Winning isn’t everything
The World Athletics Championships are go, with thrills, spills, falls, and joyous eighth place finishes
The World Athletics Championships are only two days old but already they’ve been packed with drama and incident. Unfortunately, the two 10,000m finals, usually two of my favourite races, were both rather unmemorable affairs. In both races the pace was slow, with no one willing to be the leader, and they both came down to a last-lap burn up. It always seems slightly pointless to watch a bunch of the world’s best distance runners jog around for 24 laps and then sprint for one.
It’s just a bit unsatisfying. Did the best runner really win? Maybe they should have just had an 800m race and saved the bother of all the tedious preliminary laps? I was left pining for the likes of Ismail Kirui, or Paula Radcliffe, who in races like this would just take it on from the start, cranking up the pace, no holds barred, throwing it down to their rivals, saying: “Come on then, if you want to beat me, you’re going to have to go to the gates of hell with me first.”
I shouldn’t be so curmudgeonly about my favourite event - I mean, if I’m not loving it, who is? And of course there was drama in the women’s 10,000m when Sifan Hassan inexplicably fell over in the lead with just 10 metres or so remaining. I guess even a last lap burn up can be brutal - just not in the same way.
Perhaps my favourite part of the 10,000m races was seeing just how ecstatic Jess Warner-Judd was to finish eighth. The picture above captures the joy, and her interview afterwards could be put forward for the video definition of pure happiness.
Yet, she finished eighth.
There’s a conundrum in elite sport that I’ve talked about before, about whether winning is all that matters. I remember Michael Johnson once admonishing a British athlete for being happy with a silver medal, and saying that you only win gold when you’re not happy with silver.
It comes from the old belief that to win, you just have to want it more. You have to be willing to die for gold. You have to want to win at all costs.
Sport has been going through a reckoning on this during the last 10 years or so. Matt Hart’s book about the questionable winning machine that was Alberto Salazar’s training group was even called Win At All Costs. But that now seems like an outdated mentality suddenly. Bending, twisting the rules, breaking people’s spirits, bullying people, doing what you need to do to turn them into winners, is no longer so accepted as “that’s just what it takes”.