Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Olympic Bold

Trisha Hannon Smith

Since the Aug. 5 opening ceremony, I and many other Americans have spent countless hours glued to televisions and Twitter accounts following the 2016 Summer Olympics. If viewers were eligible for medal consideration, I would surely receive gold in staying up too late, crying with the athletes and parents (those “Thanks, Mom” moments are going to be the end of me) and celebrating the accomplishments of countries winning their first medals, such as the Fiji Rugby team.

As I write this, Simone Manuel just made Olympic history, tying for gold in the 100m freestyle and setting an Olympic record. She is celebrated for becoming the first U.S. African-American woman to win an individual medal for swimming, and I find myself sharing a sliver of her emotional journey.  I choke up watching her try to explain to reporters what she is feeling, struggling to say, “I am blessed.”

This has been a blessed time for many Olympic athletes.  Our native daughter Lilly King brought fame to Evansville with her finger-wagging, audacious manner that was completely backed up by a gold medal winning race.

King became a worldwide sensation after criticizing Russia’s Yulia Efimova for being a drug cheat in an NBC interview Aug. 7. After her semifinal swim, King said of Efimova: "You're shaking your finger 'No. 1' and you've been caught for drug cheating? I'm just not a fan."

She later told reporters: “I’m not just this sweet little girl. … If I do need to stir it up to put a little fire under my butt or anybody else’s, then that’s what I’m going to do." King took gold; Efimova finished just behind her for the silver.

Lilly King has been described as brash and outspoken. The question remains, does the description pose a positive or negative connotation? “My parents raised me to say what I wanted to say even if it wasn’t necessarily what people wanted to hear. It’s always been how I am and I’ll stick to my guns,” said King. When one reporter called her “the sweetheart of swimming,” her father quickly replied that he wouldn’t use the word sweetheart to describe her.

There has been a fair share of backlash, with reporters criticizing King for unsportsmanlike conduct. I’m sure by the time this is published the story will further evolve with more players sounding off. But for now, King represents to women that their role does not always have to be that of a passive “sweetheart.”  Perhaps Saints Quiteria and Joan of Arc would applaud her efforts.

Pope Francis, at his Aug. 3 general audience held at St. Peter’s Square, offered his hopes that the athletes will earn something more precious than a medal: tolerance and recognition that we are one family, regardless of differences of religion, skin color or culture.

"In a world thirsting for peace, tolerance, and reconciliation, I hope that the spirit of the Olympic Games inspires all - participants and spectators - to 'fight the good fight'," he said.

I believe that for Lilly King, the “good fight” was standing up for what she felt was right. At the beginning of the games athletes and coaches take an “Olympic Oath” to respect and abide the rules, to play fair and not cheat. Clearly King felt that the rules had been bent.  She did not seek the spotlight, but it was thrust upon her and she took the opportunity to share her opinions.

Right or wrong, King has demonstrated to the world that a woman does not have to mold herself into anything other than what God has created her to be. God has clearly bestowed talent upon her, which she has developed with dedication and passion.  

And from one not-so-sweet little girl to another, you go Lilly King.