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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Christilaw: Olympics show the best and worst sides of participants

Steve Christilaw

Rio is now history. The Girl from Ipanema has gone back to walking the beach, ignoring all who sigh, and all that discussion about churrasco, Brazil’s unique style of grilling meat, will now go on the back burner. So to speak.

Meanwhile, the countdown clock for the Tokyo Games of 2020 has begun and the world now heads back to its day-to-day life after 16 days of highs and lows.

The Olympic Games are a storyteller’s dream – adding texture, nuance and context to what can be otherwise an overly simplified story about winning and losing. If nothing else, it expands the standard definition of what it means to win.

For example, the first woman from the United States to win a gold medal in wrestling, Helen Maroulis, talked to NBC’s “Today” about her own expectations for her competition.

“I looked at being a gold medalist as this elite club and I thought you had to be perfect in order to be in there,” she said. “So in my training leading up I was lacking a lot of confidence because I was looking for perfection and realizing I was never going to find it.”

That’s a lesson most of us can learn – even if we never go near a wrestling mat.

As a coach, you can talk at length about how important it is to keep playing hard all the way to the final whistle.

Or you can show your young team the YouTube video of Cheick Sallah Cisse.

Cisse competed in taekwondo in Rio, representing Ivory Coast, reaching the gold medal match.

As the clock wound down, Cisse trailed the fighter from Great Britain by two points, 6-4, but as time expired he handed a stunning kick to the head earned him the win and his country’s first gold medal in any sport.

You can preach about sportsmanship. You can quote the age-old cliché about how “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” or you can simply talk about Abbey D’Agostino.

D’Agostino is the U.S. runner who got tangled with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin during a preliminary heat of the 5,000 meters. Both fell. D’Agostino was the first to get up, but rather than sprint off to get back in the race, she stopped to help Hamblin get to her feet.

As it turned out, D’Agostino tore ligaments in her knee when she fell and, once she helped Hamblin up, she collapsed. Hamblin returned the favor and helped D’Agostino up.

The display of sportsmanship put on by these two runners inspired viewers the world over. Most will have already forgotten who won the gold medal in the women’s 5000 meters, but they will long remember D’Agostino and Hamblin. And for good reason.

The Rio Games gave us some solid examples about what not to do, but then again, a good bad example is worth its weight in gold, too.

After the United States lost its quarterfinal match to Sweden in women’s soccer, Richland’s Hope Solo went off on the game plan the Swedes employed to beat the U.S. and had some unflattering things to say about their coach, former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.

Solo has a reputation for such outbursts after a loss, and they’ve landed her in hot water with the national team, her teammates and coaches.

In 2007, after starting and helping the U.S. women’s team reach the semifinals of the World Cup tournament, Solo was benched in favor of Briana Scurry for the semifinal with Brazil.

Scurry had a history of playing well against Brazil, but this time the U.S. lost, 4-0, and Solo told reporters after the match that she would have made the saves Scurry did not and blasted coach Greg Ryan for his decision.

Solo’s teammates shunned her and disinvited her from the bronze medal game.

This time, there was no consolation game.

Back home, Solo’s teammate both on the national team and on the Seattle Reign, Megan Rapinoe had this to say:

“Let’s inspire, let’s be badass, let’s be fierce, let’s be competitive,” she told NBC Sports. “But we’re gracious and we’re humble, and we play the game a certain way, whether we win or lose. And we’ve been on the winning side quite a bit, and when we find ourselves on the other side, we need to handle that graciously, and unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”