Four Weddings and a Funeral, by Stuart Weir


Eaton_Ashton1500Intro-Beijing15.JPGAshton Eaton, World Championships, August 2015, photo by

Not everyone had such a remarkable world champs as Ashton Eaton. In fact, some did not have the best of champs. As Stuart Weir observed some of those who did not have great performances in Beijing working to make up for those tough days in Brussels today.

Here is one of his musings, called Four Weddings and a Funeral...

A friend of mine calls major championships "Four funerals and a wedding" - meaning that for every happy athlete there are four (or a lot more) unhappy ones. I was reminded of that thought last night as I attended a social event in Brussels on the eve of the AG Insurance Van Damme Memorial Diamond League Athletics.

At one stage I sat with 13 athletes. As I looked around the circle I asked myself how many of the 13 would look back on the recent Beijing World with pleasure and satisfaction - not many I imagine. It was a random sample of athletes but somehow seemingly pretty representative. First of all there was a Beijing Gold medallist - I guessed he was probably satisfied with his performance. There was another medallist - probably OK with that outcome. I spotted a silver medallist - another success story? Not really as she had been a cast-iron hope for gold. Most athletes would have killed for silver but if you had come ranked for gold, then silver is failure and disappointment.

Then I looked a hurdler who had fallen in Beijing and two others who had failed to run to their potential, being beaten in the final by athletes they had beaten - week in week out - throughout the season.

Then there was an athlete who was fourth in Beijing and I wondered how she would have processed that. A solid performance, certainly but so near and yet so far from a medal.

Then there were three other athletes - potential Diamond League race winners but who were not in Beijing because of the vagaries of their national trials. I wonder how they had processed watching lesser athletes, slower athletes take the medals.

When I shared these thoughts with another friend, she replied: "Isn't that the nature of sport?" Perhaps she is right and the majority of athletes are disappointed with the outcome.

The legendary North Carolina basketball coach never talked about winning, because he said you cannot control the variables - the officials may make bad calls, the opposition may play out of their skin. Smith prepared his team to play to the best of their ability and to play with more intensity than their opponents, saying that those are the things they can control. Winning, he suggested was a byproduct of playing well - not the goal. It seemed to work as Smith's teams won 77% of their games.

Athletics is an individual sport - except for the relay, you cannot blame your team mates. In a sense a win is always a win but to misquote George Orwell (Animal Farm) all wins are equal but some are more equal than others! You can run a great time and lose - because someone was faster. Or run a poor time and win because no one was faster.

In 1996 and 2000 Jonathan Edwards was favourite for the Olympic Triple Jump gold medal. He "failed" in 1996, taking silver but "succeeded" in 2000. Winning gold. However he jumped further in 1996 for silver (17.88) than for gold in 2000 (17.71). Success and failure in this context is too simplistic.

Despite all my compelling arguments, I think my second friend was right. A large number of athletes left Beijing after the 2015 World Championships disappointed that, despite all the qualifications and rationalizations, they had not won a medal and therefore had failed.

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