The news is reported by Outside: the American Molly Seidel, marathon bronze medalist at the 2020(1) Tokyo Olympics, for years able to gather around her and thanks to her great communication skills a considerable following (220,000 followers on Instagram and 68,000 on Strava) has decided to make her profile on the tracking platform private.
As you know, Strava allows you to collect and share not only the parameters of your runs but also the routes you take. Unfortunately, it is almost inevitable that a public figure as open and helpful as she was could run into some unpleasantness. This is not to say that this is to be expected, mind you: the runner community is respectful and decidedly healthy compared to many others, yet in the large numbers unfortunately lurk unsavory characters.
Seidel did not go into specific details but only hinted that something convinced her to stop being so transparent about her workouts, especially regarding the routes she usually covers.
Strava had already unintentionally made headlines years ago when its use by soldiers deployed in war scenarios revealed the perimeters of several military bases around or within which they ran. Again, there was no responsibility on the part of the American app-which has 95 million users in 195 countries-but only too light use on the part of some of its users who did not realize the use that could be made of the data they make publicly available. In other cases, however, its use deliberately has much more entertaining outcomes, collected by a site that is responsible for archiving and displaying “drawings” made by tracing runs on paths that turn out to be sometimes complicated and stupendous works of art.
Regarding the Seidel affair, Strava issued a statement saying that it fully understands the position of the American marathon runner, while at the same time recalling that the app allows different levels of privacy protection (up to the most stringent, i.e., the totally private profile): one can in fact not declare the starting and finishing points of a race or omit the toponymy of certain places, up to making it a simple and personal diary of one’s athletic feats.
The pressure on athletes
Beyond individual cases, there is no question that the “socialization” of the lives of athletes who choose to share their exploits with their fans comes at a psychological cost that in the most extreme cases borders on fear for their safety. By publicly declaring how they train, athletes also put their performance on the public stage, exposing themselves to criticism-even fierce criticism-when they do not perform optimally, especially in competition.
To the disappointment of a poor race performance is then added the psychological burden of having to endure attacks and criticism from strangers (frustrated wretches, may we say?) who are eager to find an athlete in trouble in order to rage.
It is true that in an athlete’s endurance endowment there is also psychological endowment, but it is equally true that it is normally used in competition and preparation, not in handling unsubstantiated and informed yet annoying or painful criticism.
As always, it is a matter of education and responsibility in the use of the tools that technology makes available: it is not the technology that is wrong but the way you use it that can do harm.