The Power of Disappointment

Watching the Summer Olympics, I’m enthralled by displays of incredible speed and endurance, by the gorgeous physicality. But the stories that really hook me are those of this summer’s losers.

Take U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney’s failure to win a gold medal on the vault. She was the odds-on favorite, the one NBC’s announcers kept drumming up as “state of the art.” Apparently, she couldn’t lose this past Sunday—except that she did. On her second vault, Maroney fell smack on her bottom when she landed, only snagging a silver medal.

McKayla Maroney

The frozen look on her face was sad. But I was far more disheartened by the immediate TV response: the camera focused on her shocked expression, NBC commentators gasping, saying it was unbelievable, as if the collective fascination with gymnastics were not all about the constant potential for mistakes and such possibilities for public failure. We love mistakes by others; we revel in them—and then we feel guilty.

No doubt coaches and teammates and family members did and will continue to bolster Maroney. Off stage, I’m sure she received hugs and encouragement, as well as plenty of advice to “shake it off.”

But disappointment is not just about suffering. In this case, it’s not a tragedy, and it doesn’t have to be treated as such on primetime TV.

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