Olympic gold: If you ain't first, you're last?

Aussie athletes seem to be taking 
Ricky Bobby's attitude to finishing
The most memorable line from the film Talladega Nights is: If you ain't first, you're last.

This seems to be an attitude copied by many of our Olympic athletes.  But let's pause for a minute, because I love the Olympics.

In fact, I love them so much that the other night I set my alarm for 5:19am so I could wake up and watch the final of the men’s 100m freestyle… and then try and go back to bed again 53 seconds later after the race.

I’m getting the sense that much of the rest of Australia loves the Olympics too, especially given the reactions to the so-called sub-par performances of Australia’s athletes.

If there’s one thing that’s got the media, athletes and fans fired up, it’s the reactions to Australia’s silver and bronze medals, and numerous 4th, 5th and 6th places.

Just the other night, Emily Seebohm clocked a seriously quick 100m backstroke time to narrowly lose to the American 17 year old prodigy, Missy Franklin.  Post race, Seebohm was interviewed by Grant ‘Let me try and turn this piano over and destroy my apartment’ Hackett and she was more than a little upset.

In fact, she bawled her eyes out feeling absolutely distraught that she’d let both ‘Australia’ and ‘her parents’ down.

Holy moly.  The girl just won (yes, WON) a silver medal and was beaten by an absolute freak of an athlete, yet this was still seriously disappointing for her.

I wonder what the reactions would be like if these athletes won?  I’m nowehere near qualified or justified to answer… but I’ll do it anyway.

Sure, they’d be happy.  Yes, they’d celebrate.  But I wonder if, because of all the hype, expectation and pressure, they’d react with more relief than genuine thrill?

In fact, my housemate showed me a video of the best reaction to a gold medal at these Olympics so far.

It didn’t even come from an athlete.  It came from the athlete's Dad.

South African swimmer Chad Le Clos beat Michael Phelps, aka Superman, in the 200m butterfly by the closest of margins and his Dad was interviewed afterwards on BBC.


What an interview!  That man is the happiest Dad in the world.  And judging from what Le Clos said post-race “I was just honoured to be in the final” I’m pretty sure his Dad would’ve been just as proud if his son had won silver, bronze, or not even won a medal.

As a competitive kind of guy, I can understand the massive disappointment of not winning.  Especially when you were ‘expecting’ to win.

Harvard Business Review dared to ask if some people’s obsession with winning was too much?  They examined Michael Phelps and wrote:

“Just consider a winner such as Michael Phelps, who decided to move on from swimming after winning his 8 gold medals in Beijing four years ago. Very quickly, he found himself in a depression that lasted until he got back in the water and started training again, presumably hoping to recapture the feeling of satisfaction he'd lost so quickly. Whatever happens in these Olympics, Phelps must face the same question again once his races are over. "Is there anything in life so disenchanting as attainment?" asked the poet Robert Louis Stevenson.”

When winning at all costs becomes the driving force of your life, you’ll eventually lose and realise that… really… there’s gotta be more to life.

For an example of a, perhaps, better attitude, look at the reaction of Australian Christian Sprenger from the 100m breaststroke for the right reaction to winning silver.  He was thrilled.  He was happy.

So what have I learned from London 2012 week one?  

If you ain't first, you're last.


Unknown said…
Love your post, Dylan, though I'm now on the receiving end of my Dad's vicarious sports dreams - the pressure's on the score a gold in Auckland!