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Editorials and Opinions

Olympic Athletes: Overcriticized and Underrated

By Alexandra Fen
Published: March 2010

I first heard about Lindsay Vonn’s Olympic success on a re-run of the Colbert Report: The Complete Vancouverage.

Apparently she won a gold medal in the Women’s Downhill Alpine Skiing event 10 days earlier and was the first American woman to do so in Olympic history.

But in my defense (and yours too–if you’ve also been living under a rock), the first ten days of the Olympic Games were held over our February break, so whether you were in Panama, France (SMGTZ!), Nicaragua (oh wait¦), or even on college tours with your parents, salvaging the last few days of vacation took priority over catching up on the Winter Games.

So with that excuse, herein lies the real problem: after Vonn’s cover debut on Sports Illustrated Magazine, disapproving headlines about her semi-provocative pose and skintight bodysuit have littered newspapers, magazines and my Comcast homepage.

Critics of the cover claim that SI had Vonn pose in a way that “objectified her.  If you haven’t seen it, Vonn is clad in complete competition attire and crouching with her knees bent.  This “tuck stance is one that all downhill skiers, male and female, assume while racing.

Yes, her blonde hair cascades down the side of her face.  Yes, her skintight bodysuit is well, very tight, and YES the angle at which the shot was taken seeks to accentuate a particular region of Vonn’s body.

But interestingly enough, Vonn’s cover was modeled after that of SI’s 1992 Winter Olympic Preview, which featured alpine skier A.J. Kitt.

There are few notable differences between Vonn and Kitt; however, I’m almost positive nobody complained that SI had objectified this gentleman.

Vonn is, first and foremost, an incredible athlete, but she also exemplifies the qualities of female attractiveness.

Although much of the publicity on Vonn is attributed to her appearance, she deserves to be celebrated as she has been this past month.

When the Olympic Games roll around every two years, it seems as though a handful of select American Olympians come out of obscurity and astound us with their skills.

For training their entire lives, these athletes enjoy a month of name recognition and if they’re lucky, an ad campaign for Got Milk.

American athletes are celebrated to a degree that is disproportional to their many accomplishments.  For these athletes, hundreds of toiling hours of training and competition amount to a status that would seem trivial to most Hollywood A-listers.

We also have a tendency to expect our Olympic athletes to uphold a higher virtuosity and innocence, qualities that most Americans can’t even wrap their heads around.

These athletes are sent to the Games to represent their respective countries, so it is expected that they act accordingly.

But back home, we put them on an unfair pedestal with expectations that are strikingly different from those of our representatives in say, the music and film industries.

Regarding their conduct, we expect our athletes to be gods, but to be fair, we must do our part and worship them as such.

Vonn’s rising celebrity is well deserved, but the criticisms against her are not.

She is getting the recognition that she and dozens of other Olympians deserve. Vonn and fellow American athletes Shaun White, Shani Davis, and Apolo Ohno (check out HIS Got Milk ads) were all honored by Wheaties, which unveiled its four new cereal boxes that featured these four athletes on the covers.

But regardless of each of their talents and contributions in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, this fame is sure to be short lived.

So throw away your unreasonable expectations and preconceived notions of Olympic Athletes and cut them some slack! Let them enjoy the fame they’ve more than deserved.

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