Tomorrow the Olympics begin – in fact, given the time difference between Beijing and my own personal time zone 800 miles east of Hawaii, maybe they already have begun. I’d like to take this chance to wish good luck to all the competitors, and also to reflect on the spirit of competition.
A friend of mine who knows about these things once told me that the original meaning of the word “competition” implied a coming together of athletes in the pursuit of excellence – through pitting themselves against each other they would spur each other on to ever greater heights of achievement. If an athlete broke a record, the other athletes would celebrate with him or her, taking their share of the credit for having pushed the standard to a higher level, and basking in the reflected glory of the group effort. The new record was the achievement of ALL the competitors, not just the individual who stood on the top step of the podium with the gold medal around their neck.
This contrasts sharply with the “I win, you lose” attitude that often seems to underlie present day competition. I’ve been as guilty of this as anybody – when I rowed for Oxford against Cambridge (in 1988 and 1989) it was all about wanting to beat our traditional rivals by as many lengths as possible, showing no mercy. Joint efforts were the last things on our minds.
I’m no longer so competitive, although it’s an urge I still fight to resist. During the Atlantic Rowing Race I found myself in the discomfiting position of being competitive enough to hate coming last (although as the only solo female it’s what you would expect) but not being sufficiently competitive to cut down on my already deficient sleep in order to row for more hours.
So I’m definitely happier in a non-competitive situation, just doing my own thing, as I am on the Pacific. The ocean is a tough enough adversary without adding other humans into the equation as well.
But I digress. Back to the Beijing Olympics. I hope that the older, purer attitude will prevail. Every athlete who has been selected to represent their country is already a winner. I’ve read autobiographies by athletes who have been to the Olympics, and it sounds like a wonderful and special experience that only the talented few will ever enjoy.
To pin “success” on a gold medal is a very black-and-white definition. I hope that the participants will find a more flexible definition of success, to enjoy the Olympiad for the unique opportunity to meet similarly dedicated athletes from all over the world, and to treasure it as a special experience, no matter what the outcome in terms of medals.
Good luck one and all.
Position at 2100 7th August Pacific Time, 0400 8th August UTC: 23 16.327’N, 144 37.356’W.
Very rough conditions today, with high seas and strong winds making it difficult to steer a straight course for Hawaii. This was rather frustrating after the sterling progress of recent days. But the forecast is for the wind to drop slightly after tomorrow, so hopefully conditions will get a bit easier soon.
Thank you for the ongoing messages of support and encouragement – and also for the kind donations. The next stage of my row is due to start in Spring next year, and the kitty is all but empty – far from adequate to replace the many items (mostly electronics) that have ceased to function since I left San Francisco. So all contributions, no matter how small, are most welcome.
Just like your contributions to a better planet, they all add up!
Click here to view Day 75 of the Atlantic Crossing 13 February 2006: The Perfect Adventure.