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  • Writer's pictureLalita Dileep

Titles, Laurels & Expectations - how do athletes and we find the perfect balance

Is G.O.A.T a blessing or stricture ?

Tracing the History

As the Olympics unfold in Tokyo, the trending topic the world over relates to G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) and the pressure on athletes. Even though GOAT is a slang loosely used on social media, it is not a product of early internet users. Indeed there is another, very unexpected source: a professional athlete. Its roots can be traced back to boxing, in the early 1960s specifically to Muhammad Ali, who often called himself “the greatest of all time,” or simply “the greatest,”. In 1992, Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali, incorporated a company called “G.O.A.T. Inc” that held together all assets related to her husband’s image. This was the first notable instance of GOAT being used. In 2000, LL Cool J helped to popularize the word further as a definition for greatest, when he released an album titled, “G.O.A.T.

Subsequently this honorific has been bestowed on countless sports figures, such as Michael Jordan in basketball and Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Tiger Woods in Golf, Tom Brady in Football, LeBron James, & Naomi Osaka to name a few, but the Olympics have seen a flurry of new usage for this particular superlative. Gymnast Simone Biles, Sprinter Usain Bolt, Swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. Athletics have become a very competitive sport, demanding utter devotion with great rewards to the dedicated. But the price to pay can also be very high.

Too much too soon

At age 24 Simone Biles has been crowned G.O.A.T, an accolade usually reserved for someone towards the maturity of their career. So when Simone made the bombshell announcement bowing out from the team final at the Tokyo Olympics due to the pressure she was facing, it begged the question - was it all too much ? Experts agree unconditionally.

"I don't like it," Robert Andrews, a sports performance consultant pronounced who counseled Biles before the 2016 Olympics, "I think it’s misplaced, I think it's misused and I think it puts a big target on athlete's backs.

Massachusetts-based sports psychologist and coach Elizabeth Ward adds, "for Biles to admit that and then bow out was courageous". "For her to pass the baton to the other three teammates and step aside, and cheer them on," she says, "I think it sets her apart as quite a special, self-aware, remarkable 24-year-old athlete." Simone herself seems to be on a journey towards self help and self awareness when she posted on her Instagram account: “The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”

Avoiding Burnout

Even as the controversy rages on, as the most decorated gymnast in World Championships history, Biles has shown remarkable courage in stepping back and quitting to take care of herself. Biles has been open about her depression after being sexually abused by team doctor Larry Nassar, and given her difficult childhood, she has overcome so much to achieve what she has with the support of her family. Given that their crucial support is missing in Tokyo, the pressure on her has been incredible.

Athletes are role models to the world at large, but as we weigh in, we have to pause and ask ourselves how to manage pressure and still achieve our goals. Juggling family commitments, work responsibilities and the strive for perfection, we tend to create stress in our lives without even realizing it. Without engaging in the blame game, we need to ease off and recognize that we might be making things harder on ourselves unnecessarily. Perceiving the fine line between high achievement and perfection is imperative if we need to succeed in the long run.

After burning my way juggling career, children and everything else through my 30s, sanity prevailed and I am since trying to be a saner version of myself attempting to lead a balanced life. Aware that burnout can be accompanied by a variety of mental and physical health symptoms which, if not address in a timely fashion, can make day to day living a challenge. I am also coming to terms that leisure is not a curse but must be cherished. That rest and rewind is the way to rejuvenate both the body and the soul. What are your thoughts as this debate continues to find voices in every corner of the world? Does the messaging invoke sympathy, concern or something else? I look forward to hearing your stories.

Staying strong together


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