Performing under pressure

Performing under pressure

By Jeremy Opperman

March 2022  

Like countless others, I watch, read and listen to the impotent and morbid fascination of the horrors unfolding in Ukraine.

But one rather different interview caught my ear while listening to the BBC.

It was the manager of the Ukrainian winter para Olympic team, still competing in Beijing. Speaking in excellent English, with exhausted clarity and indelible sadness etched into every syllable, he tried to articulate how the team was feeling about their country literally disintegrating in their absence.

Far beyond the incredulity and outrage at the atrocity of the invasion and war itself, was the equally incredulous notion that they simply could not return to their homeland. Knowing that for many if not most of the team, comprising athletes, coaches, doctors, and many fans and support staff, their homes would in all probability, not exist any longer.

In fact, how would they even know?

Which made me think about performance under pressure. Most world-class athletes perform under pressure, of course, the pressure of a tough opponent, an old injury, a hostile crowd, poor weather; you know what I mean.

But how many athletes have to perform while knowing that their country, city, town, village, suburb, or homes are literally being devastated at exactly the moment they are supposed to be performing.

I was trying to think of an analogy of what that must be like but realised that no analogy could do it justice.

And, amazingly, their performance is unquestionably excellent as they ranked second in the competition.

Spare a thought for those athletes, exclude the others in their entourage from the equation if you will, for the moment.

Every one of those para Olympians have significant disabilities.

They will have, a visual or hearing or physical or psychosocial impairment of some kind.

Notwithstanding their levels of independence, every one of them will have known and needed major support back home, rehab services, schools, accessible transport, assistive devices, prosthetics, technology, and service animals not to mention loving, encouraging teaching human support.

Consider just for a minute, what they will be going through when they leave Beijing after the conclusion of the Winter Para Olympic on March 13.

They won't be returning at all.

They will all, without exception, be going somewhere strange.

Hungary? Poland? they don’t even know yet.    

Frankly, it is almost too hard to bear thinking about, but we must. 

Jeremy Opperman is a Diversity practitioner and disability equity analyst.


Member of Rotary International Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) taskforce.