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Australia’s ‘disappointing’ results

As triathlete Erin Densham reminded us in London, success can be measured in far more than just gold. Thaddaeus Zoltkowski

The tears, the laments, the massive sadness over Australia’s ‘disappointing’ performance at the Olympics. Drew Ginn of the Oarsome Foursome looked so very disappointed at his team’s second place finish, almost as disappointed as Emily Seebohm, who was so distressed that she might have let her family and country down with her silver medal performance that she was in tears.

What pressure we put on our athletes to perform, so much pressure that they are crushed by a second or third place performance. In his book Winning, sociologist Francesco Duina argues that the American obsession with winning is not about winning or losing itself. It is about affirming their place in the world. A similar dynamic exists here. So when we lose, the message we are receiving is that our global position is insecure.

Of course, this is not really the case. But having these feelings of worth tied up in winning makes coming second fraught. A reframing is needed. It is an amazing accomplishment to come second, third, or even fourth in the world in your field. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, strive to win, but also recognize that a slightly lower placing is still worth celebrating. That we could situate silver and bronze medals as failures is a shame.

A lesson could be learned from women’s triathlon Olympic bronze medallist Erin Densham. Densham led for much of the run, only being beaten in the last few hundred metres. Nevertheless, she was seemingly thrilled with her performance, describing her hard road to being selected for the Olympics team, and her amazing effort during the event. Her bronze was a triumph, not a loss.

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4 Comments sorted by

  1. Paul Rogers

    logged in via Twitter

    I have a slightly different perspective. We need to encourage "brave" athletes -- and I mean athletes who are robust enough to put their heart and souls into their sports -- and face up to losses with inner strength.

    Olympic competition is a tough business on and off the track. Athletes ought to understand that from the beginning and not be mollycoddled with dubious aphorisms about having 'fun' and 'being the best they can be'.

    My sense is that such a strategy has some inherent natural negative feedback. Let's create athletes who covet one thing: Winning! Yet know how to lose graciously and with psychic strength.

    If not, there are plenty of other less demanding levels of sport beyond the elite level.

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    1. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      BTW, if you want an example of how to lose graciously and bravely, there is no better example than New Zealand’s Valerie Adams who won the silver in the women's shotput after being NZs hottest gold medal hope and previous Olympic and World champion.

      Real disappointment, but strong in defeat with no excuses -- even allowing for the admin mixup that left her initially unregistered for the event. What a champion!

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    2. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      BTW, if you want an example of how to lose graciously and bravely, there is no better example than New Zealand’s Valerie Adams who won the silver in the women's shotput after being NZs hottest gold medal hope and previous Olympic and World champion.

      Real disappointment, but strong in defeat with no excuses -- even allowing for the admin mixup that left her initially unregistered for the event. What a champion!

      report
    3. Paul Rogers

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Valerie Adams has won the Gold medal after the Belarus athlete was disqualified for steroid doping.

      Way to go Valerie!

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