On Saturday the gymnastics community experienced a shock wave when it was first widely reported that Russian gymnast Artur Dalaloyan had retired. Numerous news outlets quickly picked up the story only for it to later be discovered that no such retirement had occurred. In the end Artur Dalaloyan’s retirement had been nothing more than a false alarm.
The source of the confusion was Artur Dalaloyan himself who made a cryptic Instagram post describing how he made the decision to focus on his family and would no longer be training at the national center. The post had intended to announce a temporary setback, but was interpreted as a full scale retirement post.
The Rise of Cryptic Retirement Posts
The first reason I have for making this article is I want to emphasize that Dalaloyan deserves absolutely zero blame for the way events transpired. This particular incident was a long time coming and it was a question of “when” not “if” such a false-retirement storyline would emerge. The only question was which famous gymnast would be associated with in.
One of the benefits of social media is it has given athletes the ability to announce their retirement on their terms. Allowing athletes not only to choose the time of their retirement, but to craft the messages and the framing of it. Affording them the opportunity to describe what the sport means to them and to thank everyone who helped him or her along the way.
Even before the rise of social media it was a custom to lighten the mood by finding alternative ways to say “I am retiring.” The most famous example being “it is time to hang up my cleats” which athletes in other sports have since adopted. In boxing an athlete would say “gloves” while in gymnastics the answer would be “grips” or “leotard.”
But in recent years, and with social media helping to fuel this trend, the tactic has exploded. It has gotten to the point where it is nearly impossible to distinguish a true retirement post and it is not until the athlete in question remains silent after the story is being shared by major media outlets that it is safe to assume that’s how the post should be interpreted. Only seven days prior American gymnast Laura Zeng announced her retirement on Instagram, but at no point did she ever use the word “retirement” in a three paragraph post.
This isn’t a criticism as to how athletes in the past have announced their retirement, only a commentary of the nature of these announcements and why Artur Dalaloyan’s message was interpreted as such. For years the media has gambled on these cryptic social media posts knowing the goal of being the first to break the story is more important than obtaining total confirmation. The media gets away with it because most of the time, the general assumption is the right assumption. That was until Artur Dalaloyan.
Lastly, it is perfectly understandable why athletes have this tendency to make cryptic retirement posts. It has not only become a cultural norm, but elite level athletes are by nature, non-quitters. They reach the level they obtained by powering through the difficult moments that force lesser athletes out of contention. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that athletes avoid terminology that is synonymous with quitting.
The Difficulty of Being a Family Man
But the story of Artur Dalaloyan’s faux retirement raises another point that is often overlooked. That being, the difficulty athletes face when they are forced to balance their rigorous training schedule with being a young parent. Both tasks require a time commitment that is the equivalent to a full scale job, if not more.
Even under normal circumstances it is a difficult task. But Russia is currently experiencing a major wave of Covid-19 cases triggering protocols that force Dalaloyan to commit to zero family visits if he wants to maintain quarantine at the national training center. It is both a logistical and emotional strain to ask anyone to do that, let alone a relatively new parent with three young children. In one video Dalaloyan can be seen holding his daughter while she silently clutches on to him. Highlighting the impact a child feels when she goes an extended period of time without seeing a parent, and the guilt a parent will naturally feel when he realizes how significant the lost time has become.
Dalaloyan is a perennial fan favorite and this particular incident is a perfect demonstration as to why. He has always demonstrated what it means to do the right thing and Dalaloyan was thrust into a situation where he felt he had to choose between letting his family down or letting his country down. He chose “family first” and I hope everyone would agree that Dalaloyan made the right choice.
But that didn’t mean it was an easy decision to make and clearly Dalaloyan felt he had to explain to his fanbase why his athletic career is taking a slight detour with a changeup to his training location. The social media post that kicked off a firestorm was Artur’s way of demonstrating just how emotional this decision was for him. Artur Dalaloyan will be back training alongside his teammates in the future. They will be happy to see him, but I also know that will never let him hear the end of it as to how one could post the following to their social media account and not see how much it looked like a retirement post.