Olympic Champion swimmer Katinka Hosszú. Photo credit: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar @ Flickr.com
This quadrennial athletic competition has seen it’s share of controversy. In particular, it seems NBC Sports can’t stop tripping over it’s dick with all the sexist spin on the news. For his part, Sports Analyst Dan Hicks pointed out the “crucial” role that Olympic Record Breaker Hosszu’s coach played in her victory. He later defended that description of Shane Tusup, while apologizing for offending the audience.
No doubt, lots of champions owe their success to their coaches. Coaches represent an often decades-long brain trust of coaching and performing experience. Athletes have talent – and many possess a keen mind as well – but coaches focus those raw talents a young athlete has into a peak performer. And in the case of Katinka Hosszú and her boyfriend, insiders say that there really is a pretty specific dynamic that matters when telling Katrinka’s story.
But it strikes me that I can’t really give you the names of any coaches in Olympic sport at all. None, that is, except Martha and Bela Karolyi of Olympic Women’s Gymnastics fame. If you asked 100 Americans the names of three other Olympic coaches and the Karolyis, I think we know whom a majority would recognize.
I don’t know who Ryan Lochte’s coach is, nor Michael Phelps’. But I certainly know the athletes’ names for their gold-studded histories. Usain Bolt, I know. His coach, I do not.
What I’m getting at, here, is that sports media seems to possess a deep dependency on coaches when discussing women’s athletics generally. We know, for example, that Martha Karolyi is a “queen maker” in the US Women’s Gymnastics Team. Women do not automatically go to the Olympics or compete for any one metal simply because they can or because they scored the highest in Nationals.
Martha decides who goes and who stays. And in the process, we are treated to literally hours worth of collected video of Martha – sitting in the stands, no less – watching the gymnasts and presumably making her decisions.
If a similar decision making process happens on the US Men’s Gymnastics Team, I don’t know about it. And I have literally no idea whatsoever who the head coach of that team is. In fact, Google searching ‘us men’s olympic gymnastics “head coach”‘ returned the Wikipedia pages of Martha and Bela first, followed by a 2009 article naming Kevin Mazeika as the head coach of the men’s team. The fourth entry is finally a list of head coaches throughout the last decade or so, through which I can scroll to finally find my answer: Mark Williams.
So. Mark Williams.
I’m not sure if this is because the media can’t help of thinking of women athletes as silly girls who can’t be trusted with their own athletic careers, or if this is just an old, bad habit. It’s worth pointing out that “Women’s” gymnastics includes athletes barely over 16 years old. Regardless, perhaps if the media is seeking to avoid this kind of blow-up in the future, it ought better to focus on how it treats coaches in it’s storytelling than to any one blow-up.