athletes · team sports · Uncategorized

On Winning for Gold and “Losing” for Silver

canadian women's hockey team When Patrick Chan got the silver medal for men’s figure skating in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, he apologized to Canadians for not getting the gold. And when Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated to silver, Canadians cried foul!  How is it possible that their free skate was that much “worse” than the American team’s?

When the Canadian women’s and men’s hockey teams won gold, Canadians celebrated and cheered in a way that they would not have had “we” lost that gold medal game.

But the thing about a gold medal game is this: the worst you can do is get the silver medal!  Silver is pretty darn good.  I’m always struck by the reaction of athletes and spectators, especially when it comes to the gold medal game.

I get that in the gold medal game, you win for gold and lose for silver.  And in the scheme of a hockey game, for example, there’s no getting around the fact that if you end up with the silver, you’ve lost that game.  But you’ve still come out pretty well, and don’t we all forget that?

There is such tremendous pressure on the athletes to get gold. Suddenly, during the Olympics, so many people lose sight of the sheer joy of watching elite athletes compete at their chosen sports.  The pressure is so great that I actually feel bad for athletes who don’t win (which is a lot of athletes!).

I’d read somewhere that the Sochi Games would be considered a failure (by Russians?) if the Russian men’s hockey team didn’t win the gold medal.  If that’s true, it’s sad.  I felt a real pang of disappointment on their behalf when they got eliminated (they didn’t even make it to the bronze medal game).  I recalled the time in World Cup soccer when the Columbian player who scored on his own net was murdered for his mistake.  Is winning the big prize really so important?

And yet, I sat on the edge of my seat during both hockey games, cheering for the Canadian teams, knowing full well that the worst they could do was get a silver medal. And though I didn’t think Patrick Chan owed us an apology, I felt disappointed that he didn’t manage to nail a couple of parts of his beautiful program that would have earned him the gold medal.

Besides the thrill of Canadian victory in the hockey games (we’re kind of serious about our hockey!), I have two Olympics moments that will be forever etched in my memory. The first is the overflowing joy of the Swiss women’s hockey team as they received their bronze medals.  They beamed with pride. I felt more moved watching their reactions than the Canadians, equally beaming.  In contrast, the US team stood in shock. Few smiled when they received their silver medals. They were still feeling the sting of having just lost a game (that it looked as if they had in the bag).

I don’t blame the US women for their reaction.  I’m sure “our” team would have been similarly devastated to lose the gold medal game.

The second image came right at the end, when in the closing ceremony they awarded the medals for the men’s 50K cross country ski event.  Three Russian athletes stood on the podium while the three Russian flags ascended to their rousing national anthem (what is it about their national anthem? I love it!).  I could feel the pride of the athletes at that moment. Pleased that we Canadians didn’t have to sacrifice hockey, it seemed fitting to me that the final medal ceremony should be a Russian sweep.

I can get as caught up as anyone in medal counts and pining for gold, but the fact is, all of the athletes are amazing to watch.  All of them, medalists and non-medalists, the athletes who get the gold, the athletes who surprise themselves with bronze, the athletes who come in seventh but are thrilled at their personal record, they’re all world class at their chosen sport.  What an amazing thing to get to watch them every day for a couple of weeks every four years!

I’m one of those people who likes races where everyone gets a medal.  See my post Why It’s a Good Thing That Everyone Gets a Medal. I don’t actually think that this should extend to the Olympics. It wouldn’t be nearly as exciting. So I’m not saying that everyone who competes at the Olympics is a winner.  Of course not. But for sure everyone who gets a medal at the Olympics, whether it be gold, silver, or bronze, is a winner.

Just ask the Swiss women’s hockey team.