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I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are continuing to try to strive to … (tight smile and long pause) … figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem and I think especially the men are seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so that we can solve this problem. Thank you." — Miss Utah
Ever screw up in the clutch and want to dissipate into thin air, just melt into a puddle and pour away through the nearest drain after what you did isn’t what you’d practiced to do or what you said isn’t what you meant to say? Ever had a complete disconnect between brain and body or mind and mouth?
Yeah, you have. We all have.
The reason: We’re human.
It happens to all kinds of people in all walks of life. It happens to athletes. It happens to politicians. It happens to students. It happens to beauty queens. Sooner or later, it happens to everybody.
Hopefully, for you, it doesn’t — or didn’t — happen in front of network cameras with millions of people watching on televisions from coast to coast and beyond. That’s the burden now carried by Salt Lake City’s own Marissa Powell, who after absolutely killing it throughout, for one brief moment lost her focus at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas on Sunday night, as a last question was posed to her in the competition’s final round.
She’s now the Scott Norwood of beauty contestants. She went way wide right. She’s to Miss USA what Phil Mickelson is to the U.S. Open. She did something worse than not win it — she lost it. Don’t know if you watched the pageant, but Marissa was the most beautiful of the beautiful, the most stunning of the stunning. She had that thing won. Bam. Bam. Bam. She had answered her previous questions with thought and poise because … well, she’s a smart woman. She was voted most photogenic of the 51 hopefuls because … well, pictures don’t lie.
And then … boom.
She forgot what a lot of athletes forget — to completely dial in on the present, not on anything in the past or the consequences in the future. She missed the question, the here and now, which essentially was about society and the difference in pay between working men and women. Under most circumstances, that inquiry was a hanging curve Powell easily could have hammered into the left-field bleachers.
But in this case, early in the delivery, she lost sight of the ball, and whiffed.
Time for a disclaimer here: Marissa Powell is a family friend. She’s known my daughter for years. In fact, my wife and I were in attendance at the pageant’s preliminary round Wednesday night in Vegas to cheer her on. My daughter talked to her by phone a few hours before Sunday night’s final. She comes from a great family and here’s the deal: She’s a bright, articulate kid.
The opposite of what she represented in that weak moment on the stage at Planet Hollywood, clips of which have gone viral.
It reminded me that Phil Mickelson isn’t a clumsy, lousy golfer just because he couldn’t come through in the final round at Merion, even though he had the lead going in, before shooting a 74 on Sunday, and finishing second at the U.S. Open for the sixth time in his career, against zero victories. Norwood missed that infamous field goal that decided the Super Bowl more than two decades ago, and he was a terrific kicker.
So, what gives?
I’ve asked a bevy of experts and eggheads that question through the years, and, it turns out, when high-profile performers gag in the spotlight, it’s for the same reasons you and I mess up when we’re under pressure, at an important business meeting or behind the wheel when a couch suddenly flies off the back of a truck in the fast lane in front of you.
It’s a psychological/physiological response.
When we get uptight in a rush, it triggers a release of adrenaline that spills through the body. A sympathetic discharge fires out of the brain and blasts billions of nerve messages down the spinal cord into glands, organs and muscles. From there, precise movements and thought processes can get all fouled up.
That’s why great golfers miss short birdie putts at major championships, why accurate shooters miss free throws in the NBA Finals, why an intelligent beauty talks about creating education better.
I’ve spoken with hundreds of athletes about this phenomenon, and they’re very aware of it. They try to fight it. In big situations, it’s always there, lingering nearby. If they fall victim to it, they hope for more chances to show what they can do.
Maybe Marissa will get that chance, too. Not for the Miss USA crown — that’s gone — but with all the attention that’s come to her in the past 24 hours — including national television shows inviting her to make appearances — she could get a boost to her young modeling and singing career. Viewers will see that she really is beautiful and bright, and personable, as well.
She choked in the clutch on Sunday night. But, just like a lot of talented athletes on the biggest sports stages have learned, you can’t choke unless you’ve already been great enough to put yourself in a position to win.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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