The Olympics: It is sport, not war

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, I started my blog like this: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

I went on to mention that the quote belongs to Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two US National Football League Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. So successful was he as coach that the NFL named the Super Bowl trophy after him.

And I continued: “So the Vince Lombardi Trophy is like the Olympic Gold Medal – the symbol of excellence. And his winning at all costs philosophy has spread to Australia, where the Olympic ideal of Pierre de Coubertin — The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well – was alive and well until recent decades.

“How do I know? Well, in the early seventies, I was the senior boys’ and girls’ basketball coach at Cabramatta High School in Sydney’s western suburbs. And I was amazed when I drove some of the players home after the matches and heard their parents ask: “Did you enjoy the game?” In the US, most parents would have asked: “Did you win?” And before you ask, yes, their mums and dads weren’t just saying that because I was there. It was what they said all the time, the boys and girls told me later. Of course, they wanted to win (and so did I, having been indoctrinated into the Lombardi philosophy from the age of 5!), but their parents didn’t want to put any extra pressure on them. How refreshing!

“Forty years later, the Australian Olympic movement has become as win-oriented as any of the professional sporting codes around the world. I guess it was inevitable once the IOC allowed sports like basketball to bring in multi-millionaire stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to compete on dream teams. It’s great to see them play against other sides, but ‘the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well’ seems to be gone forever. Poor old Baron de Coubertin must be doing Olympic turns in his grave.”

And now it’s Wednesday, and Australia’s super women, the dynamic duo of Sally Pearson and Anna Meares, have won gold in their respective races – Sally in the 100 metre hurdles and Anna in the women’s sprint in cycling. And they managed to triumph despite all the pressure heaped upon them (but I doubt by their parents!), Sally Pearson after losing a race before the Olympics and Anna Meares after failing to win a gold in her two previous races at the London Velodrome (although she did win a bronze!)

Sally said: “I really wanted this tonight, I’ve worked so hard for the last two years,” and she got what she wanted, in a tight finish against Dawn Harper, the reigning Olympic champion, who had defeated Pearson in Beijing, and Kellie Wells, who had beaten Sally at Crystal Palace before the Games began.

And in a bizarre twist, the American hurdler who came fourth  behind Sally, Dawn and Kellie, Lolo Jones, tweeted that she wanted to shave her head after losing the race: “Stressed. 5am no sleep post race. Almost went @britneyspears on ya & shave my head until I read ur tweets” Jones regained her composure and kept her hair, but she obviously follows the Vince Lombardi philosophy.

Earlier, Anna Meares cycled past her arch-rival, Victoria Pendleton, with true grit, as she told Peter Walsh of ABC Grandstand: “… to fight as much as I have, and overcome the things I have, and to overcome a great champion like Victoria Pendleton, on home turf, yes, this one’s sweet.”

And Baron de Coubertin can stop spinning in his grave because the Olympic ideal is still alive and well in Australia (even if under assault by the media). Anna Meares told Tony Eastley on AM that she and Victoria Pendleton were great rivals, but they weren’t ready to kill each other. Anna’s comment is the great quote of the Games so far: “… at the end of the day, we’re both very competitive women and we’re in a sport that we both have a love and passion for. And it is sport, not war. And it doesn’t take much to shake the other’s hand.”

That’s what the Olympics should be all about, and I will be barracking for the Boomers to defeat Team USA (formerly known as the Dream Team) tomorrow morning because in sport, the underdog always has a chance. And if they lose, but given their all, well, “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

And, as regular readers of this blog would know, I have often said: “Show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser.” But I will try to live by the Olympic ideal, even if Sydney doesn’t beat Collingwood on Saturday night (God forbid), and remember the wisdom of Anna Meares. It is sport, not war.

UPDATE: Thursday, August 2 10.03am (AEST)

Well, as expected, the Australian Olympic basketball team — the Boomers — lost by 33 points to Team USA this morning, but it was a lot closer than that as only three points separated the sides in the third quarter. Team USA slam dunked their way to victory in the last quarter — with a bit of help from Kobe Bryant’s three-pointers. It was a typical humiliation of the opposition by the Americans, which I hate. When I was coach of the Cabramatta High teams, I told the boys, who were much better than most of the opposition, not to roll up the score as it humiliated the opposing teams. It cost us getting into the state finals the first year I was there as I didn’t know points counted in the event of similar records at the end of the season. But the team told me it didn’t matter. They agreed that demeaning their rivals wasn’t sportsmanlike. The Baron would have been proud of them. I certainly was, as I am of the Boomers who “fought well.”  Good luck to Team USA in the Gold Medal game, but hey, if you’re thirty points ahead in the last three minutes, perhaps you could take it a bit easy?

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