In the week after the Summer Olympics, like me, you may be in withdrawal. The London Games dazzled with excitement as the U.S. led the medal count. Many of those wins came from women, who made up the majority of America’s Olympic team members. They also outperformed their male counterparts – winning a majority of the U.S. medals – 56% of total medals and a whopping 66% of the gold medals. Let’s call 2012 the year of the Olympic WIN GIRLS.
For me, a WIN GIRL is a woman who wins in life with intelligence, confidence, and authenticity. She shines who she is and speaks her mind. And she can do it all while still embracing her femininity, style and personal beauty. There’s neither a professional obstacle nor a fierce pencil skirt she doesn’t love. As a gay man, I have spent a lifetime befriending, advising and cheering on WIN GIRLS. (In my book, WIN GIRLS can be any age. I hereby invoke my inherent gay man’s license to use “girl” as a term of affection and empowerment – whether the lady is 8 or 80.)
During the recent Olympic Games, many American WIN GIRLS stood atop the podium – including teenage swimming phenom Missy Franklin, track stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross and tennis icon Serena Williams. US women also fared exceptionally well in team events – perhaps signaling that American ladies work better in teams than their male counterparts. They won championships in soccer, basketball, beach volleyball, tennis doubles, swimming relays, track relays and of course, the gymnastics team title by the “Fierce Five.”
That gymnastics title was a highlight for me – with US women dominating the team competition. In particular, three of the American gymnastics team members gave valuable lessons in how to be, or not to be, a WIN GIRL.
First, there is 16 year-old Gabby Douglas. Gabby made us proud by becoming the 4th American to win the most prized title in women’s gymnastics – Olympic All-Around Champion – following Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin into Wheaties box fame. But Gabby made me even prouder as the first African American to do so. I hope she inspire young girls from all races and walks of life to get into sports and dream big.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for Gabby’s race to become an issue. On social media, people posted totally inappropriate comments about her hair. Gabby spoke up with a maturity that belies her years, responding: “What’s wrong with my hair? . . . I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.” One of the fastest ways to squelch detractors is to just put the focus back on the task at hand. Still only a teenager, Gabby has learned that lesson. Also remarkable was Gabby’s ability to perform with a beaming smile while under the intense glare of the Olympic spotlight. A WIN GIRL lets her authenticity and personality shine, and Gabby captured my heart in doing so.
A second WIN GIRL is Gabby’s teammate Jordyn Wieber. Jordyn entered London as the reigning world all-around champion, and 2012 was set to be her year to win at the Olympics. But her dream ended in tears after one day of preliminary competition. In a shocking and controversial outcome, she was left out of the All-Around finals because of a “two per country” rule. Her teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman finished ahead of her; even though Jordyn still placed 4th out of all gymnasts in preliminaries, she was knocked out. But the US still needed her for the team final. It would have been so easy for Jordyn to mentally check out when her individual dream evaporated, but she was impressive during team finals. Her solid routines helped power the US to a dominating win – outscoring the second place Russian team by a huge margin of over 5 points. Jordyn is a WIN GIRL because she rose again in the face of a loss. In life, there will always be obstacles and disappointments that can divert your dreams. A WIN GIRL holds strong – especially when she has teammates that need her.
On the other hand, there is McKayla Maroney. This girl can vault like nobody’s business – sticking an almost flawless landing on the difficult “Amanar” vault during the team finals. McKayla was the reigning world vault champion and was widely expected to cruise to the gold medal in individual event finals. She did fine on her first vault, and only needed to stand up on an easier second pass to win the vault title. But in a shocker, McKayla slipped on her second vault, landed on her rear and was left with the silver medal. On the awards podium, she gave a scowled look that has now found Internet fame as the meme “McKayla Is Not Impressed.”
Well girl, count me as not impressed by McKayla’s reaction. I’m sure she was disappointed, but a WIN GIRL keeps her composure in both victory and defeat. McKayla’s overt frown was disrespectful to her competitors – particularly the Romanian competitor who beat her. McKayla should take a lesson from my favorite Olympian and ultimate WIN GIRL – figure skater Michelle Kwan. At the 1998 Winter Olympics, Michelle was favored to win but lost to Tara Lipinski. Michelle handled the defeat with famous grace by saying that she didn’t lose the gold, but “won the silver.” That’s the kind of composure and greater life perspective that defines a WIN GIRL.
So from Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and even McKayla Maroney, all ladies can learn some lessons. When others try to attack you, focus on performing well. Speak your mind. Beam with joy. Hold strong – especially when others are depending on you. And show grace even in the face of disappointment.
I can’t wait until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I will be glued to the television for my favorite winter sport – figure skating – to see what young lady jumps and spins her way to the gold medal. Hopefully, her character on and off the ice will also earn her the title of WIN GIRL.