Beyond London 2012: Student athletes and the bigger picture
There are few stories more compelling than that of an athlete reaching their lifelong dream. For some young athletes this dream may be competing at the university level, for others it may mean reaching the coveted professional status —but for most athletes, that dream is reached with a spot on their county’s Olympic team. The Olympic Games have long been a platform for the most talented athletes in the world to demonstrate their strength and dedication, earning the ever-elusive title of Olympian. With the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics only days away, more and more stories of lifelong dreams meeting fruition and soul-crushing defeat on the playing field are making headlines. As one young athlete after another come to represent the strength, power, drive, and determination of their entire country as a whole, the world becomes enraptured by these young athletes’ stories.
Young faces to watch in London
- Ashton Eaton – US Track and Field
As a fresh graduate from the University of Oregon, Eaton is undoubtedly the US Men’s track and field team’s standout competitor. With the US lacking some depth in this area of the games, Eaton is expected to earn some medals in London. Eaton ran for the University of Oregon, winning the NCAA Championship title for the decathlon in 2008 and 2009 along with the top title in the heptathlon in 2009 in the NCCA Indoor Championships. With an impression collegiate pedigree, it’s no surprise Eaton will be taking his talent to the global stage for the London Olympics. Eaton graduated from the University of Oregon in 2010, the same year that he was awarded The Bowerman title of best male US collegiate track and field athlete of the year. Certainly a runner and competitor to be reckoned with, Eaton broke the world record in the decathlon at the US Olympic Trails by more than 10 points and will certainly be a force to watch in the upcoming games.
- Liam Tancock – Great Britain Swimming
Liam Tancock is no newcomer to the world stage and has gained much popularity throughout England for his successes in the water. Tancock attended Loughborough University where he studied sports science and continued to swim, compete, and dominate in his backstroke events. As the reigning world champion and record holder in the 50 meter backstroke, Tancock cannot expect gold in London because the 50 meter distance is not swum in the Olympic Games. However, Tancock will be competing in the 100 meter event as well as Great Britain’s team relays and the 200 meter individual medley event. Liam Tancock serves as a wonderful example of a prestigious and decorated young athlete succeeding both within his sport and academically at a university level.
- Breeja Larson – US Swimming
As just one of the many young breakout stars at the US Olympic Swim Trials, Breeja Larson will have to compete with several other very young and lesser known swimmers for the shining spotlight. Larson will be entering her Junior year at Texas A&M University and upon entering classes that first week will have the new title of Olympic athlete and potentially medal holder. The 20-year-old student athlete didn’t start swimming competitively until she was 17 (something other swimmers likely scorn her for) and has already upset the world record holder in the 100 meter breaststroke event at the US Olympic Trials. While Larson will only be competing in one individual event at the games, she is a medal favorite with her entry time and has many years of collegiate competition and Olympic chances ahead of her.
- Dai Greene- Great Britain Track and Field
As captain of the Great British athletics team for the London Olympics, Dai Greene is absolutely a young face to watch in the upcoming Summer Games. Specializing in the 400m hurdles, Greene is the second fastest British man in the event (behind the British record holder Kriss Akabusi). At only 26, Greene has had many accomplishments and successes throughout his athletic career, winning gold at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona, taking gold at the World Athletics Championships in South Korea, and running a personal best at the Diamond League event in Paris in July of this year. The current captain competes for the Swansea Harriers and has had much success as a student at the highly regarded university. Whether you’re a fan of watching hurdling or plan to watch as much of the Olympics as you can, definitely keep an eye out for Dai Greene.
While all these stories are amazing and inspiring ones, they don’t exactly communicate the real struggles student-athletes face. These are three student-athletes who have accomplished or are accomplishing their lifelong and collegiate dreams, but there are many others who have not and will not. This is both the beauty and pain of the sport. Competing at this level means facing huge challenges, winning some, and typically losing more. It is this uncertainty and letdown that makes the student-athlete such an exceptional example of dedication, heart, and passion.
Athletes at university spend hours and hours a day dedicated to their sport on top of competing in the classroom and struggling with the everyday challenges of going to university, living away from home, and becoming an independent adult. While other students are taking naps after their all-nighters and spending time with friends lazing on the lawn, collegiate athletes are in the gyms training, putting in laps at the pool, and spending time with trainers preparing for their next event. It is this dedication that places many student-athletes above the rest. With the self-determination and self-motivation to succeed both within the classroom and within their sport, these individuals learn a huge amount from their university athletics days about what it is to be a responsible and self-sufficient adult.
While it’s true that athletics instills a sense of responsibility in participants, it can also make some crushing blows. These athletes put their lives into their sport. Sacrificing years of their youth, their bodies, and their social lives to success in the pool, on the field, and at the track, it can be devastating to lose. It is only a select few student athletes who successfully “go pro” or compete at a world level in the Olympics. For the thousands of other athletes vying for these spots and falling short, failure can mean the death of a lifelong dream. Of course, most athletes enter the sport and their schooling years with the knowledge that come graduation day their time as competitive athletes is over. University athletes make up a special breed of individual. Those who can truly succeed as athletes and students find successes far beyond the competitive stage and the academic classroom.
Mariana Ashley is a freelance blogger who primarily writes about how online education and technology are transforming academia as we know it. Having spent a good portion of her professional career trying to reform high schools in East St. Louis, Mariana is particularly interested in how online colleges in Missouri make higher education a possibility for students of all backgrounds.Tagged in: Ashton Eaton, Breeja Larson, Liam Tancock, London 2012, olympics
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