Many years ago, my mother and I traveled to Europe. It was one of those two-week frenzied trips of “a country per day” that consolidates all must-see tourist destinations into one hazy sightseeing blur of bewilderment.
The just-concluded Rio Olympics became that same marathon of activity. Too many sports, a ceaseless number of days, about 550 Americans who comprised the 2016 team, and an overabundance of stories, both positive and a few of questionable merit.
A small-town-boy-does-good story is exemplified by New Paris, Ohio, resident Clayton Murphy. This 21-year-old was raised on a pig farm and now has an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s 800 meters to add to his many county fair ribbons from showing prize-winning hogs.
“Clayton loved to show the pigs,” his father, Mark, told Runners World last month. “And I can tell you, he is just as good a pig salesman as he is a runner.”
It was not until recently that Murphy became equally astute in running the 800 meters as he is at raising livestock. He placed seventh in this same event just three years ago at the Ohio State Division III High School Track Championship.
When the 800 meters was televised from the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Murphy did not watch the race. Finally in 2015, Murphy hit his stride and became the 800 meter gold medalist at the Pan American Games.
Murphy’s post-race astonishment over his finish was heartwarming. His demeanor of being both humbled and surprised to have accomplished this herculean feat truly exemplifies the most unlikely of Olympic stories. Considering that he is a first-generation track star without a family legacy of athletic greatness, he is a tribute to all small-town kids who dream big.
Murphy attends the University of Akron and plans to complete his degree in international business. Considering his recent contract signing with Nike, both his running and academic talents will be beneficial.
The opposite end of the reactive spectrum is designated to women’s beach volleyball bronze medalists Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross. Both are blonde, statuesque Californians who were raised on the beaches to become beach volleyball divas.
It is doubtful that Walsh-Jennings or Ross have ever visited a livestock farm or knows anything about the difficult work of raising pigs. Whether they have other life goals beyond just Olympic volleyball might be questionable since they seemed to have been born into the sport.
When Walsh-Jennings and Ross were defeated soundly the late evening of Aug. 16 by a host-Brazilian team, they described the loss of an American repeat gold medal in this sport “as devastating.”
Their collective emotionality was much too dramatic in my opinion, since they both acted as if their Olympic beach volleyball careers had just catastrophically ended. What has happened to graciousness in defeat? Is gold the only medal that counts to some American athletes?
A similar derailment of Columbus native Simone Biles on the balance beam is a second example of this “only-gold-is-good-enough” American mentality. After becoming unsteady and touching the balance beam during her Aug. 15 routine, Biles won a bronze medal for the faulty performance, adding to her four gold medals from earlier in the Rio competition.
What has happened to the appreciative awe of just being an Olympian?
Is the bottom line the most important aspect of a lucrative endorsement from corporate monoliths and dictated only upon whether an athlete garnered gold, silver or bronze? Have the Olympics become that medal-specific as to assigning worth?
The opposite of this Olympic quandary is Abby Johnston, an Upper Arlington native, and a silver medalist in the 2012 London Olympics. She is one Rio Olympian who had her sights focused far beyond this week’s 12th-place finish in 3-meter springboard diving. This central Ohioan and Duke University graduate will enter her third year at Duke University medical school next month.
In addition to her tandem Olympic and medical school training, she has also been planning her wedding to Sam McGrath, an assistant Duke football coach. Johnston epitomizes the ability to excel academically, multi-task and stay focused on goals far beyond Olympic notoriety.