I love the Olympics and I think everybody does, regardless of what country they come from. After all, everyone agrees it’s a chance to see the pinnacle of human physical achievement, athletes pushing themselves to the edge of their potential and beyond.
However, I think it’s a whole lot more than their physical prowess that is challenged. The Olympics always bring to the forefront the bigger ideas and ideals of human aspiration that go well beyond the physical.
I am proud to say that when it comes to Americans, we generally rise to be the best in spirit and skill in the Olympic games.
The 24-year-old Mirai Nagasu was one of the best and brightest examples of this when she scored the bronze medal in the team figure skating competition in PyeongChang, South Korea by being the first American woman ever to land the coveted triple Axel in the Winter Olympics.
Nagasu’s story is one of perseverance. It’s a story of falling and getting back up time and time again on the ice and in attitude. She finished fourth at the 2008 Olympics, and was so close to going to the Olympics in 2014 she could taste it but was passed over by the selection committee, who handpick the team based on some pretty vague criteria.
It inspired Nagasu to reinvent herself and her routine by adding the triple Axel to her arsenal. This time she was determined to use that weapon to take her performance to the next level.
“Four years ago when I was left off the team, I wanted to make another Olympic team, and I knew I would really have to be something special,” Nagasu said after her performance. “So to become the first American to land a triple Axel at the Olympic games is historical, and no one can take that away from me.”
Indeed. Only two other women in the world have ever pulled it off at that level of competition. And making that happen wasn’t easy. Nagasu stumbled along the way – literally – earlier in her program. But she was determined to keep trying. Her decision to still attempt it despite of her struggle and her reason for it was just as important as her success in doing so, if not more so.
“To nail that triple Axel, I tripped a couple of times going into it because I was so nervous, but I had to tell myself, ‘no I’m gonna go for it, 100 percent, and not pull back,” she said.
Nagasu explained over a year ago in an interview with People Magazine what her version of “go for it” meant. It was making sure to include attempting the elusive triple Axel as much as possible whether she succeeded or not because it has the greatest potential gain of all the moves she could perform on ice.
“It’s all about the points in figure skating, and how you can outrank your opponents. And the triple is almost twice the points as a double,” she told People. “It’s kind of like a board game, and that’s my king. So I want to use it as many times as I can.”
And there’s that very special brand of American spirit. The idea of “going for it” at all costs to achieve the best and highest achievement possible defines us as Americans. At least it’s what all of us aspire to at some point. It’s what our most successful and inspiring movies are about, what our advertisers sell us and what our nation is about.
It is not just the concept of winning we subscribe to but the concept of risking it all to go higher, to be better, or to go somewhere that nobody else has ever gone. It is a mindset that I believe is supremely and to some degree uniquely American.
We aren’t real good at playing it safe. Now that might sometimes be to our discredit. We have made more than a few errors in judgment as individuals, as a culture and as a nation. But we have had a whole lot of success because of it too. And it’s the reason we are number one in the world at so many things.
It’s the reason why so many American inventors have risked life, limb, personal wealth and well-being to discover everything from electricity to the flying machine to the personal computer.
The concept of risking it all for the golden ring is so much a part of our psyche that it’s almost impossible to get our young people to learn how to be a little more cautious and a little more thoughtful in their pursuits, even though that sounds and feels ostensibly un-American. I credit all the parents, teachers and sober folks who try. Meanwhile, I credit the rambunctious American spirit for amazing startups, inventions, lifesaving drugs, and blockbuster artists who entertain the world. I credit the everyday Americans who start out with nothing and win it all for themselves, their families, their communities, their country and the world.
With two weeks left in the Olympics, Mirai Nagasu and the rest of our talented Team USA have plenty of opportunities to make more history and win more medals.
Really, Americans everywhere will win as long as we remember what got us here: our relentless desire to go for it!