Parents of Olympians: The Very Real Emotional Investment

Your child is talented – talented enough to make it to the highest levels of competition, like the Olympics. You’ve driven her countless hours to and from practice, begged time off from work yet again to be with her at a meet, cried out when she fell, massaged her creaky calves to make the pain go away, wept as she was carted off for surgery, and went bananas upon the moment of her triumph.

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The video at the top of the page is of the parents of Aly Raisman, who won gold medals in the team and floor women’s gymnastics competitions at the 2012 London Olympics. The expressions, the body language, the sounds of the parents are so explicit that we cannot help but feel their anxiety. We understand that these parents have had their fair share of sacrifice, pain and joy. As the writer of the book, The Secret Olympian wrote, that is the price of athletic success for many.

To make it in sport you need others to sacrifice their goals. To make it in sport you need others to sacrifice their time, and often money, for you to make it. I didn’t speak to a single Olympian who didn’t recognize the huge burden they were to their parents when growing up. My parents spent thousands of hours at weekends and week-nights, driving me to and from training and to races across the country, and spent thousands of pounds on coaching, training camps and kit (and sating my excessive appetite!)

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The parents of Aly Raisman will be featured in an upcoming television series in America called “Gold Medal Families”. In it, Raisman’s mother is quoted as saying:

“Time is such a precious commodity, and the impact on family time was tough,” says Lynn, whose daughter is looking to make the team for a second time in July after winning gold in the floor exercise event in London in 2012. “Around the time Aly was 10, she reached a level where her coach did not want her out of the gym during school vacations. There were a number of times where my husband took her siblings away … and I stayed home with Aly. There were birthdays, holidays and family gatherings she missed because she had [to go to the] gym. Even just regularly missing daily family dinners was hard.”

Aly Raisman was in St Louis for the US Olympic Team Trials in gymnastics. On June 26th, Raisman, at the rather elderly age of 22, won a spot on the American team headed to Rio in August. Can her parents stand the pressure?

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