U.S. athletes could use a dose of patriotism PR

Olympians didn’t focus enough on country pride during press interviews.

Olympians didn’t focus enough on country pride during press interviews

A month or so before the Winter Olympics, I wrote an article commenting that U.S. athletes didn’t fully embrace their audience, as evidenced by their lack of patriotic soundbites.

Now that the Olympics are over, and the U.S. was tops in the medals count, I am sad to report that, with a very few exceptions, the athletes’ patriotism never did shine through. And lots of people noticed.

Based on what I saw, throughout the Olympics, U.S. athletes talked about themselves. It was a rare moment to hear them talk about their pride in representing the United States. The media, on the other hand, constantly talked about individuals as part of the “U.S. Olympic team.” And what do the fans chant? “U-S-A…U-S-A…!!”

One person who did relate to the audience (to applause when she said it no less) was ice dancing Silver medal winner Meryl Davis. She talked about how proud she was to win representing the United States.

Speedskater Katherine Reutter “wrapped herself in the flag” as she talked about sleeping with the American flag after winning her medal.

Speedskater Chad Hedrick said after he and Shani Davis were on the medal podium together, “It makes you a little more excited to see two Americans up on that podium.”

Unfortunately, far more common were comments like those from skater Evan Lysacek. When asked how he felt during the national anthem, he said he felt great because “they were playing it for me.”

Skier Lindsey Vonn, Speedskaters Shani Davis and Apolo Ohno were interviewed many times. In the several interviews I saw, they never talked about country, only themselves. Over and over, it was “me, me, me.”

“This is everything I’ve worked my whole life for and I knew that in the starting gate,” Vonn said.

“It’s my moment. It’s my party,” Davis said. One time, Davis was interviewed for nine-and-a half minutes and never mentioned anything about representing the United States.

“I would love to medal again,” said Ohno, who never referred to representing the U.S. in any interview I saw over 16 days.

To Ohno’s credit, when he appeared on “The Jay Leno Show” on March 3rd following the Olympics, at the end of an eight-minute interview, he nailed what should have been a theme for all our athletes throughout the Games.

“It’s an honor to go and compete for your country at the Olympic Games. Obviously, I’m competing for myself… At the same time, the USA is sending me to go represent the best that we have and I want to make sure I give my heart and soul.”

Of course, our athletes have a right to be proud of their accomplishments. That said, they should also talk about representing the country. That might make them even more successful, maybe even with their sponsors, and certainly in the hearts of their fellow citizens.

The Canadian athletes, on the other hand, were all about their country. After Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal against the United States in the hockey final, he talked about his accomplishment being the dream of a Canadian boy. Not just a “boy.” He made sure the Canada reference was in his answer.

I was interviewed about this on a talk radio station. The host agreed with my theory and suggested maybe that was why, despite watching the Olympics, no athlete endeared him enough to follow.

At a media training seminar on March 3, with 50 people in attendance, there was much nodding in agreement that it was too much “me” and not enough “country.”

Who is at fault? Is it poor media training? Perhaps.

But this starts with the U.S. Olympic Committee. They need to convey an attitude of caring about country to the athletes. They must remind them they are part of the United States team. If it starts at the top, it could percolate throughout the organization.

The next Olympics is in two years. Let’s hope they get the message.

Tripp Frohlichstein is founder of MediaMasters Inc. His firm specializes in media and presentation coaching, along with message development and message mapping. Contact him at www.mediamasterstraining.com or e-mail tr3@aol.com.

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