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06th Aug 2021

Why Piers Morgan is so wrong about bronze – regards, Team GB!

Charlie Herbert

Team GB bronze medallists

Olympic glory doesn’t have to mean gold – Team GB athletes speak out amid social media storm around silver and bronze medals

Real sporting champions “don’t celebrate coming third” – so says, Piers Morgan.

That’s the drum the broadcaster has been beating since the Olympics got underway. And, not for the first time, he’s completely wrong. Even legendary sprinter, Michael Johnson, says so. 

“Don’t listen to people whose only sport is stirring up sh*t.,” the sprinter sensation tweeted in response to Morgan’s sour-sporting sentiment.

Putting aside Team GB boxer Ben Whittaker’s sulky display on Wednesday – he pocketed his silver medal, rather than putting it on – not winning gold doesn’t take the shine off the Olympics for most athletes. In fact, it is a “dream come true”.

“It’s the pinnacle of sport, you’ve got to be an amazing athlete to get there. So, anyone that’s getting there, that’s an achievement in itself and something to be really proud of.”

Tony Jeffries, who won bronze in the boxing light-heavyweight division at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, looks back at the achievement with pride.

“It meant the world,” he said.

“Obviously, I wanted the gold medal but I settled with a bronze because it’s so hard to get to an Olympics, it really is. Anyone who gets to an Olympics and doesn’t come back with a medal, they’ve got that Olympian status for the rest of their life.

Jeffries continued: “It’s the pinnacle of sport, you’ve got to be an amazing athlete to get there. So, anyone that’s getting there, that’s an achievement in itself and something to be really really proud of.

“Then to come away with a medal is unbelievable. It means you’re the best of the best no matter what colour the medal is.”

The ex-boxer spent eight years training to get to the games. Just qualifying for Beijing was “unbelievable”. The medal, the “icing on the cake”.

But, was he gutted at the time? With losing in the semi and missing out on a shot at gold glory?

“I was obviously wanting to get the gold medal, but coming third in the Olympics was a dream come true,” he told JOE.

“Because you need a little luck as well, I could have been drawn against the champion in the first fight and not come away with any medal, and I understand that.

“I went into the games with a cracked rib, I was getting anaesthetic injected into my ribs before each fight, so I kind of did exceed what I was expecting because I went in there injured.”

The significance of securing a medal is not lost on Jeffries. He’s made a career off the back of it, now coaching in LA.

“It’s changed my life. I remember before the Olympics, during training for the qualifiers our performance director used to say ‘if you go to the Olympics your life will never be the same again’.

“And I didn’t really understand that until I got back and came back with a medal. No matter who I’m with, I’m known for that.

“It’s the pinnacle of my life. It’s an unbelievable achievement that I’m so proud of and my family is.

“Even to this day, I benefit from having that medal. I’m out here in LA and opportunities are coming my way. It’s really changed my life for the better.”

‘Everyone goes to the Olympics wanting to win gold’

Sarah Stevenson MBE made history in 2008  by becoming the first-ever British athlete to win a taekwondo medal, clearing the mat for the success that has followed for Team GB in the sport. At Tokyo, the team has won two silver and a bronze, narrowly missing out on gold, something Jade Jones achieved 2012 and 2016.

At the Beijing games, Stevenson’s gaze was fixed on securing gold. This, she told JOE, is the mindset of every athlete, but so is the resilience to bounce back when things don’t go to plan. Stevenson placed third.

“At the time it was hard because the way that I got the medal was quite controversial and it wasn’t what I wanted,” she said.

“And that’s the point for me, everyone goes to the Olympics wanting to win gold. What is the point if you’re happy to lose? We’re going to win, we’ve got that gold medal-winning mindset before we even go.

“And if you think about what sort of person you could be by having that mindset for the rest of your life, it’s amazing. Elite athletes are incredible people because they have that winning mindset.”

And that mindset helps them stay in the game, long after the sour taste of defeat fades.

“We do everything to get that gold medal, and for me, it didn’t happen and it hurt. But we bounce back and again that shows that resilience we have as human beings because I wanted to go again.”

Just like Jeffries, Stevenson is “massively proud” of her medal, not to mention the lasting impact it had on her sport.

“It took a while, because I wanted gold, but I am hugely proud because how many people can say they’ve got one.

“It was the first [medal] for GB in my sport. Sometimes bronze and silvers are stepping stones for other athletes. If you look at the people that have won medals in taekwondo I was the first, then we got a gold, then a gold and a bronze [in 2012], then a gold, a silver and a bronze [in 2016]. Then this time we’ve got two new people winning medals.

“Would it have made a difference if I’d won a gold instead of a bronze? Probably not, it was just the fact that we got more funding that enabled people to grow the sport and get more people involved… Everyone goes there for gold and it’s the mindset that’s important.”

She continued: “For me, Beijing was probably the time for me to get gold, I was good enough.

“But even if I was the best on the day in Beijing, and I believe I was, it doesn’t always go your way. It does hurt when you don’t get to the point you want to.

“The bigger picture is what happens next. So the bronze hurt, but from then I went on two years later to win the World Championships, I got an MBE, and I can say to me kids ‘look, this happened, but I bounced back.'”

Stevenson urges armchair critics to be more appreciative of the effort it takes for athletes to get to the Games. In 2012, she lost both of her parents to cancer. The same year, she lost in the first round in London. She was incredibly proud just to have made it.

“When someone says ‘oh you were shit in London, you lost (the) first match,’ I’m like ‘do you know what it took for me to get there?’ I don’t know how I even got to that Games.

“I did that, not just for me, but for anyone that was going through the things I was. That’s what Olympic sport does, everyone has a story that someone can relate to and be inspired by.

“For people to come out and criticise those that miss out on medals or gold, at what is the worst moment in their life, it’s sad.”

Stevenson continues: “The athlete is going through the worst time of their life when they fall short and for people to create a storm around them is sad. I dread to think if something bad happened to the athletes that are getting criticised for not performing. There can be a real sour ending to some post-athletic careers because of mental health. For it to be publicised by someone like Piers Morgan is scary and makes me so sad.

“We don’t need to dig in. Yes, we are disappointed for not winning. Yes, we all want a gold but it’s about what we do for the public. We inspire a nation to go ‘I want to do taekwondo now.’

“Whether we got gold or not, people are still going to join in because they watched it…. That’s more important than anything.”

A message to the critics

So if Stevenson and Jeffries could say one thing to those who think a bronze is nothing to be celebrated, what would it be?

Jeffries pulled no punches: “If Piers Morgan was here now and said that to my face [that bronze shouldn’t be celebrated], I’d say ‘mate listen you’re a silly c**t who hasn’t got a clue what they’re talking about!’

“Because he doesn’t understand. If it was someone like Usain Bolt or Chris Hoy then it would be more significant. But it’s not because they know the work that athletes put in to getting to the Olympics.

“The thing is in athletics for example there could be a matter of milliseconds between a gold medal and not getting a medal. In boxing it could be one judge not seeing a punch land that could be the difference. It’s that close. So that’s why I take it [what he says] with a pinch of salt.

“When it’s a journalist who loves attention, who is saying stuff to get a rise out of people, who is known for being controversial, you laugh at it.”

Related links:

Michael Johnson shuts down Piers Morgan in Olympic medal debate

Tokyo Olympics: Mills and McIntyre secure GB’s 14th gold medal

This is how Team GB is doing at Tokyo compared to Rio and London

Team GB boxer criticised for refusing to wear silver medal and ‘sulking on podium’

Stevenson echoes these sentiments but also wishes people would consider the effort and dedication that goes into an athlete’s Olympic journey, beyond the two or three days of competition every four years.

“For taekwondo, it’s one day every four years to make your dreams come true. If that doesn’t happen do you think that that person needs criticising for not winning that gold? That one day comes before everything else for the athlete. It comes before your family, your friends, everything.

“Not everyone is going to get that gold, but shouldn’t we be celebrating that journey to get there rather than what the outcome is all the time? That’s what makes Olympians the most amazing human beings, not the medal.

“Just think of how all these Olympic athletes can help other people by sharing their stories of struggle and loss. We should be celebrating their journeys.”