The Greeks could be in all sort of financial mess today but they have to be kept on a pedestal for their many significant contributions to humankind like politics, philosophy, medicine etc. But nothing quite compares to this assembly of global sport icons in a single city, all fighting for glory and national pride. Once in four years, the world stands by and observes a truly magnificent spectacle called the Olympics. Something tells me this is why the year of the games like 2008 and 2012 are known as ‘leap’ years, for the kernel spirit of the Olympics is definitely about taking that ‘leap of faith’.
The human mind is more advanced than the other co-habitants of planet earth, specifically because we observe and learn from all events and actions transpiring around us. I have employed a similar exercise in this article as I pore over all the events on and off the field and delve into the potential lessons we all can take back and internalize from London 2012 .
Stick to your knitting
The corporate giant GE once boasted of the management guru Jack Welch. He was a repository of ideas and maxims and he once said that a company should be either No. 1 or 2 in the industry or stop doing that business altogether. Paraphrasing the words, it simply means that if we have to survive and sustain, we have to play to our strengths. The Beijing Olympics was a tremendous success, considering all the clouds of suspicion that were surrounding China with regards to its ability to hold an event of such magnitude. The monstrosity that took place in the ‘Bird’s Nest’ on 8th August 2008 changed the way the world saw this Giant and probably for many more decades to come that kind of a show will never be executed again.
The pressure was immense on the shoulders of the London Olympics organizers to try and match up to the quality of their predecessors. But Danny Boyle provided a ravishing opening ceremony which embodied Great Britain in all of its cultural uniqueness. Never has simplicity been so splendid and it laid down the foundation for things to come. In essence, we learned a valuable lesson of maximizing your forte.
Never an amputated spirit
When the tremendously talented Al Pacino performs in the last scene of ‘ Scent of a woman’, one cannot help but observe the artist’s abilities with shock and awe. However, the captivating part of the scene is when he mentions that he has seen young boys and girls fight battles with lost limbs, but there is nothing like an amputated spirit for which there is no prosthetic. True to that revered statement, this Olympics witnessed two outstanding athletes, Oscar Pistorius and Natalia Partyka.
Partyka is a Polish table tennis player who was born without a right forearm, while Pistorius had his legs amputated below the knee when he was eleven. They have been gold medal winners in the Paralympic games in the previous editions but just witnessing them compete alongside able-bodied beings with gusto and a complete absence of self-pity instilled a heavy dose of confidence to live my life, albeit with an unmistakable accompaniment of shame. Seriously guys, what have we accomplished? Let us take a leaf out this fairy-tale and go on to perform with excellence in our own fields and be unfazed by any curve-ball that life throws at us.
Even Gulliver was brought down
Every time a hero emerges out of the blue, it is so refreshing to see that, and soon the individual is showered with accolades. This pinnacle of glory is soon followed by a burden of expectations and can crush even a seasoned campaigner’s dream into shambles of dust. Micheal Phelps had conquered the world with a stroke of genius – literally. He got more gold medals than countries’ totals in Beijing and was heading for legendary status. One of America’s greatest foes, Russia, had produced a pole vaulting supremo called Elena Isinbayeva who held 28 world records before coming into London 2012.
They had trained rigorously and won championships in the four-year gap and were the nonpareil favorites to take that lustrous gold back home. Phelps ended up adding a few more golds to his tally, but was also found committing school-boyish style errors and lost by a whisker to a young South African Le Clos in the 100 m butterfly event. Isinbayeva, who was the first ever woman to cross the 5 meter barrier, could only get a bronze as she could not even get past the 4.7 meter mark. It only goes to show that even a giant can be brought down and that is one true adaptation of a David v Goliath story.
Say cheese after losing
When somebody wins the Gold and comes out on top, you find them bursting into tears almost immediately. Isn’t the logical conclusion then that a loss or a silver medal should bring about a smile on your face? This hardly ever happens as sportsmanship only reveals its true colors at the hands of defeat.
This phenomenon called Phelps was standing on the podium holding a silver medal and losing out to a rookie. But there he was smiling famously as he always does without even a tinge of anger, pain or regret. He was happy for himself as well as his compatriot who took gold and his stock just went up a few hundred points in my book. Later on, in an interview, he did not even complain and said the silver medals he won reflected his degree of preparation and if he did not get a gold, then the blame fairly and squarely fell on his preparation. Now this is what champions are made of, and the lesson for all of us is that when you don’t perform it is definitely because you did not work hard enough.
Country comes second
It is a tough thing to digest when somebody claims that the country comes second at the Olympics, but when I witnessed the events of the North Greenwich Arena, I started to realize that the Olympics was much more than winning medals for your country. The gymnasts from all over the world proved that it was camaraderie and love for the sport itself that matters the most.
An American artistic gymnast gets the crowd’s applause after a fantastic finish off the vault, and is in the silver medal position. When he sees another Korean go about and deliver a superlative performance, he stands up, claps and hugs the Korean in joy as he gets back. These professionals did not bother about being thrown out of the medals contention. Every single athlete and coach was happy for anyone else who delivered a better performance.
When you truly love your profession or work, you will always be in search of excellence and not success. I would fail miserably if I forgot to mention that touching incident when the Chinese star Liu Xiang fell down after injuring himself at the first hurdle of the heats. He then proceeded alone, limped on one leg all the way and kissed the last hurdle, after which a few other athletes who had completed the race lent their shoulders to carry him away. Once again, all geographic demarcations blurred away; only humanity stood steadfast, not limping.
My dog ate my homework
I used to play shuttle badminton back in school and was good at it too. But sometimes there would be a player who would just prove to be indomitable. This is when I would start thinking of how I would react after losing the match. In the end I always came up with excuses like “there was too much noise”, or “the light was shining into my eyes”, etc.
I always expected athletes participating in the Olympics to be more professional, but boy was I wrong. Abhinav Bindra blamed the excessive clapping and cheering from fans for his horrendous performance, while Deepika Kumari called the conditions way too windy. Well Mr. Gold medal from Beijing, why don’t you go to your backyard and shoot bullets where nobody can clap and cheer? And Miss World No. 1, how unprepared were you if you did not even know that Lord’s is a windy place? Basically I have two words for both of you – “shut up”. Own up to your failures and for God’s sake, stop looking in the direction of monetizing your popularity.
All work and no play, sounds like Chinese clay
The Chinese have clearly proven to the world that if at all there is a superpower in the making, it is them. They already are an economic powerhouse and the way they have been garnering gold medals, it seems like USA would have to step aside. But as you delve deeper into the government-funded sports program of China, there is definitely some kind of a hidden agenda. People from China have been blogging about the laborious training measures these young athletes are made to undergo so that they can get the coveted gold.
I heard about this story where a young athlete was kept in complete ignorance about the death of her grandmother and the truth that her mother had contracted cancer, so that it would not distract the young lady from her training. This is perfectly understandable if the parents took this decision as we know how our parents are too and they hide all their sadness and suffering from their children. But if the government had something to do with this, then “Shame on you, China”. Let the kids play and don’t treat them like auto parts on a production line.
Pressure is a privilege
Performing when nobody expects you to, is a cinch (at least relatively), but what separates the men from the boys is that ability to deliver when people put their trust in you. Jessica Ennis, the heptathlon star was the poster girl representing Team GB and was the face of London 2012. She endorsed a huge array of brands leading up tom the games and the pressure on her was herculean .
One could judge by the look on her face every time the camera panned around her that the entire weight of Britain was on her shoulders. But she delivered better, faster and higher and took the gold home. This is where I would like to talk about our own Sushil Kumar who is the only Indian athlete now to win an individual medal in two different editions of the games. This clearly shows that the no other athlete could cope with the pressure of expectations and preferred to rest on past laurels. Remember this, “If you cannot do it again, maybe the first time was just a fluke”.
Drawing board or kitchen sink: A Hobson’s Choice
I did say somewhere in the previous paragraphs that it is not about winning a medal. However, if you failed miserably and came last, then as Simon Cowell of American Idol fame would say “Maybe, it’s not your thing”. Stop whining and get back to the drawing boards people. I would strongly recommend Vijender Singh to leave the points system to the judges and carry on boxing. Also, it would be the right time for the pugilist to stop focusing on endorsements and Bollywood debuts.
I am not entirely cognizant of the order of events and finger-pointing that took place involving all the tennis players and the Indian Tennis Federation, but if two successful doubles players could not keep aside their egos and play together for the nation, then its is pitiful to say the least, Mr. Paes and Mr. Bhupathi. I would not even want to squander my energy and linguistic abilities on our hockey team. Guys, stop comparing yourselves to the cricketing stars; they are popular and earn more because they win. I do have some reservations of Team India’ s prospects in cricket too but I don’t want to digress.
The London games was a great celebration of sports, unity, nationalism and most of all, brotherhood. Nobody can forget a certain Usain Bolt who proved to all of us that he is the greatest sprinter ever and it was a true delight to watch him run and make his idiosyncratic moves for the sake of the camera. But thank God he doesn’t have to talk for a living because the Jamaican lad suffers from verbal diarrhea.
Before concluding I would like to salute all our medal winners, Gagan Narang, Vijay Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt and last but never the least Sushil Kumar for they fought a tough race against the world’s best and although the medal they won wasn’t of the best color, a podium finish is still a stupendous feat and it was all possible because they stayed committed to the creed of the Olympic games.
Citius, Fortius, Altius.