Aly Raisman & other Olympians share their #fails

Sure, maybe you can’t vault a pole or turn a somersault or even a swim a lap. But did you know that Aly Raisman can’t SNAP?

Left: gymnast Aly Raisman and right: shot-putter Michelle Carter, Olympic athletes competing for Team USA. NBC Olympics 

All this week, you’ve seen the gold-winning performances and epic, world record–beating feats of athletic greatness: Simone Biles effortlessly tumbling toward gold, and Katie Ledecky zooming through the water. Perhaps you’ve felt a little well, unaccomplished, as you sit on your couch with a glass of wine watching world-class athletes dive, and twist and lift nine million pounds of weight. For some of us, Olympians inspire us to kick up our treadmills a notch, but for most of us, we probably just say, “Wow,” and pour ourselves another glass of wine.

But did you know that Team USA gymnast and gold and silver medal-winning superstar, Aly Raisman, can’t snap? She may be the second best all-around gymnast in the world, but I bet you’ve got her beat on that one. And she also can’t whistle … or even curl her tongue? (Chin up, Aly, that’s genetics at work, so you really can’t blame yourself). In short: she can carry the USA to gold, but she can’t carry a whistling tune. There’s something kind of sweet about that.

According to a segment on, a lot of our American athletes are, well, flawed. In the silliest of ways. Making them just like us.

Running track and keeping track aren’t the same thing

Track and field star Ashton Eaton, for example, is a world-record decathlete, which means he’s a man who can compete in ten different track and field events and win. But he admits that he can’t keep track of his own car keys to save his life. I know what you’re thinking: big deal, sometimes I forget where I put my entire purse. But he doesn’t just leave them in the pocket of yesterday’s pants, he leaves them locked inside the vehicle … while it’s still running. And he’s does this so often, in fact, that he’s on a first-name basis with the local locksmith.

Ashton Eaton running the 400m race in Beijing, 2015

Ashton Eaton running the 400m race in Beijing, 2015. Wang Zhao | AFP | Getty

I happen to be the world record holder for hitting the grocery checkout with hundreds of dollars’ worth of groceries, only to realize I left my wallet at home. Which makes me feel that much closer to Ashton. Man, I’ve been there.

Leave this guy in the water

Other Olympians have deplorable golf skills, like Tyler Clary, a Team USA swimmer who comes to Rio with a gold medal from the 2012 Olympics­, who calls himself a “comedically bad” golfer. He also can’t put a basketball in a net … even when he’s shooting hoops on a kid-sized Fisher Price set. Sometimes we just assume that athletic people are athletic in all ways, but Clary admits he’s like a fish out of water when it comes to sports on dry land.

Or consider Jenny Simpson, the wildly zippy middle distance track star who can’t sink anything but the cue ball on a pool table. Having room for improvement seems to be an Olympic theme for these athletes. They are impatient and forgetful, they are introverted and, as Michelle Carter, world-class shot putter, put it, “surprisingly not athletic.”

It sounds like something a teacher once wrote on my gym report card, but it’s nice to hear it said out loud by an Olympian. Some of us never learned how to come to a complete stop when roller skating without the aid of a substantial obstacle to cling on to (or, you know, a tree that got in the way). Some of us can curl our tongues, sure, but we can’t make the “live long and prosper” hand sign from Star Trek. Others are klutzy in life, but elegant when drawing on paper.

What’s so great about being well-rounded, anyway?

So why do we care when a gold medalist tells us they are the world’s worst chef or forgetful as a goldfish? Because It’s a nice reminder that, Olympian or not, no one is a perfectly well-rounded human being. There’s nothing wrong with admitting our shortcomings and playing to our strengths. All of us are medal winners in one way or another, whether you’re one of the best athletes in the wide world, or you’re the least put-together mom on the soccer field.

If you’re ever feeling like a loser, try to remember what Tyler Clary said when he was first asked for his flaws: “Who keeps a list of what they’re bad at?” So shrug off those less-than-perfect days by keeping track of your accomplishments, however small. And say to yourself: Hey, somewhere out there is a medal-winning athlete who is still working on a skill that I mastered in the third grade.

Nicole Leigh Shaw
Nicole Leigh Shaw

Nicole Leigh Shaw, a former newspaper journalist, has been moving through all the metamorphic stages of the modern writer, except “tortured novelist.” Soon she’ll emerge as a butterfly or a vlogger. She writes for, and others, and has contributed to five anthologies, including the New York Times’ bestseller “I Just Want to Pee Alone.” She has four kids, two dogs and one husband.

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