Mikaela Shiffrin’s harsh treatment is just more proof that there is way too much pressure on athletes

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On February 6, 2022, Mikaela Shiffrin shared a video on social media detailing her journey from her days as a 5-year-old aspiring ski racer with the goal of being “the best in the world” at the double medalist of Olympic gold. and World Cup alpine skier she is today. Although this is a paid partnership with Bose, the video itself is poignant. But the caption next to the clip? Well, that gives it even more impact: “Yeah, I’m human,” writes Shiffrin. It’s an important message, especially in light of what the 26-year-old has now been going through for nearly two years since he originally shared the post.

On Thursday, Shiffrin received her third “Do Not Finish” (DNF) of the Beijing Winter Olympics after collapsing during the slalom portion of the women’s combined event. Although she could – and according to Olympics.com will – compete in the team event on Saturday, her latest performance made it official: the winter sports phenom will leave the Games without an individual medal. It’s an absolutely crushing blow for any professional athlete who’s worked hard to make it to Beijing, but you could say it’s especially the case for Shiffrin. Expectations for the alpine skiing superstar were extremely high, but his best performance was a ninth-place finish, and his record at the 2022 Games includes two disqualifications, according to the Associated press. She could be considered the most successful skier in World Cup history, but above all she is human.

“Beyond leaving the Games without medals – no individual medals – the most disappointing thing is that I had several opportunities to ski slalom on this track,” Shiffrin said after Thursday’s DNF, as the reported the PA. “And I, well, you know, I failed all of them.”

In many ways, what Shiffrin faces is universally relatable. Everyone has failed big in life – and sometimes those failures happen when everything has lined up to equal, what should be, success. The difference, however, is that most people don’t fail while the world watches and comments. This feeling of not meeting the expectations you have placed on yourself is incredibly difficult for anyone. But adding that extra layer of not living up to the expectations an entire country has placed on you? It’s incredibly difficult, especially for someone like Shiffrin, who has previously spoken about his experience with performance anxiety.

In the age of social media and constant feedback, these expectations affect athletes in new and often detrimental ways. Shiffrin isn’t just dealing with the fallout of a disappointing performance; she also faces some incredibly hurtful and harmful reactions. On Thursday night, the athlete detailed the hate thrown at her recently on her Instagram Stories (which she later posted to her grid and Twitter as well as).

“Get up because you can, because you love what you’re doing when it’s not infested with people who have so much apparent hatred for you. Just get up. It’s not always easy, but Failing twice isn’t the end of the world either. Failing twice. Failing 5 times. At the Olympics,” she wrote. “Why do I keep coming back? God knows it hurts more than it feels good lately. I’m coming back because those first 9 corners today were spectacular, truly heaven. It’s where I’m supposed to be.”

Shiffrin also shared some of the messages she received: ‘Choker’, ‘Can’t handle the pressure’, ‘Your time is up, retire’, Dumb bitch can’t even do a thing she’s supposed to do right”, among many others.

Seeing the words people threw at him is very telling. Of course, over the past few years, professional athletes have been increasingly open about the immense pressures they face on a regular basis. (And TG for that and for those in the spotlight who have spoken.) But if Shiffrin’s post is any indication, society needs to be much more aware that they are still, in the skier’s own words, human. . They are not robots. They don’t exist just for glory or for victories. And they absolutely do not deserve to be publicly shamed, hated or belittled when they fail to live up to ridiculously high expectations. (Related: Sloane Stephens Gets Candid About The Pressures Of Being A Female Athlete In The Media)

Now, given the weight our culture places on professional athletics, there’s no denying that when you sign up to be a professional athlete, you’re also signing up to be in the public eye a bit. And that, in turn, can open you up to a larger group of people, watching and commenting on every twist of your performance. But that still doesn’t give anyone the right to put undue pressure on a stranger and demand that they meet your enormous expectations, which, let’s be honest, you could have set without ever trying to put on a shoe of skiing (only to realize it can be one of the most strenuous tasks) let alone climbing a mountain in negative weather.

So just because some might argue that unsolicited pressure from strangers might be part of a professional athlete’s life doesn’t mean they deserve it (spoiler alert: they don’t) or that they are not affected. According to Teri Bacow, Ph.D., a New York-based psychologist and author of Say goodbye to anxiety.

“You feel an expectation from the world to repeat the standard of excellence, which was excruciatingly difficult to achieve in the first place. It makes people feel trapped in the pressure to be a certain way, with no flexibility or ability to ‘failure,’ says Bacow. “For example, Mikaela recently talked about getting inside her head and overthinking [and] being open and honest about it set a wonderful example for others with the same struggles and fears. People underestimate the difficulty – the herculean physical challenges and the cognitive and emotional challenge of this level of performance. Managing the expectations of others can be deadly.”

Shiffrin is unfortunately not the first young female athlete to see this type of backlash – and not just in history, but during these same Olympics. It also fell on US-born figure skater Zhu Yi, who renounced US citizenship to compete for China to face an influx of hatred from the very nation she represented after she fell in a ‘Event. This reaction inspired a conversation about how countries treat their own athletes when expectations are not met. And then, of course, there’s Simone Biles, who walked away from the Tokyo Games to protect her sanity and was accused of being ‘selfish’ and ‘a quitter’ when in reality it made her even more a GOAT.

“The general public is probably not aware of the immense pressure exerted on these individuals [already] face, including all the hard work and grueling effort and the toll of not only pushing their bodies to perform extremely difficult athletic endeavors, but also constantly being in the spotlight,” Bacow says. “It’s a vulnerable place where to be when you’re subject to adoration and also criticism and hatred – it’s not at all easy, and it can absolutely affect mental health.”

Although Shiffrin hasn’t explicitly spoken about the state of her mental health lately, Biles (who, BTW, has been sending her support for the skier on social media) recently opened up about the cognitive challenges that come with being on the go. to be an Olympian. “Honestly, you can’t judge someone’s sanity through a platform, so hopefully she’s [Shiffrin] I’m fine,” she said. TODAY Friday. “Because it’s a really tough place, especially during a pandemic, you’re going to be in the Olympics, and America is kind of like a gold medal or a bust, and so that puts a lot of pressure on us.” (Related: Olympian Chloe Kim Learns To Cope With ‘Pressure To Be Perfect All The Time’)

Unsurprisingly, Bacow believes social media has made the pressures these athletes face even more detrimental to their mental health, saying, “I really feel for Mikaela Shiffrin…nobody should have repeated failures and be criticized for it when you’re giving your all and trying so, so hard.”

“Olympians are extremely hard on themselves to begin with. Their own base of self-criticism stems from pushing themselves to be the best. If you combine the criticism of millions/billions of spectators, it’s overwhelming and debilitating. “says Bacow. “From a mental health perspective, there are intense emotions of embarrassment and humiliation, which are incredibly damaging to self-esteem. It’s incredibly anxiety-provoking that so many people are witnessing your failure to such a public scale.”

So let’s get this straight: Shiffrin having a bad run or two or twenty at the Olympics is not an invitation for anyone to step in and start throwing cruelties just because she, a human, made a mistake ( which, ICYMI, is an integral part of the human condition). As the athlete so eloquently said while reflecting on her recent performance on Instagram: “Being here [the Games] can really hurt too. And you can bet that’s probably due in large part to everything. the. pressure.

“It is important to remember that Olympic athletes are human beings [and] like all humans, they have feelings, emotions, stress, struggles, just like anyone else – and all humans experience things that impact mental health,” Bacow explains.

Only Shiffrin can consider his performance a failure or not. And while she’s used that word a few times so far, the fact that she’s still slipping in spandex, strapping actual poles to her feet, and speeding down mountains despite all expectations, comments no solicited and their impact on her mental well-being shows that she is anything but the f-word.

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