Canada’s London Olympic contingent was comprised of some 280 athletes, one of whom won a gold medal. The rest, all 279 of them, tasted something that we don’t intuitively associate with Olympians – failure. It cannot be denied that even those that returned home with medals they will forever cherish were at some point crushed by defeat. A reality the women’s soccer team knows all too well. Which serves to illustrate what ought to be a main objective of organized sport, teaching participants to lose with dignity and grace.
American gymnast Paul Hamm was awarded the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens in the men’s all-round gymnastics event. His victory however, was the direct result of a data input error by one of the judges during the judging of the eventual silver medalist Yang Tae Young of South Korea. That the error had been made, was not in question. Had the judge entered the correct predetermined mark for difficulty, the medal would have rightfully been awarded to the South Korean. And so, Mr. Hamm was presented with a dilemma. He could return the medal (as the Olympic committee actually suggested he ought to do) or he could invoke a train of thought akin to ‘finders keepers’ and retain the medal for himself. The former, (though an excruciating thought for an athlete whose entire life had been devoted to this one event), would have immortalized Mr. Hamm as the epitome of sportsmanship and the very embodiment of the Olympic spirit. The latter, one would presume, would render less than satisfying emotions. Sure, he would still have the medal. But looking at it would be like singing Christmas carols around a stolen Christmas tree. Yes, the tree is pretty, but no matter how loudly you sing it just doesn’t belong to you. It’s difficult to fault Mr. Hamm with having made the decision to keep the medal during such an emotional time. However, this much cannot be denied: history would have remembered Mr. Hamm more kindly had he erred on the side of sportsmanship, and accepted defeat gracefully rather than clutching to a dubious victory.
A google search of Mr. Hamm suggests he’s either delivering motivational speeches or beating up cab drivers. (The latter cannot be good for the business of the former!) In Olympic telecasts that like to immortalize past athletes for heroic feats, he was a notable absence. Had he learned the lessons of failure at an earlier age his legacy may be different.
Thanks for reading,