Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lessons learned from the Olympics

The Olympics are well behind us now, and after watching a number of the events over those two weeks I’ve been reflecting on what the experience must be like for the athletes who didn't win, or who didn't place as high as expected.

I’ve been an advocate here on Scale Model Soup for entering contests. In light of the Olympic experience, there are a few lessons we scale modelers might consider relative to our participation in contests so that we’re not completely dejected when we don’t win.

Sometimes you have a bad day

American skater Nathan Chen was expected to medal, but numerous stumbles in the short program ultimately put him in 17th place and kept him off the podium.

Lesson: Although the act of building a scale model doesn’t happen within the span of one to three minutes, I think we all know the experience of building a model that doesn’t reflect what we believe to be our true potential. Don’t let one or two shabby models diminish your confidence. Press on and build another model.

Even when you fall short you can still do great things

Speaking of Nathan Chen, even though he didn't medal, he was the first competitor to land five quadruple jumps in one program.

Lesson: Many of you have seen thousands of models over the years, either at contests or online, and a number of them are memorable to you. Did they win first place in their categories? Maybe; maybe not. If your model isn’t perfect — if a significant flaw kept it from winning — remember that it may be memorable to the contest attendees. Build something great and it will be remembered whether you win or not.

You can redeem yourself

Shaun White, who was widely regarded as the snowboarding king, had a disappointing experience at the 2014 Olympics, placing fourth in the halfpipe event. He redeemed himself in PyeongChang by winning gold.

Lesson: So you didn’t win first place in your favorite category? You made mistakes and the judges found them? Pick yourself up, learn how to improve, and try again. The good news is you don't have to wait four years!

The line between first and second place can be razor-thin

In the Alpine Skiing-Women's Super-G, the difference between Ester Ledecka’s gold medal and Anna Veith’s silver was just 1/100 of a second.

Lesson: I’ve judged in enough contests to know first-hand that the line between first place and second place (or second or third, or third and zilch) can come down to the most seemingly inconsequential item. If you fall short of where you hoped to be, remember that what the judges found might have been an incredibly small distinction between you and the guy who won. (Unfortunately in mosts contests you’ll almost never know just how close you came to winning.)

Comparing professional athletes to hobbyists isn’t really fair. Athletes invest much more time and money in their pursuit of gold, but I think we can learn something from the Olympics. If anything we can look to the Olympic Creed, which says in part:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.”

And so it is with scale model contests as well.


  1. The hardest competitor is the one living in your head. It sets the limits, do you allow it to push you and try to do better or take your model to a certain point and call it done. I have been judging for many years and in my experience the difference between not making the cut and getting into the winners circle might be just spending an extra 20 minutes or so to make sure that a wheel alignment,a tailplane seam, a slight silvered decal or misaligned ordnance is corrected, which will bring the model up to a higher level. A simple model true and square in building, alignment and finish can overwhelm a model loaded with every aftermarket item available if it has basic building flaws.