The Agony of Defeat

July 30, 2012 Uncategorized  6 comments

I, like most of us, I think, have been watching the Olympics the last couple of days.

What’s not to like?  Gorgeous young people, in top physical shape, coming together to do their physical best.  What ISN’T cool about being the fastest man in the world?

Not only BEING it, but having a medal and a record to prove it.  And it’s not one of those sort of fake World Series things.  I mean, in the Olympics, it really is the world.  In the World Series, however, the “World” is the United States and Canada.

While many fine things have been said about the Canadians, I don’t think the term “ethnic” springs to mind when speaking of Canada.

So, this really is the fastest person in the world, on land or water, jumping or running or swimming or paddling or cycling.

And there are all the fabulous stories.  I remember years ago, just after the Soviet Union fell into shambles, there was a male skater, a Russian, whose training had been previously paid for, and well, by the government.

He had been reduced to living in some horrible apartment, tiny and possibly unheated, with his mother and grandmother and, in the way those stories often go, his seven siblings and the orphaned cousin who lived with them.

What I do remember clearly about the story was that he had been unable to afford new skates for some ludicrous length of time like two years, and he had been forced to wrap the old skates with tape, again and again.

You read about the stories of hardship, what people give up, what the people around them give up, in order to get them to this point.

Don’t we all have some moments we remember from the Olympics?

I always loved figure skating.  Brian Boitano was one of my favorites and his 1988 performance was always a favorite.  At one point he did an enormous loop around the rink with his feet absolutely parallel.

I am such a geek that I have even visited the Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs, and I have seen the very costume he wore.

One of my other favorite moments in skating was when Paul Wylie took silver in 1992.  If you are not a skating geek, feel free to skip over this, the names won’t mean anything.

Wylie was always one of my favorite skaters, and when he was on, he was a lovely skater to watch, graceful, athletic, a certain almost balletic style, but he always struggled when the pressure was on.  He had the potential to do well, but no one really thought he would win a medal at all.

Chris Bowman was his team mate and he was competing against Viktor Petrenko, who won the gold that year, the Canadian team included Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko.  It was a tough crowd.

Paul Wylie skated one of those performances they must dream about, both literally and figuratively, where every blade is precisely where it should be, where every muscle and nerve responds just the way you hope for, where no tiny shift in gravity causes your rotation to be a bit off.  It was perfect.

Well, not really, because you know how judges are, but what I remember, why I remember this is, he was so thrilled to have done what he did.  So often you see athletes standing on the podium, receiving their silver medals, and looking surly or disappointed or shell shocked.

Paul Wylie was thrilled, not focused on what he had lost, but focused on what he had won, and, I suspect, perhaps even more focused on the fact that when it had counted the most, he had done, literally, his very best.

End of figure skating geekdom.

I remember where I was and what I was doing when the US Hockey team defeated the Russians.

I remember watching Nadia Comaneci’s routine, the one that got the first 10 ever.

I remember when Mark Spitz, with his 70’s-porn-moustach, won the gold medals, all seven of them splayed across his chest.

I think the most touching moment for me so far in these Olympics, though it’s still early days, is the interview with Michael Phelps, just after he had lost the 400 meter medley race.

He was shell-shocked.  He really didn’t know what to say, and, of course, what everyone really wants is to have a camera stuck in their face when they have just come through one of the most disappointing moments in their entire lives.

It was just touching to see this kid who just kept looking back towards the horizon, as if trying to fathom how it had – or hadn’t – happened.

I wonder if it’s better or worse to lose as a solo athlete or a team athlete.

It would be both better and worse to know that there was no one else to blame it on, that the fault was entirely and completely your own.

On the other hand, how hard it would be to let go of either the guilt or the disappointment when you are part of a team that loses.

If your performance costs all the others on the team a victory, how overwhelming would be the guilt you’re feel, and wouldn’t it be hard for you to really forgive and forget that slip that the other guy made, the one that cost you the victory which you, yourself, had earned?

I suppose it all depends on how high you set your sights.  Obviously the majority of athletes who get to the Olympics don’t really expect to win a medal.  Most of them know that while they may well be the absolute best swimmer in Sri Lanka, or Costa Rica or Luxembourg, that the best swimmer from the US or Australia is probably going to beat them.

And yet, when you watch all those faces coming in and they’re all happy, all enjoying the experience, all laughing and taking pictures in their country’s uniforms.

Obviously there’s some life lesson there, about enjoying the experience whether we win or lose, about setting our sights on doing well for ourselves and focusing less on where we rank compared to others.  There will always be more and lesser than we are, etc.

But it IS the Olympics.  I’ve watched the men’s gymnastics team rather fall apart, and now it’s the final of the back stroke.  I have to go root for the American, whoever they are because, well, because they’re the American, of course.

And does anyone out there know why the British uniforms had that odd gold lamé lining?

6 comments to The Agony of Defeat

  • sin  says:

    I’m still giggling at the idea of Canadians being your ethnic voice. Yeah, probably pretty white bread.

    I LOVE the Olympics. For the same reasons. It’s the stories. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. They’ve worked so hard. They are the best in Luxembourg or Uganda or Costa Rica. That’s awesome. For many of them, it’s already a huge win.

    How amazing must it be to know you are the best in the world at something?

    How wonderful to know you gave your best performance ever, right when it counted. Or how sad to have the reverse happen and choke at the biggest moment of your life.

    For those of us non-Americans without a likely winner in every race, we are free sometimes to root for whoever we please. Great Britain or France or Australia. I’m so hooked on it all. Sad that it only goes 2 weeks.

    And I agree the gold lamé was crazy. What was up with the berets though?


    • Rhonda  says:

      Sorry to be the Olympic police but it’s Michael, not Mark, Phelps. His demeanor hasn’t struck me as being one in keeping with the Olympic spirit this time around, unfortunately. I hope there is a lesson for him in there somewhere.

      • MsConstanceExplains  says:

        You are absolutely right, and I am going to go fix it right now. 🙂 Thanks for the head’s up!

  • vanillamom  says:

    Lots of good memories in here Ms. Constance. I remember that skating Olympics, and Paul Wylie…(if I recall correctly, he’s from my neck of the woods, local guy does good!)…I remember being disappointed that he silvered, but he was joyful. I remember growling at Viktor P. as he stood on the top tier, as he’d had a wobble or glitch, and I…get emotionally involved in the games at times. 🙂
    I don’t love love love the Olympics, but it’s on in the house most of the 2 weeks anyway…as you say, it’s the creme de la creme of the finest the world has to offer.

    and I did enjoy the kayaking yesterday! (who knew kayaking was an Olympic event?)


    • MsConstanceExplains  says:

      Paul Wylie was from your neck of the woods, nilla, Connecticut, I believe. He also had the good sense to retire after that Olympics and rest on his laurels. He dide exchibitions, but I don’t think he competed again after.

      And it is amazing to be the best at something, regardless of how small the pool might be in terms of your country.

      The last big present my ex got me while we were still together was tickets to the 1997 US National Championships. Todd Eldridge won the men’s, Tara Lipinski bested Michelle Kwan, Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen won the pairs competition and Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow won the ice dancing. IF you follow skating at all, all those names will be familiar, and it was amazing to see them compete live.

      What the television cameras miss is how FAST they skate. I remember that being the real difference between skaters who were ONLY the tenth best male figure skater in the United States compared to the best two or three, and I’m not being flip. Being the tenth best male figure skater in the US is an amazing feat in and of itself, but it was interesting to see how much FASTER the best ones skated than the tenth best.

      It also gave you a real appreciation for just how good the best ones were.

      You’d watch the person who eventually came in 15th, 0r 20th, and they were obviously so much better than the average person could ever hope to be, they jumped and spun and flew across the ice.

      And then you watched the best in the entire country, people that were among the top half dozen in the entire world, at least, and you saw how good they really were.

      TV spoils us, because they show us the top half dozen performances at most. We see the very best of the Eastern Europeans, and the Asians, and the Canadians – Canadians may not be very ethnic, but they have a close and personal relationship with ice – and the top three or four Americans, and we never see how truly extraordinary and gifted they are, because we don’t have anything to compare them with.

      Surely by now, after listening to all the commentary for 40 years or more, it seems like I should be able to do at least a double axel, look how easy they make it.

      Go ahead, chuckle at the image of me flying through the air. I don’t mind.

      And they do make a double axel look easy, because the top male skaters in the world now are doing quad axels.

      Let me put that in perspective. They jump up in the air, using nothing but speed and the muscles in their body to defy gravity. Once in the air, they spin their bodies four and a half times. Remember they take off going forward, and land going backwards, so a single axel is really a turn and a half.

      Let me just say that again. They jump in the air and spin their bodies four and a half times.

      They land on one foot.

      Going backwards.

      On ice.

      We sometimes forget how good they really are, because all we see is the best, and their goal is to make it look easy.

      And they do.

      But we shouldn’t forget that it’s not easy at all.

      • vanillamom  says:

        You are so right! It's easy to sit back in our chairs, with popcorn, ice cream and pot bellies and say…oh, man! He two-footed his landing! But the simple fact is that sometimes walking to my kitchen without banging into something is difficult…doing this at…what? 25 mph or somesuch?…and spinning AND landing on ICE (wherein I walk like a penguin to get to my front door!)….it is all so much harder than they make it look.

        I used to watch skating with my mom when I was a teen…many fond memories there…and grew up loving watching it. It has developed so very much…a quad jump…which no one thought would *ever* be possible…a triple was barely attainable, back in the day. There were all the old favorites…the Russians and Americans, who could do doubles so beautifully, who's routines were filled with beautiful music and movements…who were left standing, openmouthed, as they younger kids came out and threw off triple lutzes like they were popping bubblegum.

        Amazing times.

        Thanks for a really interesting dialogue!


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