The True Test of an Olympic Athlete

This morning, I was lying in bed watching handball, fencing and table tennis. My first thought was “The fencing uniform really isn’t conducive to selling replica jerseys at Dick’s Sporting Goods. They’re missing a huge marketing opportunity.”  Then I wondered, why the hell am I watching these sports? I know nothing about them and even less about the athletes. In fact, the sports aren’t all that interesting.

Here’s why, at least for me. In the Olympics, the sport is secondary; the athlete is the focus.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, when “good” triumphs over “evil”, like in 1980 with the U.S. Hockey Team defeating the Soviet Union.  But even in that instance, it was really more about the people (or ideals) than the sport itself.

The opening ceremony is a bit of a mini-series about ordinary people that possess an outrageous amount of dedication and determination.  Corporate sponsors focus their ads on the unique circumstances and adversity that athletes have overcome to compete on the world stage. That’s what draws me into these games.  I am impressed by “real” stories about “real” people.  It is refreshing and inspiring.

This morning, Dana Vollmer, set an Olympic record in the 100-meter butterfly. She is a favorite to win gold. Dana has a real story. At age 15, she was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, a potentially-fatal arrhythmia that causes sudden cardiac arrest and death in athletes. Phyllis was diagnosed with this condition following Simon’s death. Obviously, Dana has managed her condition and continues to swim. She brings an AED (automatic external defibrillator) with her to the pool in case there is an incident.

This morning, Dale Oen, didn’t swim the 100-meter breaststroke, despite being a gold medal favorite and winning the World Championships last year.  On April 30, during pre-Olympic training, he died from sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the #1 cause of death of athletes. Despite knowing this, we still don’t have a system to screen our athletes’ hearts.  We screen them for drugs to make sure they don’t cheat. We screen them at the airport to make sure they are not carrying explosives. We ignore the very thing that keeps them alive.

Let’s do something about this. Let’s institute a screening program for our athletes. Since the Olympic Games are really about the stories, let’s ensure that there are more stories about “Danas” and none about “Dales.”

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