By all counts, the Chinese player looked jaded right from the start. The Indian raced to an early lead. The Chinese came back to take multiple points on the bounce. The Indian came back strong. The Chinese looked unsure.
The Chinese was within touching distance of the finish line; of the first set, anyway. She went for an overhead. She landed. Her knee buckled. She received treatment. She got back up. She won the set. Well played, one had to concede; even an Indian.
The second set got underway. The first point. The movement was clearly labored. The knee buckled. She could carry on no longer. The Indian had won the bronze. Or had she? Some would agree. Others would say that she was awarded the bronze. The difference between the two statements is merely a world. The difference between the two statements is more than merely a word.
Sport has always been contested and a victory has always been savored. Defeat, of course, is bitter but a defeat is a loss to a better opponent; one more skilled, or perhaps one just more lucky. A victory is the triumph of that superior skill, or perhaps luck; something that has been earned, something that is to be cherished; to be savored.
Sportsmen want to win. No one likes to lose. The very nature of sport, unfortunately, is one of colours; of two, to be precise – white and black. There are no grey areas. There is a winner and then there is the one who is not the winner – the loser.
Arguements over the legitimacy of the win, its worthiness, its fairness and indeed its deservedness may reach conclusions and yet they may not. People may agree or they may disagree. Perhaps, they even agree to disagree. However, at the end of the day, there is only room for one on that step on the podium.
One wishes that there were more room at the top; some sporting spectacles make this a compulsion. However, the reality is that there quite simply isn’t. Why did Murray have to lose to Roger after battling that hard? Why did Australia have to lose to South Africa after posting 432 on the board? Why did Bayern Munich have to lose to two goals in injury time after hitting the post twice during normal time?
The answer is quite simple – because there had to be a winner; one winner.
For the average sports fan, an epic match is good enough in itself but what of the sportsmen themselves? For a neutral, the Wimbledon final of this year was a fantastic encounter that they felt lucky to witness but what about for Murray? Was it fair? Battling phycial, mental and emotional exhaustion is one thing but walking up to collect the salver instead of the cup is something else. ‘It is just not fair!’ one is tempted to say. Quite simply put, life is not.
So what of the sportsman who gives it his all to reach the place where he can touch the promised land, only to be cruelly crippled by a physical ailment? What of the sportsman who has trained all his life for this moment only to have a tiny muscle twitch and wreck the moment and perhaps scar him for life? It most certainly is tough. There have been those who have succumbed to such moments; there have been others who have overcome these. These are quite well documented indeed.
Spare a thought for the bloke on the other half of the pitch or the other side of the net. He has won. He has worked just as hard to get to that point where he could, himself, touch the promised land. And now, he has touched it. For no fault of his own, however, the victory is no longer as sweet. Compassion, commiseration and even pity take over. The joy of victory is just not the same.
He has triumphed; he has won. However, he has been awarded the victory, or so it seems. The witnesses will call it an award; the victor might even feel deprived. After all, he worked just as hard, if not harder for this. People will say all this; and they will say more. History books will, however, have forever his name etched in stone; ‘He was the victor,’ they would read.