Athletes are supposed to be kind in victory, gracious in defeat. But how do they learn
that lesson? It is a lesson that is key to success in life. In his day five column,
Parker Morse writes his most provocative column on Jodie Williams, the British superstar who
had won near one hundred fifty races, only to succumb on the world stage in the 200 meters.
Jodie is taking home a gold and silver, even if she does not run the relays. How does loosing for
the first time on a global stage affect an athlete?
The women’s 200m final ended one of the most talked-about streaks in
current athletics. Jodie Williams of Great Britain had won somewhere
on the order of 150 races without a loss over the course of some six
years. The numbers are a little vague, of course, because for Williams
six years of competition takes us back into the years of age-group
meets and nine-and-ten-year-olds where accurate record-keeping of the
kind expected by international statisticians is hard to come by.
Williams, who admitted after winning the 100m final that she was
exhausted, avoided the fate of Jamaica‘s Dexter Lee, whose 100m
fatigue led to him jumping the gun in the 200m qualifying heats and
being disqualified. Instead, Williams got through the the final and
found herself on a 200m homestretch in the utterly new situation of
having someone in front of her.
There was no mistaking the anguish on Williams’ face as she crossed
the line second, nor her obvious disappointment at receiving a silver
medal and standing to hear someone else’s anthem. But Williams’ real
misfortune was not that she lost, but that she was forced to meet that
first loss on the world stage, albeit a junior one.
There’s a story about a time when Harvard considered eliminating
intercollegiate athletics, and a house resident, known as no friend to
athletics, approached an administrator in great distress about this
issue. “The athletes bring so much to the house,” he said. “They’re
the only ones who know how to lose.”
So Jodie Williams arrived in Moncton as a conquering heroine of
British track, under the eye of some of the most aggressive and
opinionated journalists in the sport, and only then met one of the
fundamental lessons that sports teach us.
Had Williams been in Des Moines at the USATF Nationals, she might have
repeatedly seen on the big screen the Nike commercial which uses The
Hours’ 2006 song “Ali in the Jungle”.
“Everybody gets knocked down,” the chorus used in the ad goes. “How
quick are you going to get up?”
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