THE BLOG

It's All About The Losing

25/08/2017 13:39

Well after an awful week, there's a little good news... but only a little. Mo Farah won his final track race in the UK.

The incredible Sir Mo grinned as wide as ever, did that terrible 'Mobot' thing (thank you Claire Balding/ James Corden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bblAxaZ3E6o) and a nice neat bow was tied around one of the greatest athletics careers ever.

The previous week, before terrorists took back the news, a few of us were talking about track & field, in particular the World Championships in London. Along with the rest of humanity I was hoping that Usain Bolt would win his last races as well. It's not like he needed it of course; I'm sure his pool room has very little room left for any more baubles.

However that's become the way with our sporting affections recently; which tennis fan wasn't holding their breath last month, hoping that poor old Roger Federer might win an eighth Wimbledon crown, to go along with his 18 other major titles? For some reason Matthew 13:12 is back in vogue among the sporting believers: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them."

For Bolt victory would have been the appropriate, even perfect, ending for a perfect career. Instead, like every politician, he didn't quite get to leave on his own terms.

However (and finally, to the point) that was precisely when the great man turned bronze into yet more PR gold. He crossed the line, waited a few seconds for the result and then ran straight into the arms of the victor, Justin Gatlin. Being a good loser is a far more difficult trick to master than feigning grace as a winner and he nailed it straight away.

Losing is also a more useful skill. After all only a tiny percentage of us are going to be sporting winners, with that fraction reaching lottery proportions as the level goes up.

Of course it's easier if you never expected to win. If you've never placed higher than a participant's medal you don't need to run through your graceful loser's speech too many times because it's happened yet again. On the other hand if you've known nothing but gold medals and victory laps for a decade, then defeat is possibly harder to swallow. I'm less familiar with the latter scenario. I once won three games of scrabble, lost the fourth and never played a fifth...stupid game anyway.

Losing is also an area where the English have traditionally excelled and I honestly don't mean that disparagingly. Brits not only lick their wounds well, they go and make heroes of their sporting betters. In cricket they don't boo when the opposing team fields the ball near the boundary; that wouldn't be cricket. When Jonah Lomu wandered straight through Mike Catt at the 1995 World Cup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfFSD_VJDF8 few had heard of him. Despite being the enemy that day the British press was perfectly happy to make him easily the biggest star the game has ever had...and the scarves on sale outside the Olympic stadium last week were for the Jamaican Bolt, not for Robbie Grabarz or Katarina Johnson-Thompson, which is why the booing of Gatlin last week was so disappointing. Yes, of course Bolt was your man, but if the man himself can take a loss that well, surely his fans can too.

Moreover, Brits don't need Usain to show them how to behave. As everyone knows, English gentlemen invented all games including running, and booing is expressly forbidden. Making as little as possible of a win and taking a loss on the chin are the only important rules to remember for any game and are also excellent practice for things that actually do matter.

Oscar Wilde said that all art is quite useless and this also holds just as well for sport. Today's marathon runners are seldom used to pass on military results - races held on looped courses make this especially impractical. However inflated the salaries, sport in itself has no real point and that's exactly the point. Sure, it can be used to entertain/ to stop us going to war/ to join nations together (though ironically when taken too seriously it can do the opposite). There may be a purpose but it's most certainly not the one on display. If we need to get that ball from one side of a field to the other, why invite a whole other team to get in your way?

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