Life After The Closing Ceremonies
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are well underway. Over the course of 16 days and wrapping up on February 25, 2,952 athletes will have faced off in 102 events across 15 different sports. For a little over two weeks, Pyeongchang is the sports capital of the world, but what happens to all these athletes after the closing ceremony?
Red Gerard made headlines early on in the Games after he won the first gold medal for the United States in the slopestyle event for men’s snowboarding. The 17-year-old is also competing in the men’s big air event, which is in its first year as an Olympic event. After making a name for himself in Pyeongchang, he will likely headline the USA’s snowboarding team in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as a Olympic veteran at the ripe old age of 21.
On the other end of the spectrum is Lindsey Vonn, one of the United States’ most famous Olympians. The 33-year-old skier became the oldest female medalist in Alpine skiing at the Winter Games when she won bronze. She has been vocal about this being her last Olympics as she has had her fair share of injuries throughout her career as both a world champion and four-time Olympian. She has set herself up for a prosperous career after her competition days are over, thanks to endorsement deals and other professional opportunities, but what about the thousands of other competitors who might not be as fortunate?
An article by Linda Flanagan for The Atlantic highlighted the career progression of former Olympic figure skater Rachel Flatt. A former United States national champion, she finished seventh in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver as a high school senior. Not only was she a highly accomplished figure skater, but she was also an academically gifted student. Although she missed three months of classes due to the Olympics and her subsequent training regimen, she finished high school on time and enrolled at Stanford. Some of the most disciplined individuals are student-athletes, as they have to maintain a certain GPA in addition to balancing practice and training schedules for their sport which leads to them being well-rounded individuals, and great future employees. Flatt was no different, maintaining a training schedule of eight hours a day and still graduating in four years.
Upon retiring from skating in 2014, Flatt experienced a feeling of “now what” and being lost – just as many athletes do. To sum up her thoughts, Flatt told Flanagan that “Once they’ve [Olympians] retired, athletes can feel like they’re an afterthought. If you don’t have an education or training to guide you, you’re kind of out of luck.” Flatt is not alone in terms of feeling lost in terms of life after sports. According to USOC surveys of former Olympic and elite athletes, 38 percent said they were mentally unprepared to end their athletic careers; 16 percent of those currently competing have done any second career/life after sports planning; and, 43 percent of retired athletes found entering the workforce difficult.
A Solution – ACE
To combat this, the United States Olympic Committee has adopted the Athlete Career Education (ACE) program. Under ACE, the USOC provides “current and retired Team USA athletes with career, education and life skills resources to support athletic performance goals, facilitate successful transition to post-elite competition careers and inspire long-term positive engagement with the Olympic/Paralympic movement.”
While thousands of athletes are on the world-stage for these two weeks, often times after the closing ceremony they are almost forgotten until reemerging four years later at the next Olympics. After training for years and hopefully accomplishing the goal of winning a medal, when it is over, there is certainly an emotional toll. Although athletes are resilient and adaptable, transitioning to a life after competition is usually one of the most difficult challenges they face. Thanks to resources such as ACE and the VIKTRE Career Network, athletes do not have to feel lost once the Olympic flame goes out.