Would you like some media training with that medal?

Soccer MedalIn recent days, the poor sportsmanship of a select few Olympic athletes has garnered significant media attention. For those following the games, it has been difficult to ignore pointed accusations of misconduct directed at Apolo Anton Ohno by South Korean speed skaters. Not to mention the recent additions to Evgeni Plushenko’s website which credit him as a platinum medal winner in the 2010 games – last I checked the accolades stopped at gold.

While one can feel a twinge of compassion for those who train their entire lives for the chance to compete for a gold medal and miss the mark, it’s difficult to dig deep and root for the troublemakers, poor sports and those looking to start a fight.

The politics and competitive spirit of the games aside, there seems to be a basic oversight in the Olympic training process –mandatory media training. And if these athletes have had media training, perhaps some have forgotten its purpose. At a minimum, they should revert to the lessons learned in preschool – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

My ranting and discontent aside, these instances illustrate a common problem – people who choose to engage in unproductive, petty disputes rather than consider how poorly these statements reflect upon them. So what can we learn from these athletes’ missteps?

  • The lessons learned in preschool still apply – if you can’t say anything nice (or constructive,) don’t say anything at all
  • Attacking the competition isn’t productive. It only reflects poorly on the person speaking
  • Learn from Evan Lysaceck’s response to Plushenko’s accusations – demonstrate camaraderie in the face of adversity and rise above the   petulance of your competition
  • Don’t comment for the sake of commenting. If you have a constructive contribution to make to the dialogue, speak up. Otherwise, well, you get the idea. . .
  • Placing blame doesn’t change the end result. No matter how many times Plushenko complains that an athlete who didn’t land a quad, shouldn’t win a medal, Lysaceck will still hold a gold and he, a silver.
  • Stick to the facts. Enough said.

As PR pros, we invest hours in media training our clients and preparing them for anticipated questions. While we can’t control what they say when the media opportunity arrives, we can cover our bases on the front end instead of having to run post-interview damage control every time. Perhaps all Olympic athletes should be required to attend media training sessions in conjunction with their sports training. It would reflect more positively upon each country’s contingent of competitors and avoid a swarm of media chasing the drama.

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  • I think your “lessons learned in preschool” point is quite valid and applies to more than just the unsportsmanlike Olympic athletes out there. I think it can apply to anything in life and business in general. Constructive criticism is one thing but there is a method to going about that.

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