Watching the emotion of every medal win or “failure” in London 2012 teaches us so much about sport and life. The Olympics have really helped bring people together – in parks with screens, community halls and bars across the world -to watch the Olympians put themselves through excruciating physical and emotional pain after many years of tough training and dreaming.
Nonetheless, most go without hope of a medal. Those who do have a hope are most liable to suffer extreme disappointment. So what can we learn?
1. No matter what, you have to be brave and have a go.
I was pleased when the eight badminton players were disqualified for their despicable behaviour in trying to throw games. How dare they trample all over the dreams of many who would have loved to compete?? In contrast, over the last two days we have seen real excruciating effort from Team GB’s rowers. Today the LW 4s got silver after going hard for gold. They were disappointed, but it’s all relative. The Mens8s came third yesterday after totally going for bust. They pushed the German team (unbeaten in 4 yrs) right up to the last 200 m. They didn’t give up half way to settle for silver, they wrecked themselves trying to achieve what most said they couldn’t do – beat Germany . Yes, the pundits were right. Germany pulled away and GB, spent and deflated, were passed by Canada and just hung in for bronze. I have such respect for how they went for bust. They sacrificed silver to achieve rowing immortality but fell short. Hats off. They know they did all they could and no more can be asked of anyone.
2. Sport and life are cruel – it is a fine line
One of our very own NI rowers, after his silver, described the row as “brutal”. He was totally spent yet fell 0.25secs short of gold – his team just short of Olympic rowing immortality. Did he train any less than the Golden rowing heroes of the day prior? No chance. The two ladies Glover and Stanning won GB’s first Gold of the Olympics in the rowing boat just yesterday. They are Olympic heroes. The only difference between them and the others is that they won. All of the competitors worked hard, shared the same emotions, shared the pain. Most lose in the end and only a few win. Only the winners are remembered beyond immediate friends and family.
3. You are only competing with yourself
One of the most striking things about the Olympians is their general acceptance that if they are beaten it is usually because someone is simply better. Rebecca Adlington, the golden girl of four years ago in the pool, achieved a credible bronze in London 2012. She was delighted and exclaimed that she had absolutely given everything. She did not feel entitled to a medal. She earned it and she appreciated it. She apologised to the crowd for not getting gold but in the end she knew the other swimmers were simply better and she had been the best SHE could be. Had her performance or training been lacklustre then surely she would not have been as proud with even, say a Silver medal?
4. Winning matters, but winning isn’t simply about coming first all the time
Some athletes, football teams and so on will achieve glory as a one off. True winners never quit. They keep competing, they keep achieving – and that means LOSING a lot ! It means heartache more than glory – year after year. The Olympic rowers I mentioned earlier will no doubt train as hard for 2016 – because they have a winning mentality. They won’t throw in the towel now. Similarly, those, like Rebecca, who have achieved gold will be back yet again in four years after hard graft to stay in with a shout of a podium finish in Rio2016. People who compete consistently will inevitably ‘lose’ many races, but they are winners as they keep competing , they keep giving their best and can frequently be satisfied that they “left nothing out there” I.e. no regrets. When many of us amateurs run we have no mission of winning the race, but to do it in OUR best time is victory. To know we have earned it is success.
I admire Paula Radcliffe. She’s the greatest female marathon runner of all time with an incredible 2:15 marathon. God knows she has competed for years and she has been dogged with injury and has had her “disaster” races. She is devastated to have to pull out of her home Olympics at the 11th hour, but she did it to be unselfish. She knew she couldn’t give it her best and she is standing aside to give someone else the chance to take her place. She is a true winner in sport and in life. She says that her “spirit is broken” by this latest setback, but for what she did consistently throughout her running career she will always be remembered as a winner. You see, in pulling out, Paula manifested everything that gets her the adoration of thousands.
5. Success is subjective and addictive
I’ve just run a half marathon PB this week and this year I had already done the same in the marathon and the 10k races. Now my times aren’t exactly going to take me to Rio in 2016, but for me this was success. But the thing is , we’re never fully satisfied. Yes we’re happy with our performance and know that we’ve done our best …for now . Winners always want to improve . As soon as one goal is successfully achieved winners immediately set another goal and another. It’s addictive. It generates drive and passion and it breeds more success. Take Sir Alex Ferguson, at 70 years of age he is still the driving force behind Manchester United’s record breaking team – winning more league titles than any manager in English league history. Will he rest at that? No chance.
To conclude, all winners have an incredible ability to keep going, to come back and compete, win or lose, time after time. Coming first is a symptom of being a winner but you don’t have to come first to be a winner.