Which in fact brings up another problem: somebody has to lose.
I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with competition, even once earning a that’s-the-dumbest-thing-you’ve-ever-said look from my daughter by asking why she didn’t just let the boys in the neighborhood win at ping pong when it so upset their equilibrium to lose to her.
Music is a good field to be in if you’re not into competition.
Though even orchestra and band programs have managed to come up with invitational-this and festival-that with scores and ranks, most times those of us who’ve performed in orchestras or bands are working together with those around us to bring enjoyment to those in the audience. So everybody wins. Nobody loses.
We just happened to be living in Portland when the Dream Team came for the Tournament of the Americas in 1992. The tournament was held so that teams from North and South America could determine by elimination which team would represent the Americas at the Olympics coming up in Barcelona.
There was really no question about whether or not the team put together by the U.S., which for the first time included professional players, would make the cut.
The teams practiced in a community college in our area and, since our kids took swimming lessons at the same facility, we’d see players from Venezuela and Canada and Argentina and keep a sharp look out for our fellow countrymen, including Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and company.
But it was at the games we attended that the most remarkable thing happened.
Before they even started, the players on the teams opposing the United States would delay the play so they could get their pictures taken with the United States players.
They knew they would not win (or even get very close), but just being there on the same floor with people they admired made it a victory of sorts. So they posed, smiling, to record the memory even knowing a loss was coming.
Speaking of basketball, the Globetrotters alumni had the game pretty well in hand when they took on local dignitaries including mayors and Utah’s governor just a few months ago in Kaysville.
The very most exceptional moment of the game for me came when the alumni team had built a safe lead and their opponents missed yet another shot. One Globetrotter didn’t take the ball down the court after the miss, he passed the ball back to his opponent again and again, until she made the shot.
And everyone cheered. But some of us weren’t cheering only that the shot was made, but that a player gave his opponent a chance. And then another.
And now the Olympics. The whole world participating in a peaceful competition is a good thing.
The delight of the athletes walking in the opening ceremonies, representing countries of all sizes and systems, mirrors the delight the opponents of the Dream Team had just to be in the same arena with them.
Win or lose, it is grand to have made it so far on so glorious a stage, and participants rightly recognize that.
But sometimes I think I can’t bear to watch the rest.
While I’m totally OK with America not winning everything all the time and totally excited when a little country makes the stand, it’s sometimes hard to hear the stories of the hard work and sacrifice and then see the heartbreak and disappointment. Or to see the parents holding their breaths for their kids and the teammates putting stresses on each other at such a climactic event. Only one team wins in some events. Only one person gets the gold in others.
I know there’s no other way. We can’t just be good. We have to be better or best. Or best in the west or first to be best in the west. Or finest or smartest or strongest or most of this or highest at that.
But maybe just everybody should get a medal for trying so hard, for giving so much, for working for so long. Could we expand the medals stand and give awards for overcoming the biggest hardship, training despite the most oppressive regime, carrying on in spite of the toughest medical concern, never giving up despite the most difficult money or family or emotional worries?
There are a whole bunch of champions in London right now, whether they win or not.