JAYNE: Cost can be high for gold medals

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

The Olympics have been over for a week, and still the disappointment lingers.

The shame. The stress. The doubt that burrows into my very soul.

Because if there's one thing the Games of London taught me, it's that I am (weep) failing as a parent.

You see, one of the most celebrated stories of this summer's Olympics was that of Gabby Douglas. She's the American gymnast nicknamed "The Flying Squirrel," a 16-year-old pixie who over a couple nights managed to capture millions of hearts. Not to mention a couple gold medals.

One of the overriding themes of the Douglas narrative is how, a year ago, she convinced her mother to let her move from the family home in Virginia Beach, Va., to Des Moines, Iowa, in order to work with coach Liang Chow. Living with a gymnastics family while training in Iowa, Douglas realized her potential as an athlete and became a household name destined for riches by virtue of winning the all-around title at the Olympics.

And that is where I, apparently, am failing as a parent.

Douglas' tale, you see, was regarded as one of the feel-good stories of the Games. Except that it doesn't make me feel very good.

That's because I cannot, under any circumstances, imagine sending one of my children halfway across the country for a year in pursuit of athletic stardom. I cannot imagine having them live with another family for a year, while I miss the day-to-day changes and struggles and triumphs that children inevitably go through.

This, of course, is a moot point. None of my kids — a 14-year-old girl and boys aged 9 and 3 — have demonstrated the potential for winning a gold medal in gymnastics. Some days they can barely walk through the kitchen without tripping over their own two feet.

But for many people, this is a relevant question. Douglas certainly is not the only gymnast to be sent away from home to chase Olympic dreams. And gymnasts are not the only athletes who follow a similar path. Teenage golfers and tennis players routinely go to live and train at various academies throughout the country.

Therein lies the conundrum. While we hear over and over the story of how Gabby Douglas left home, was successful, and guaranteed herself lifelong financial security, we never hear about those who don't find fame and riches and scholarships. For every Gabby Douglas, there are hundreds of young gymnasts who did the same thing and didn't find what they were seeking.

Then what are the parents left with, other than a year without being a daily part of their child's life? For me, personally, that would be an awfully empty year.

I'm certain these are difficult and costly — Douglas' family has filed for bankruptcy — decisions for the parents, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they are acting in what they think is the best interest of their child. But I cannot fathom going a day without being able to put my arms around my kids, let alone a week or a month.

In this country, at least parents have a choice. In China, much like the Soviet-bloc nations used to do, the state identifies potential athletes at a young age and places them in training academies. One frequently told story from London was of a Chinese diver who was not informed that her grandparents had died a year ago, or that her mother is battling cancer.

For the good of the state, you know. We can't have athletes being distracted.

We haven't reached that point in the United States. We'll never reach that point, thank goodness. We rely upon parents to decide the best course of action for their children.

And yet the question surrounding the issue is largely the same: What price glory? If our definition of success has reached the point where you have to send your child away for a year, for me that price is too high.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne