By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
The Olympics celebrate unity and cooperation, sport and humanity.
They also support a greatly maligned human aspiration: Winning.
Contrary to modern myth everyone is not a winner. And that is just fine. Some people are better than others at specific things. They are winners at that task. No one is a winner at everything. And therein lies one of many reasons we need unity and cooperation, but not false equity.
We’ve moved toward a society that enforces a synthetic equity for fear of offending, fear of excluding, fear of discriminating, fear of discouraging.
Offense, fear, discrimination and discouragement are all bad things, but they are all part of life. Sport is a microcosm of life- an entire life played out in the time it takes a person to swim a length, run a lap, fall off a bike. It is life, concentrated. And that is part of what makes the entire spectacle so beautiful, so powerful, so tragic and so magical. It’s life in a one-minute swim heat.
Eyebrows went up when U.S. swimmer Lilly King made derogatory and accusing statements about Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova. Efimova has been banned two times for testing positive for performance enhancing substances. King called bullshit on Efimova, mocked her gestures, then went out and kicked her lycra-covered well-trained Russian ass in the 100-meter breaststroke.
Talk the talk. Walk the walk. King delivered. Good story. End of story.
Michael Phelps raised eyebrows by giving the stink-eye to South African swimmer Chad le Clos who beat him in the 200-meter butterfly in 2012 by only 0.05 seconds for the Gold Medal. That is only five-one hundredths of a second. No human activity takes that little time, except losing your ass, and Phelps has built a career of kicking ass. So that loss to Le Clos in 2012 was a bad day at the office for Michael Phelps. He wanted payback. Phelps settled his account with Le Clos last night by swimming 1:54:12 to Clos’ 1:55:19 in the 220-butterfly. In Olympic swimming that is a rout.
And Michael Phelps isn’t sulking anymore.
In the Women’s road race Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten crashed heavily on a dangerous descent of the closing lap only a couple minutes from a potential Gold Medal ride. Annemiek was out-descending American breakaway companion Mara Abbott of the United States, at least for the moment. But Van Vleuten gambled, and the reason they call it gambling is because sometimes you lose. She lost. Broken vertebrae, concussion, dashed medal hopes. Tragedy. But she is recovering, and she will race again. The U.S. rider chasing her, she lost too, only meters from the line. Ironically, Mara Abbott lost to one of Anniemiek van Vleuten’s teammates.
So one thing we’ve learned so far in this Olympics is there are very definitely winners, and losers. Not everyone is a winner. There has to be losers to perform in valiant, tragic contrast to winners. And there is nothing wrong with that.