Strawberry seedlings are sent from the warm fields of Huelva to the freezing moors of Salamanca in the middle of winter. Many die, but those who survive have stronger, healthier roots, will bear more and better fruit, and so think sports coaches who beat boys and girls, physically and psychologically, in order to select only the really tough ones, despising the soft, and like the farmer who does not shed a tear for the frozen seedlings, so the unsympathetic technician, proud of the medals, oblivious to the pain caused, to the repercussions of his methods on the coconut of the children who do not exceed your demands.
The 42-year-old cyclist Alejandro Valverde attends a programming technology super school and answers the questions of those who learn, and many of them are similar and surprising: how does he overcome failure? How does it not sink into misery? How do you handle the pressure of having to respond to the expectations of others?
This stark description of the coach-athlete relationship, so repeated these days —and supported by university studies that show that three-quarters of world-class athletes in the world have suffered abuse or psychological violence by their coaches when they were children— , and this vision of a youth more scared to fail than determined to live, more fearful than daring, no one would have believed them to be accurate, balanced, not even five months ago; not, at least, until Simone Biles was frozen in midair after propelling herself in a pirouette and over the colt to perform an acrobatics called Amanar (a plank somersault and two and a half pirouettes). It happened at the Tokyo Games, in July still. The perhaps best gymnast in history leaves the jump in just a pirouette and a half, and, despite everything, with her feline sense, she falls on her feet. He gets lost in the air and when he lands it is as if he were wondering, where am I, what am I doing here. One click. The gymnast is lost, the person who wisely renounces his dream is found, too expensive.
The loss of Simone Biles, the fear that she confessed to not reaching her goal, getting five Olympic gold medals, unleashed a cataract of information, analysis and opinions in the media, a true epidemic of headlines with three inevitable words – ”athlete mental health ”- and the necessary reminder that Biles, like dozens of American gymnasts, had been sexually abused by the federation doctor as a child. Perhaps there is no athlete, or very few, who when they achieve a triumph do not remember a past depression – and sometimes, using the word depression lightly, minimizing the cruelty of the disease – nor praise themselves for their resilience when falling, getting up and coming back more strong. There is perhaps no mirror like this one, like that of elite sport, which by definition must go through a selection process as Darwinian as the one that is subjected to the roots of strawberry trees by freezing them, which better reflects one of the great themes of society. current, and the difficulty of finding causes and solutions.
Nothing will ever be the same.
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