The Olympics Are About Failure

Olympic dreams inspire countless millions to pursue goals they’ll never achieve. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

I still remember how it felt when I first saw it. The year was 1984, and the Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Families around the globe gathered around their glowing televisions as stories of striving and victory flooded into their living rooms.

I was eight years old, and enraptured. The torch relay, the opening ceremonies, the extraordinary accomplishments of Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses and Mary Lou Retton, and the succession of medal ceremonies where the American flag unfurled and tear-stricken athletes sang our national anthem—all captivated me. Most captivating of all was the men’s gymnastics team winning the gold medal. My soul was elevated.

Perhaps you’ve seen a seagull on a pier over the ocean. When the wind is right, the bird has only to stretch out its wings and it will rise on the streams of the air. That’s the way it felt. It was a dream and a yearning and a flight of the soul all at once.

That yearning set the spheres of my life in motion. It inspired me to begin a career in gymnastics. It filled my mind with brilliant images when I lay down to sleep. It sustained me through countless hours of training and an excruciating series of injuries. It took me all around the country and even over the oceans, as I became a junior national all-around champion and member of the national team. It even took me to a college I could never have afforded otherwise, and an NCAA championship in my freshman year at Stanford University.

Then it came crashing down. A few months before the Olympic Trials in 1996, I fell from the horizontal bar and broke my neck. In a blink, my gymnastics career ended in failure and a lifelong sentence of spinal damage and chronic pain.

As a person of faith, I believe that history …

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