Competition – a reflection

Is taking part the most important thing?  We grow up being told that Baron Pierre de Coubertin who founded the modern Olympics said that taking part is more important than winning.  In fact the original of this statement was a speech given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games. This sermon apparently inspired de Coubertins’ Olympic Creed. The Olympic Creed reads:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

These days we hear of teams and individuals ‘failing’ if they don’t win.

At Henley Royal Regatta yesterday I was reminded of this by two conversations.  One was with a senior member of the CUBC who questioned the club’s decision (in which he partook!) to send the young development four from the club to race at HRR in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup .  He felt the failure of the crew not to make it past second round showed they were wrongly selected.  They were eliminated by the strong favourites, Newcastle University.  Their losing time was the second fastest for the day of all the competitors in this event; they had the luck to get to race the best crew in the event early.  They raced aggressively and well, they reached a higher level than they had previously.

Was this failure?  I think not.

The second discussion was with a friend who coaches a top level crew which had an easy win against inexperienced opposition.  He shared the trip in the umpire’s launch with the parents of the opposing crew.  The parents were bursting with pride at the achievements of their sons.  They had done something no other member of their club or family had ever done before.  They failed to trouble the top crew but left happy and standing tall. 

Was this failure? I think not.

One of the great things about HRR is that it allows, even encourages, these things.  The top ends of the events often produce great racing between well matched opponents, but the unique qualifying procedure and entry requirements allow, and encourage, the quixotic and hopeful entrants and can force us to look at how we define, and relate to, winning and losing.  

Well done to the Stewards!


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