Winning With Class

I admit it, I’m an Olympics junkie. The real life drama of the games matches even the best dramatic movie. I tensed up every time the remarkable USA women’s gymnastics team went to stick a landing (you know, Gymnastics 101: fly high and stick the landing). I teared up along with Simone Manual as she came from behind to win the women’s 100 meter freestyle to become the first African-American to win a gold medal in swimming. My jaw dropped as I watched Joseph Schooling beat out Michael Phelps (and two other top, better known, swimmers) to win the men’s 100 meter butterfly, earning Singapore’s first gold medal in swimming – ever. And who didn’t smile when you saw the photo of Joseph Schooling, as a boy, with his Olympic hero Michael Phelps?

How did Phelps, the winner of 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which are gold, react to being beaten by someone he was a hero to? “I’m sure we’ve all seen the photo of Katie [Ledecky] and I when she was 9, 10 and the photo of Joe [Schooling] and I…. Being able to have that opportunity to change the sport and continue to change the sport is something I am looking forward to. Daring kids to dream, that’s the only reason why I’m sitting here. I was a little kid with a dream and it turned into a couple of medals, pretty good couple of years of swimming and I had a blast. So the more kids I can … help … just believe in themselves. Not to be afraid to know that the sky is the limit.”

The drama, though, didn’t always stay in the pool. I nodded in agreement when Lily King, the winner of the women’s 100 meter breaststroke, spoke to her biggest challenger, Yulia Efimova, who has tested positive five times for performance enhancement drugs: “You’ve been caught for drug cheating – I’m just not a fan.”  It’s interesting that this Olympic event occurred during the same week that Alex Rodriguez, who has repeatedly been suspended for using performance enhancing drugs, announced his retirement from baseball.

Written across the top of the gymnasium where my kids played high school basketball are the words, “Winning With Class.” I have always been impressed with that. In a sports world where in-your-face trash-talking has become the norm, I still (and always will) root for the humble athlete who is grateful for his or her God-given abilities and acknowledges greatness in the competition; who realize that winning against the competition is not as important as winning against yourself – putting in the time and effort to become the best athlete you can be. What does an athlete who wins a gold medal by using performance enhancing drugs really win? Maybe some hardware, but in my opinion, at the cost of one’s self-respect.

The movie, Without Limits,* is the true-life story of Steve Prefontaine, an American long distance runner who competed in the 1972 Olympics. He held the American records in seven different long-distance track events, from the 2,000 meters to the 10,000 meters, but who was tragically killed in a automobile accident at age 24. The eulogy given by his college coach Bill Bowerman (played by Donald Sutherland) summarizes the mind and heart of a true champion, in that how you win is more important than if you win:

  One of the best movies about the Olympics is Chariots of Fire,** which won the Oscar for best picture in 1982. It is the true story about two British sprinters who competed in the 1924 Olympics. Neither were favored in their respective events, but both won gold medals. Harold Abrahams uses his speed to overcomes obstacles he faced as a Jew. Eric Liddell, a devout Christian missionary in China, uses his running as an additional way to spread God’s word. In a key scene, using the background of the men’s 400 meters, a race he hadn’t even trained for, Eric explains why he runs to his sister, Jennie, who thinks Eric’s running only takes time away from his true calling:

Similarly, in the movie, Eddie the Eagle,*** Michael “Eddie” Edwards, the ultimate underdog, never stopped believing in himself. He takes on, first, the ski jump, then, the sports and political establishment, to earn a spot on Great Britain’s team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Eddie  knew he could never win an Olympic medal. Just making the team was good enough.

We should consider winning in life to be the same as winning in sports – the how we win is just as important as if we win. In the movie, The Rainmaker,**** young lawyer, Rudy Baker, realizes this when he says, “Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn’t really mean to cross… it just happens… And if you cross it [the line] enough times it disappears forever. And then you’re nothin’ but another lawyer joke. Just another shark in the dirty water.”

Each of us has been blessed with some kind of talent or ability. Let’s be passionate about that ability, whatever it is, as we try to win the sport that is life. But let’s win with class – with humility, with respect for the competition, and with gratitude that we have been blessed with the abilities and opportunities we have. Some of us might become stars, like an Olympic champion. Others of us might be destined to just make the squad. But in either event, winning with class makes true winners of us all.

                                               

*Without Limits

Production: Cruise/Wagner Productions

Directed: Robert Towne

Screenplay: Robert Towne and Kenny Moore

Starring: Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland and Monica Potter

Release Date: September 11, 1998

**Chariots of Fire

Production:

Directed: Hugh Hudson

Screenplay: Colin Welland

Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleston, Nicholas Farrell

Release Date: April 9, 1982

***Eddie the Eagle

Production: Marv Films, Saville Productions and Studio Babelsberg

Directed: Dexter Fletcher

Screenplay: Sean Macauley

Starring: Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman

Release Date: February 26, 2016

****The Rainmaker

Production: Constellation entertainment, Douglas/Reuther Productions and American Zoetrope

Directed: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: John Grisham and Francis Ford Coppola

Starring:  Matt Damon, Danny DeVito and Claire Danes

Release Date: November 21, 1997

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