For centuries, no sporting event has brought more nations together on a platform bigger than the Olympic Games. Millions of people around the world watch closely every two years as athletes from over 90 countries compete in over 100 events.
Avid sports fans are familiar with the allure of being a professional athlete, chasing lucrative contracts, endorsement deals, championships and fame. The Olympic Games offer a change of pace as many athletes we watch become elite in their sport while balancing an entirely separate, “normal” life at the same time.
I’ve always been intrigued by how the Olympic Games can turn otherwise unknown athletes into national icons. Canadian athletes from Moose Jaw, Toronto and Victoria will leave their backgrounds in education, engineering, public policy and more to showcase their athletic abilities in South Korea.
For two weeks, it’s as if nothing is more unanimous than the support for our Canadian athletes. I’ll unquestionably cheer for Canadians in any event they participate in, but I often crave to know more about these people that I am supporting.
The Olympics are even more fascinating to watch as a communications professional, because the lead up to the Games are a tremendous example of the power of storytelling. Whether or not athletes make the podium, they certainly make headlines with powerful, touching narratives that compel global audiences to engage with their story.
I can’t help but think of my Canadian hometown hero: Denny Morrison. As an athlete, Morrison is recognized as one of Canada’s most successful speed skaters. He won silver in the 1000m and bronze in the 1500m at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. Morrison also held the world record time in the 1500m for just under a year.
Even off the ice, Morrison is recognized as man of incredible resiliency. Morrison simply qualifying for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games is a huge accomplishment. In 2015 he suffered a fractured femur, punctured lungs, internal bruising and a concussion from a motorcycle accident. Morrison would face another brush with death less than a year afterwards when he suffered a stroke.
So why is his story such a great one, and one that all communicators can learn from?
It’s a story arc that every person, athlete or not, can emotionally relate to. We all have a story like Denny’s, even if it’s at different points – achieving an important goal, suffering a serious injury, pushing through a major setback, or watching hard work pay off.
So although Denny competed at Pyeongchang 2018 and was not able to secure a place on the podium, it’s the story of his resiliency and successful return to speed skating that made it impossible not to cheer for him. Denny Morrison is a champion to Canadians because of the adversity he overcame.
If you have also caught “Olympic fever” and are interested in speaking with me more about the Games and the power of narrative, get in touch with Connor Doane in the NATIONAL Calgary office.
Written by Connor Doane, intern at NATIONAL’s Calgary office