Speed, finesse, durability, precision — all images we see as we are spellbound by the London Summer Olympics. The TV images we watch also blast out at us in high definition — the fall, the tears, the bronze medal seen as a loss, the rise to the mountaintop but failing to reach the peak.
It all seems to show that to be human as an elite athlete, is to strive for perfection, reach unthinkable heights, break world records or fall short in just .08 of a second and feel the sting of someone who is a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, a little bit more agile on that particular day.
A fascinating article in the July 30 Summer Olympics Special issue of Time magazine portrays the complex and amazing journey of Lolo Jones, a U.S. hurdler. She embodies an unlikely story of a difficult childhood and rise to a world-class athlete. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she “choked”, hit a hurdle in the 100m race, and lost the gold medal. I put “choked” in parentheses because the word is coined and has been scientifically researched. The article sites Sian Beilock, from the University of Chicago and other scientists who “suspect that athletes under stress choke when too many thoughts flood the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that houses informational memory. Worry, and the brain become too busy.”
Lolo Jones continues to deal with the memory of 2008. She lives with media pressure as well as her own to prove to herself and the world that she is a world-class athlete and can win.
That’s more pressure than most of us have to deal with, because we’re not in the media spotlight and we’re not competing on a world stage. However, we can all identify with “choking”, because it happens to all of us. It’s part of being human. Our minds trick us, over think. In every Tai Chi class we remind ourselves to focus on the moment, try to clear our minds of the chatter. It’s a practice for class. It’s a practice for life.
I wonder how many Olympic-level athletes engage in a practice of tai chi, meditation or yoga. If not, I wish they would consider it.
And, I wish for Lolo Jones, a Tai Chi state of mind and body as she comes on the world stage in the next few days.