Listening for Gold

By Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC.  Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, September 2012.

One of the most touching moments to me that occurred during the Olympics last month (2012 in London, England) came on Day 10, during one of the individual events in women’s gymnastics. It was the night of the uneven bars competition. A young Chinese woman went first and had a marvelous and fantastic routine. She did her routine smoothly, stuck the landing, smiled widely, waved to the crowd, and hugged her coach warmly as she exited the platform. She stood there, waiting for her score to be revealed, smiling, seemingly very pleased with herself, radiating that she believed she had done her best, and feeling good about that. Obviously, being the first to go, the score put her in first place. As the competition progressed, she got bumped down the leader board, eventually settling for fourth, just outside the medals. What never waned was the smile. Never. Waned. At all.

I believe she was pleased with her performance, and (here is the amazing part) that was enough for her. So much so, that as each competitor finished, she approached and hugged each one warmly. Genuinely. Encouragingly. Almost in celebration. She hugged every competitor. Not just that southern-side-hug-and-a-kiss-of-propriety-that-is-obvious-that-the-participants-don’t-mean-it kind; but actually a bordering-on-embrace kind of hug. And that smile. That smile! Genuine, warm, glad-you’re-here-and-glad-you-did-as-well-as-you-did kind of smile. She was a gem. She was glad for herself, and glad for her competitors. Though she finished fourth, to me she was golden.

Who also stood out to me in the 2012 competitions was Ally, the US gymnast; the one who surprised herself by getting into the all-around competition, who barely missed a bronze medal, who got a bronze in the beam, and then struck gold in the floor exercise. Her golden performance in the individual event on floor was amazing, particularly so because she put back in a part of her routine that she had taken out during the team competition. It was a rather small but complicated move at the end of her first tumbling pass. She put it back in, nailed it, and rode the resulting confidence to the end of the routine and to a gold medal. Yet, recall that in the team competition, she was the last to go, and finished the team competition with her floor exercise. The commentators speculated that she might withhold the small move in order to stick the landing of the first pass. To them, it was not a necessary move to achieve the points necessary to secure the team gold. But no one knew what Ally would do. It was Ally’s decision. And she decided to take out the move, stuck the landing, and rode the resulting confidence to the end of the routine and to a gold medal for the team.

How did she do that? My guess is that she listened. To the commentators? Uh, not so much. Rather, she listened to herself. I’m sure she was saying in her head, “All I have to do is nail this performance, and, wow, if I nail it, it will wow everyone, and we will blow everyone out of the water, because, I mean, this routine is amazing, and when I pull it off, it’s like, really, like, really amazing; and everyone will be so proud and so happy and so proud and so happy and, and, and… if… … … if… … … if I nail it. ‘Cause there’s this one part that’s been giving me trouble, a lot, a lot lately, and I’m kind of nervous about it; okay, really nervous about it; in fact, everyone’s been nervous tonight, doing small things that we don’t do in practice. Tight. With small slip-ups. We’ve got this. If I nail the routine. Simply nail the routine. But that one move—whew—it’s a tough one. Do I need it? It’s a wow-er. Do we need it? Not really. But it’s a wow-er. But we don’t need it. We only need me to nail the routine. And that part makes me nervous. So why not just take it out? I can do it later, somewhere else? Do I want to wow? Or do I want us to have the gold? Wow? Gold? Wow? Gold? I want us to have the gold. Done. Take it out.” And so she did. And she nailed the routine. And the team won gold. Because she listened to her full self, and she identified the bigger picture, and chose the bigger picture over herself.

Ironically, a few days later, she put the part back in, and wow-ed us all, and now proudly wears a second gold medal. The unexpected one actually took home the most medals of any gymnast.

And I’m sure there was a young Chinese woman there to help her celebrate.

Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist at LifePractical Counseling. To talk further about making this a reality, give us a call at 205-807-6645, or send an email via this website.