Olympic’s Losers!

There have inevitably been a number of Posts recently that have focused on some aspect of the Rio Olympics so, at the risk of not being too original…. on your marks… set… BANG!

I live in a culture, and perhaps you do too, that not only celebrates high achievements but does so at the expense of lesser levels of performance.

In the Rio Olympics, I was appalled at the commentary that covered the pre-qualifying sprint heats. I constantly heard “The first three over the line will go through to the next round, and all the losers will have a heat to determine which two will also go through.”

Losers! Are they kidding? Has our culture got itself so hard-wired into some black and white definition of success that there can possibly be losers at an Olympic Games? Just being the best in your own country should make you a winner! Qualifying for the Olympic games in order to compete against the best that the world has to offer should make you a winner! I remember so many comments over previous Olympic Games which basically stated that anything less than a Gold Medal is unacceptable!

I can be a very competitive individual (especially against myself), but while I can understand the desire to win (to earn the gold), I have no understanding of the rationale that demeans the silver and bronze medals. From my perspective, if you are on the start line with 7 other sprinters, then you have qualified to be in a very elite group of athletes. If you finish that race in 8th place, it should take nothing away from you as an athlete and, to be totally honest, being the 8th best in the world is pretty damn impressive.

I coached a long distance running group in a local community for almost 10 years with our race distances being 5km to Marathon and including every standard distance in between. There were many reasons why we celebrated after any given race, with the most common ones being the first time to race over that distance, or a personal best time.

It was my philosophy that a less than anticipated performance was simply an open door to investigate and understand the circumstances such that it could be avoided next time. I told my runners that the only time that they could possibly have a bad race, is if their time was less than expected… and I could not come up with a reason or two! i.e. A bad race simply presented an education opportunity…. so nobody really “lost”.

In our education system, the culture is to graduate from High School and then go on to a University and choose a “traditional” career path. Anything less than that process is often viewed rather negatively but, today, Canada is projecting a massive shortage of skilled tradesmen in the immediate future! If nothing else, at least it is highlighting the fact that, while a high academic achievement is admirable, a skilled trade of any sort is of equal value in the context of a country’s development.

We are constantly being bombarded with messages that equate happiness with money and, again, the connotations are once more on a winner/loser concept. Get lots of money and you’ll be happy. Earning minimum wage gives you no chance of happiness and labels you as a non-event in the human race (i.e. a loser).

Clearly I do not agree with such definitive lines being drawn between individuals as they can all achieve goals; all find fulfilling employment; all find happiness, and all can be found without the cultural expectations being met.

Here is the problem though. If our culture is so focused on winning gold (and the equivalent achievements in other aspects of our lives); If it only recognizes effort if the ultimate goal is reached; If world class athletes are treated in such a manner …. what hope is there for the “late developer” or the student who wants to become involved in building maintenance? What hope is there for any individual who has a troubled history and is now trying to get their life back on track?

It would be so culturally beneficial if these high profile sports events could show a little more appreciation for all the participants! I understand the psychology that is deemed critical for an athlete to perform at their peak but, sports is such an integral part of our entertainment habits that it should perhaps be a little more understanding of its influence over the rest of us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all, regardless of our age, get excited about our personal goals and establish a plan to achieve same, instead of non-participation because “I can’t win so what’s the point?”

Just thinking.