We’ve all seen the many shots of Jordyn Wieber bursting into tears when she heard that teammates Gabrielle Douglas and Aly Raisman would be moving on to the all-around gymnastics finals at the 2012 London Olympics without her. A New York Times editorial by Frank Bruni likened the media sensationalism to “the Real Housewives of the Uneven Parallel Bars” and called the coverage “melodramatic, voyeuristic and borderline sadistic.” I think Mr. Bruni is being a bit melodramatic himself, but he does have a point. Representing America is a lot of pressure to put on teenagers, especially when they've been gearing up for those few minutes of qualification time virtually their entire lives.
A heartbreaking loss is something that all athletes deal with at some point, but that doesn’t mean the gracious loser communications playbook comes easily. Wasn’t that how any 17-year old whose dreams have just been crushed would react? I’ve seen teenagers react more emotionally to getting a B- on a science test. And they didn’t immediately have to deal with the press pit that Jordyn did.
And even when Jordyn pushed past the media, trying to pull herself together, they caught up with her pressing for an interview. I was so impressed by how she pulled herself together and hit all the right talking points, despite her clear emotional distress. It takes a real presence of mind to remember to be appreciative of the opportunity, happy for teammates, and excited for what comes next, all while fighting back tears.
Jordyn’s statement to NBC was: "It's a little bit of a disappointment. It's always been a dream of mine to compete in the all-around at the Olympics and shoot for that gold medal. I'm really proud of Aly and Gabby both and I'm happy that they both made it to the all-around and I'm glad that I'll be able to help the team out in team finals."
While these messages may have been slipped to her in advance by a team of communications professionals, we all know how critical delivery is. She hit all the right points and didn’t stray out of bounds. She should get a PR medal for handling this devastating situation so well. And who knows, maybe those tears - not to mention the gold medal performance she turned in yesterday in the team finals - will turn into endorsements down the road. America loves a good story.