For two weeks in August every four years, top athletes from around the world come together to compete for glory, but it’s even a smaller group of athletes that can come back for a second or third run at the games. In women’s gymnastics, girls peak in their teens and rarely return for a second Olympic run. This year, two female gymnasts defied expectations and made the team USA for a second time, but with very different results. These women were Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. In 2012, Douglas became the first African American to win the all-around gold in London, while Raisman barely missed the all-around podium. This year, however, Raisman won two silver medals while Douglas went home with none. Part of the reason that the quadrennial format is so fun is that every Olympics there are new competitors that are made into household names.
But some athletes return as if age is not a factor. Uzbekistani gymnast Oksana Chusovitina is 41 years old, and at her seventh Olympics, she has been competing in Olympics for longer than every single other competitor has been alive. Swimmer Michael Phelps has been the top medal winner from the United States at every Olympics since 2004. When athletes come back year after year, it does not allow other athletes to shine. Swimmer Katie Ledecky won 4 gold medals, one silver, set a world record in the 800 meter freestyle, and dominated every single one of her competitors; yet, Phelps still got more airtime leading up to his events.
In 2012, all eyes focused on Missy Franklin as she snatched five medals as a high school Junior. This year, she missed the finals in both of her events. Hard work and talent only gets athletes so far, and luck plays a huge role. It is rare to maintain top physical shape for so many years. Phelps is something of an anomaly.
While making one Olympic team is an achievement of a lifetime, qualifying for more is a test of endurance. It is important to celebrate all of the athletes that have made it to the world’s biggest stage regardless of their results.