days of the Olympics that our media obsession with athletes may have hindered them in the long run. We expected great things from great athletes, we heaped expectation upon them and our reaction when they didn’t win has been poor indeed, especially in the case of the men’s relay team.

Grace with Emily

The media attention is disproportionate and sometimes difficult to understand. Christian Sprenger will undoubtedly be remembered for his silver medal in this his final Olympics, he has however been a world class Australian athlete with FINA , PAC PAC and Commonwealth games medals under his belt. The fact that we have heard little about Sprenger may indeed have been a blessing as it allowed him to prepare in peace.

We saw Stephanie Rice break down at her placing and the fact that superstar backstroker Emily Seebohm felt that she had let anybody down in her silver medal and Olympic record effort is ludicrous.

Emily has endured a great deal in the last 18 months in terms of overcoming health and personal issues to be here with her entire family and is one of the most genuine, hardworking and talented people you ever hope to meet.

As Emily’s smile beams out across televisions Australia wide and Australia falls in love with the incredible twenty year old, one thing I am sure of is that there are many more medals in this fabulous athlete’s future.

My fondest wish is that the Australian media learns from London 2012 and is able to find a balance between athlete admiration and becoming a problem in the athlete’s mental preparation and performance.

Grace is Fashion One Oceania editor and a sports mad healthy communities ambassador. Find her on Twitter here.
Do you think the Olympic athletes are under too much pressure?