As the broadening effects of the Zika virus, security concerns, and water contamination continue to be their own competition, the real Olympians have plenty to worry about as they decide whether or not to participate in the Olympics in Rio.
Some athletes, like Rory McIlroy, have pulled out of competition, citing concerns that the Zika virus could affect him and his wife down the road. Others, like gymnast Steve Legendre, though concerned, have confidence in the governing bodies’ ability to keep them safe. It begs the question: at what price Olympic gold?
Olympians anticipating competition in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow were crushingly disappointed by the United States’ decision to boycott the Games in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Imagine training your whole life for one event, then having your chances to compete decided by something entirely out of your control. No decision has been made by the United States as a country regarding participation in the Rio Games, but whether or not to participate has now come down to the individual level. Young, positive-minded athletes are loathe to give up a shot at Olympic gold, even under dangerous conditions, but do we truly expect them to voluntarily step aside?
Perhaps that’s what makes them Olympians: competing against all odds. We applaud when an injured athlete pushes through the pain to deliver a stunning performance; we find it to be courageous. If an athlete competes in an unsafe environment because that’s the hand they’ve been dealt, are they any less courageous? I wouldn’t want to have that decision to make, but thousands of young, healthy athletes around the world have that very call to make right now.
Whether we believe enough has been done to protect the athletes or not, the fact remains that the Games will proceed. May Fortune favor the foolish.