Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Breaking news, I am not a gymnast. Yet, I am, at least in an amateur fashion, familiar with the sport. Throughout the years there are only a handful of gymnastics-related names and events that stand out to me, such as, the amazing gold-medal-clenching vault of Kerri Strug, talented athletes like like Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Paul Haam, Jordyn Wieber, Simone Biles, and coach Bela Karolyi. However, I have no idea what they do or where they are now. Are they still involved with the sport? I have no idea. It's odd isn't it, the Olympics rolls around every 4 years, and during that time our top Olympians become household names. Then, just like that, the Olympics are over and the names, mostly forgotten. But, that is only looking at it from the outside. Maybe we are left with these forgotten memories because we did not know them to begin with. So, let's attempt to remedy that today with a current example. Let us ask, what is it like to be the gymnast at the height of your career? Maybe by knowing them now, we will better understand them when it is all over.
For this, we turn to Indonesian Gymnast, Rifda Irfanaluthfi. The 20-year-old has had success in recent regional competitions including a silver medal in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and a gold (vault) and three silvers (floor exercise, balance beam, and all-around) at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. In addition, the gymnast has taken in 5 other medals spanning from the 2015-2017 Southeast Asian Games. In the end, the only thing holding her back from the upcoming Tokyo Games was an injury during the qualifying competition that took place in Germany in 2019.
The young gymnast started her athletic career in swimming, specializing in the backstroke; gymnastics started as just a beloved hobby along with ballet, diving and climbing. It was artistic gymnastics that first piqued her interest and lead to her participating in level 3 SACAC in Singapore where she brought in 3 golds and a bronze.
One of the aspects of competing in global sports that can be wildly attractive is the chance to travel the world. So, I asked Rifda about that exact topic. When asked about the coolest place she was able to travel, she answered:
"menurut saya tempat paling menarik yang pernah saya kunjungi adalah Glasgow, Scotland. Dimana pada tanggal 16 oktober 2015 itu saya berulang tahun yang ke 16 tahun dan saya berangkat ke Glasgow dalam rangka mengikuti pertandingan World Championships. Pada saat itu saya sangat senang. Menurut saya itu adalah kado untuk saya, dimana itu pertama kalinya saya mengikuti world Championships dan bertemu pesenam dari seluru dunia. dan pada saat saya bertanding ternyata penonton suka dengan Musik dan koreografi saya di Alat lantai karena apa yang saya tampilkan di alat lantai itu menggunakan musik dan saya selipkan sedikit tarian yang berasal dari irish. Itu adalah pengalaman yang sangat luar biasa. tak akan terlupakan"
In case your Indonesian needs some refreshing, Rifda noted that her competitions took her to Glasgow, Scotland, which tops her list of favorite places she has visited. Several factors contributed to this being Rifda's favorite including celebrating her 16th birthday on Scottish soil while competing in the World Championships. She mentioned that one of the main reasons this was her favorite place was because she was able to meet gymnasts from all over the world. This indirectly points us to one of the values of international competition: People from all over the world sharing one common bond.
When it comes down to it, though, one major question looming over the heads of an Olympic athlete, is how long will they compete. Often times, from the outside, we forget that these athletes don't compete much past their 30s (if they are blessed enough to go that far. In addition, the Olympics is every four years. Combining the facts that they compete too far into life and the Olympics are ever four years, and we are left with a scenario wherein the best of the best Olympians compete in, maybe, 3 sets of Olympic games. Yet when questioned about when she would hang it up, Rifda simply noted that she needs to finish what she started; the Olympics is her goal, therefore she cannot quit until it is reached.
Eventually, though, competition will be over. No athlete can play forever. Since athletes stop at a relatively young age, if they don't make enough while competing (which is the vast majority of Olympians), we wonder what will they do after they compete. These athletes spend so much dedicated time training and competing, but what will they do when it is over? How can they translate that talent and dedication into a career? Should they incorporate their athletic past into a professional future or tuck this past-life away into the closest and set off for a new career? Many suggest that the logical direction is to be a coach in the sport. This is what Rifda is potentially considering. She noted that she was not totally sure, but does acknowledge that as long as she is still passionate for both competing in the sport and Indonesia's development within the sport, why give it up when there are ways she can stay connected after she stops competing?
But, for now, let's look at the present; the Olympics are delayed, and yet, the world keeps on spinning. This begs the question, why should we bring them back at all? What is the harm in missing the Olympics? Maybe we should take in another step and ask, why should they come back at all? Abandoned arenas, graffitied equipment, and the skeletal remains of old Olympic villages are all that seem to remain after the passing of the Olympics in a city. So, why do we do it? Why does it matter that a swimmer swam faster than four years ago? Why does it matter that a country gets its first gold medal? Why do the Olympics matter? What is the point of this international competition? To Rifda, the Olympics test her ability to contain her emotions, her ability to maintain the quality of her movements, strengthen her confidence in her skills while she competes in front the best of the best. Finally, for Rifda, the Olympics gives her a chance to show the sacrifices that she has made for the honor of being an Olympian.
Rifda gave us a great angle to the value of the Olympics, but only on a personal level; this is what we need. As fans of sports and competition and by knowing the players as people we better understand their journey, their struggle, their sacrifice. Perhaps when we know them in this way we can more truly feel part of the joy they do when they stand on the podium in front of the world. Maybe when we can feel part of their joy or part of their sadness, the Olympics begin to reveal their true value. And maybe, just maybe, if we know and understand them now, we will better understand them when it is all over, and see the Olympics for what they are, a journey of individuals full of sacrifices for one moment, one moment to conquer their dream.