Friday, February 19, 2010

Life ain't fair

Whether it’s in sports where .01 of a second means the difference between a gold medal or going home empty-handed, a contest where it’s all about wowing the judges, or simply getting the guy, life doesn’t always turn out exactly the way we want it to – no matter how much we prepare, plan or strive.

This week of Olympics has put athletes in a national spotlight. With cameras everywhere and millions watching all over the world on live television, Vancouver’s the world’s stage. There’s a lot of pressure -- so why are we surprised when at least one athlete cracks under it and puts on a show of poor sportsmanship?

For one thing, the Olympics Oath, which athletes take, albeit indirectly, at the opening ceremonies:
"In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams."

The Olympics oath has been around since 1920 – plenty of time for each country to drill the idea of the true spirit of sportsmanship into its athletes. Apparently, Russia feels it is exempt from that part of the oath. The 2014 Olympics could get rather interesting.

For sure, victory is sweet – and nowhere is it sweeter than at the Olympics, which athletes have prepared for over a lifetime.

Winners collapse on their backs, kicking their ski-strapped legs in the air like a little kid, give an interview with a million-dollar smile and tears of joy, throw their snowboard in the air or simply raise their arms and turn their eyes heavenward, basking in the spotlight. Winning a gold medal -- even silver or bronze – is a lifelong dream for many athletes.

Losing is…well, it sucks. Whether it’s peewee t-ball or Olympic figure skating, it’s just not fun. Call it character building or an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, call it whatever you want, it’s not something anyone sets out to do.

But being called a sore loser is even worse than the actual losing itself. It negatively brands someone for life – perhaps more than winning a medal.

Nowhere else in the Olympics has bad sportsmanship been more evident than in figure skating. The drama seems to follow this sport everywhere – from the Tonya Harding spectacle of 1994 to Yevgeny Plushenko’s ongoing dissing of Evan Lysacek and the men’s figure skating judges over the past 24 hours. (Plushenko is definitely out of the running for the Pierre de Coubertin medal for exemplary sportsmanship.)

Sure, we may not always agree with the end results – whether they are through subjective judging, mistakes (our own or someone else’s) or just plain bad luck. Sometimes, you’re handed a win you know in your heart you didn’t really deserve. Other times, you see someone else succeed when you thought it should have been your turn.

But – regardless of whether you’re on a local or international stage – shouldn’t you win with class and lose with grace?

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