Monday, February 15, 2010

Winners and Losers

While I was watching the breathtaking Olympic men’s moguls competition last night my television screen almost cracked. Not from all the fist-pumping and arm-flailing I was engaging in as Alex Bilodeau finally took Canada to solid gold status on our home turf with his mesmerizing performance, but from the stinking, miserable, sourpuss expression on Dale Begg-Smith’s mug as he stood on the second-highest podium, sulking about the hunk of silver he had to choke on. I could have sharpened a set of chef’s knives on that face, it was so stony. Nothing says “Olympic Spirit” like showing millions of viewers, spectators, judges and other athletes just how badly you want to shove a bouquet of flowers down the throat of the Best Men’s Mogul Skier in the World, just before you stab him through the heart with your ski pole.

In sharp contrast, Bryan Wilson, a complete unknown from the US, exuded a visible joy over his bronze medal win that was endearing and infectious. He didn’t care that he was on the symbolic lowest of the three podiums. To him, it was a purely golden moment.

Begg-Smith, the undisputed champion going into the race, was the favourite for gold again at this event. Bilodeau snatching it from him was what they call an “upset”. I get that. I can’t fathom how crushed, both in spirit and in ego, the Canadian-Aussie must have felt at the moment of realization that the grandeur that goes with being Number One would no longer be his. Bilodeau and Wilson experienced the thrill of glory. Begg-Smith, the agony of defeat. Part of those experiences is just choice.

There are endless nuances to the emotions tied up in an Olympic experience that I will never be privy to; infinite physical, physiological and psychological factors that come into play for these competitors that I will never know a single thing about. But I, who has not and will never have one bit of the DNA that it takes to be anything even close to an Olympic athlete, do know one thing: Whether you’re a millionaire standing in front of the world at the almost-top of an Olympic podium in the very country that raised you and that you then ditched or you’re Joe Anyone winning a second-place ribbon in the local track and field meet in Nowheresville USA, a little sportsmanship goes a long way.

In the privacy of your own home, knock yourself out. Cry, scream, rave on about how unfair it all is, string together any chain of expletives you want in reference to the person or people who outperformed you; they probably cheated or got favoured by the judges anyway, right? Do, say, think what you want. Nobody’s looking.

But for the six minutes that the cameras are rolling, your character is on full display for millions of people around the world to size up and you just delivered a near-perfect performance and a silver medal to your country (your other country, that is), for crap’s sake at least try to crack a half of a freaking smile. Just fake it. You won a silver medal, dude. The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner.

You think Heil was happy with her silver-medal finish? She thought, we all thought, she had the gold in the bag. Canadians were counting on her for it and she knew it. But she took second place and was still full of grace and toothy grin for us all the way through - at least when everyone was looking.

How well you perform is only one part of what defines you as an athlete, a sportsman and a winner. The other part is how you carry yourself through it all.

Your silver medal performance didn’t shame your countrymen, Dale. Your crappy attitude did.


red-handed said...

Well, the Olympics *does* provide more examples of why defeat is so fascinating (by the way, if you don't like histrionic losers, you should never watch international football).

Anonymous said...

I watched the medal ceremonies, as well, but I sure don't hold anything against Dale Begg-Smith’s attitude. I don't care how you try and smooth the edges out, second place is not winning, and I don't think asking Begg-Smith to be fake in the wake of such a searing loss is fair, at all. He lost. He should be pissed.

Wilson can be perfectly content being the second loser if he wants. They are all tremendous athletes that qualified, we can all agree.

But don't asks someone to pretend something is what it's not: Begg-Smith is under no obligation to pretend to be satisfied with something less than the best.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Begg-Smith came off as a sourpuss, and, yes, it did kind of make him seem like a party-pooper, but this sport is his life, and maybe he feels that second place is still first loser...