For Your Age...
As a spectator I hardly noticed.
It wasn’t until I joined the team of BBC 5 Live in the media tribune, put on my headphones and adjusted my mic that it became clear to me.
The story of these Champs was going to be about the youth…
Sacramento, California 2004
It was the Olympic Trials. Even though I had just won the USATF Junior national meet with a jump of 6.60 and earned a spot to compete at the Jr. World Championship in Grosseto, Italy my coach decided to take me to the US Olympic Trials instead.
The intention was never to actually make the Olympic team.
The mission was to learn how it would feel to compete against athletes who were better than me and to see how well I maintained my composure in doing so.
I made the long jump final.
And some of the older jumpers were fussing over me.
And Marion Jones, after one of my albatross-like landings, tried to wipe the sand off my face for me…
And I looked at her like she was crazy.
She saw me as just a young athlete.
I saw her as a target.
Helsinki, Finland 2005
I jumped a personal best in qualifying to earn and automatic spot into the long jump final.
I had NEVER been in a meet where you had to qualify on one day, then take a day off and then come back and make the final.
I was a nervous wreck.
I would be going head to head with Tatyana Kotova, and Eunice Barber, Concepcion Montaner, Grace Upshaw, and Nadie Gomes to name a few.
Plus, my mother (who probably didn’t think this through) told me to watch Rocky IV for motivation.
So I did…
And I became convinced that I was going to get my ass handed to me on a silver platter….
But I won…
And it was somebody else who pointed out my age to me.
I was just the world champion.
And that title required no additional modifiers.
Berlin, Germany Last Week 2018
It’s interesting being a spectator at a huge event such as this. In the stands you don’t have access to the commentators, or the analysis. You’re left to interpret what you’re seeing in whatever way suits you.
That is until you get online, or turn on the tv for the post race show.
On the night that Jacob Ingebrigtsen won the 5,000 meters the story was about the remarkable double by someone as young as he is.
When Dina Asher-Smith won the 200 the story was about how she was young enough to be able to put British sprinting back on the global map for years to come.
Mondo Duplantis’ 6.05 vault was incredible to witness…and the story became conjecture about him inevitably breaking the world record…because you know…
he’s already at 6.05
at his age.
And so I began to think…(no surprise there right?)
and was subsequently amused that
may be the only place where telling someone they are phenomenal…
for their age
is a compliment.
I asked someone I trust why it bothers me so much to hear people talk about age the way they do. He told me it’s because I’ve been BOTH the young athlete who had other people’s expectations of her career trajectory laid at her feet…
because I’m now a thirty plus year old athlete who, knowing there’s a lot left in my tank, has other people’s lack of expectations about what’s left of my career laid at my feet and reflected in my bank account too.
It annoys me because I know that physics doesn’t give a f**k about age.
where “a” does NOT stand for AGE in this equation.
If you bring the right size pole to the vault, you run down the runway the way you know you should, execute your takeoff the way you know you need to, contort your body in the air the way you know you should…you clear 6.05… right?
Physics will never say (not that it can “say” anything but you know what I mean)…
Physics will never “say,”
Even though you executed perfectly I’m going to defy my own laws because you’re too young
Even though you executed perfectly I’m going to defy my own laws because you’re too old.
This is oversimplified, I know.
I’m leaving “executed perfectly” open to interpretation and allowing it to include:
your coaching staff doing their jobs
your physio team doing their job
you making sure your nutrition is on point
you making sure your head is on straight
you making sure your mental game is on point
you making sure you execute your technique…
I’m still surprised by the reception my musings about how the combined events taught me some valuable life lessons received.
And how people who don’t compete in those events and people who may not be athletes at all found it inspirational or helpful for their own respective journeys.
We love sports for the stories.
Ones of triumph and overcoming adversity.
We love watching people do battle
and witnessing them overcome their own demons of insecurity or self doubt.
But how do you overcome…age?
How do you keep up in a career or an industry where everyone around you seems to be better and younger
better younger than you were at that age?
How do you feel valued or appreciated when our society prefers to worship at the altar of youth
by frequenting anti-aging clinics…
or paying out multimillion dollar contracts to young athletes based on potential?
You remind yourself of things like this:
When I won the world championships at 19 years old, I wasn’t doing a teenage version of an elite athlete’s training program.
I was training as an elite athlete.
When I won the second outdoor title ten years later I wasn’t on an AARP version of an elite athlete’s training program.
I was training as an elite athlete.
I guarantee you that…
Mondo Duplantiss of Sweden
Karston Warholm and Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway
Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain
Gina Luckenkember of Germany
Lisanne de Witte, Jamile Samuel, and Sifan Hassan of The Netherlands
Alex Wilson of Switzerland
Who ALL impressed me at the champs…
with their poise throughout the season and their results last week…
Who were all born in the 90s with the exception of Jakob…
Were not out there trying to be great
for their age.
They knew what they wanted to achieve…
They knew what was required…
And they delivered.
So I’ll ask again…
how do you showcase your value or earn the appreciation of others when society prefers to worship at the altar of youth?
Know what you want to achieve.
Know what is required to do so.
And then deliver.
The only expectations that matter
or limitations that exists are your own…
so go do something unapologetically amazing…
for your age.
Blogger’s Note: I want young athletes to be encouraged by what they witnessed from their peers this past champs. I want them to see that age is not a limitation for them…they don’t have to wait to start to take themselves or their sports seriously. They don’t have to expect to not have good results until they’re older.
I want older athletes not to be discouraged by that creeping feeling we experience sometimes that makes us feel we’re getting left behind. You started at a different time, under different circumstances, with different information, and resources. A young athlete competing better than you in your event doesn’t diminish your work, or the fact that you get up and go train every day. And remember physics doesn’t give AF either way. Maybe its just time to take a cue from our multi event peers and stop comparing yourself, gear up appropriately, get out there, and deliver your best effort. Your best…will always be enough…will always be impressive…no matter what your age.