What is This Thing Called Winning Anyway?: A Column By Lee Waldman
by Lee Waldman
I love watching the Olympics. The thrill of victory … You know the rest. This year, however, a new dimension has been added. Daily controversy, daily drama. Besides the daily examples of athleticism, we’ve also been treated to reoccurring instances of athletes shooting themselves in the foot. Each day something happens or something that’s said that causes me to shake my head in disbelief and then ask myself, “What were they thinking?” Am I missing something here or have the athletes and the media gone completely crazy? Let’s take it one ridiculous incident at a time. I need some help balancing out my love of the competition and my astonishment at the bizarre behavior.
First on my list is athletes who are stupid enough to post racial slurs on Twitter accounts. Slip up number one: the comments made by Vola Papachristou, the Greek triple jumper, commenting on African immigrants. When I heard about it I knew that, yes, there are imbeciles everywhere. I thought it was just an isolated incident at the time. But then it happened again! Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella denigrating South Korean footballers. What could they have been thinking posting offensive comments on Twitter? Did they actually think that no one would be bothered? They both posted apologies, but they should never have had posted in the first place! What ever happened to restraint, respect and common decency? In this age of instant communication, there is virtually nothing that we can say that won’t be broadcast to the rest of the world immediately. Which is exactly why I don’t have a Twitter account and why I rarely, if ever, am on Facebook. I wholeheartedly will defend a person’s right to be an idiot, but not to do it in such a way as to damage other people’s self esteem.
Today, as I rolled out to punish myself with 12 minute LT intervals, I heard about the badminton scandal. It seems that eight athletes from China, Korea and Indonesia decided to “soft pedal,” if you will, to insure an easier path to a potential medal. I can’t imagine ever sandbagging, but I live in a different world than these “world class” athletes I guess. I’m left with the question that I know I’ve asked before in this column: isn’t sport about challenging yourself to be the best? Yes, we all love to win, but I know that I couldn’t live with myself if the manner in which I won was tantamount to cheating.
As reprehensible as those actions were though, what has bothered me the most has been the lack of respect that the media has shown to any athlete who isn’t “good enough” to medal. Take Michael Phelps as a perfect example. Here’s a guy who is now the most decorated Olympian ever, yet the press seems to think it’s at least as important to focus on the events where he only finishes fourth. It diminishes the accomplishment of simply making it onto the Olympic Team. How many of us are good enough at anything to even go to the Olympics, let alone make it to an event final, let alone place in the top five? I’d give my right leg to be half that good.
In less than six weeks we’ll all be racing cyclocross again. Some of us will win a few races. Some of us will win a lot of races. All of us will race and all of us will win that internal battle and push through the pain. Are we “less” because we rarely, if ever, stand on any step of the podium? I think you all know what my answer is. Absolutely not!
I suggest that we begin to place as much importance on the journey as we do on the destination. Every athlete who lines up to compete in any event at any time and in any place should be allowed to feel pride. And they might, if our society did not place such a premium on winning. I suggest that we might want to start redefining what winning means. It’s not, in my humble opinion, just about standing on the top step of the podium.
Accomplishments in sport, any sport including cyclocross is incredibly difficult. We’re all painfully familiar with the blood, sweat and tears that go into preparing and competing. I, for one, refuse to accept that because I have not yet stood on the podium at Nationals that I’m not a winner.
My hope for all of us this year, myself included because I also struggle with minimizing my accomplishments, is that we learn to accept and honor each one of us who is courageous enough to put their bodies and their psyches on the line.
In reality we are not all Olympians, Tour de France winners, World Champions or National Champions, but we are all competitors. That should be enough. Let’s allow it to be. Fourth place isn’t winning, but it’s also not allowing ourselves to be one of the masses of humanity heading down the road to obesity. We are the winners. Don’t let yourself forget it and don’t let anyone minimize it.
Now, stop reading and go ride your bike.
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