Why make a champion feel better?

A recent world championships saw one of the absolute favorites win their event again. The win was clear, although a good challenge was put forth from the other competitors. After the race, in usual fashion, the winner went around to each of them after the race and offered each a handshake or a pat on the back.

An interview the winner gave the day after showed that all was not satisfactory, however.

“Nobody congratulates me anymore. It’s possible that they’re tired of me winning. I don’t know. Maybe they think I’m really irritating.”

The champion continued:

”I feel like it’s become a bit of a habit now. There aren’t many who really shake my hand and look me in the eyes anymore. I don’t know exactly what I’ve done for it to be like this. But that’s the way it’s become.”

Such statements by the winner are, of course, somewhat speculative. After the race, others may simply be exhausted, disappointed in their own efforts, or perhaps just reflecting on the moment.

Yet it is worth considering such a champion’s reaction. It would be easy to simply focus on oneself, the day after another famous victory, and bask in the satisfaction that such a thing might bring. Instead, the winner considers their fellow athletes, and feels perplexed – or perhaps even disappointed. Where is the mutual respect?

Postulate 5 states that the crowing of a victor in any sporting competition is essential. This is because victory is impossible without the engagement of all competitors – everyone who has trained, prepared, and given their best (which one might assume is a certainty at the world championships level). The odds might heavily favor the reigning champion to win, but the race is not held for their sake alone. The point of the race is to gather all that have an interest in that victory and agree to toe the line. Both victory and defeat are thus necessary and inevitable outcomes. The postulate argues that we, as athletes, should see this as our common purpose. We serve each other through participation, giving everyone the possibility of success. Our eventual defeat is thus honorable, both to ourselves, and to the victor.

Making appreciation tangible

Hasn’t the honor been bestowed then? By doing the race and crowning the victor? Is it necessary to re-confirm this by shaking the winner’s hand while looking them in the eye? Some of the previous thoughts about whether it’s ok not to shake hands after a competition, are worth consulting again here. The gestures we make during and after a competition are a sign of how much importance we place on a competition, and its outcome. If we look our fellow competitors in the face, it will help us see if they feel its importance, too. The gestures we make – a handshake, a hug, a pat on the back – is a way of showing thanks for that, and of the importance that victory, or defeat, means to everyone. Any notion of shame, guilt, arrogance, or nonchalance is discarded. We have given our best and given others the chance to do the same. That’s how our Society bonds, and what makes it extraordinarily special.

A true athlete – and especially a true winner – thinks about how to accept and appreciate their sisters and brothers in our Society. It wouldn’t be arrogant at all to expect the same treatment. So world championships or not, the same victor as the last ten times or not, the choice is there to be made – do you think the competitors lining up next to you are doing you a disservice, or the opposite? If it’s the former, why are you there? And if it’s the latter, how are you going to acknowledge that?