Then, there is class

In an Olympic race yesterday, two male 800 meter runners got their feet tangled in the heat and down they went.. In a show of unity, they got up and jogged together across the line.

From Big World Tale, here are the opening two paragraphs to define what happened:

“Olympic spirit: Isaiah Jewett, Nijel Amos help each other to finish line after ‘devastating’ collision in 800M heat August 1, 2021 Sunday’s Olympics men’s 800-meter semifinal did not go as planned for USA’s Isaiah Jewett and Botswana’s Nijel Amos. Jewett was running in third place late in the qualifying heat when Amos approached him from behind.

Then one of those moments that embodies Olympic sportsmanship and seems to happen at every Games took place. Jewett didn’t express the disappointment and frustration he was certainly feeling after being tripped from behind. As he stood up, he grasped the outreached hand of Amos, and they helped each other off the ground.” 

In a true sportsmanship move, after two high jumpers matched each other jump for jump before both failing at the next height, they decided to share the Gold medal rather than have a jump off. Apparently, one got injured right before the Rio Olympics in 2016.

From a Buzz Feed, by Lauren Strapagiel called “The Moment These Two Olympians Decided To Share A Gold Medal Is So Joyful” :

“Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar both took the gold for the men’s high jump in a truly heartwarming decision.”

What’s better than winning gold in Tokyo? Getting to share the win with a friend and fellow competitor.

On Sunday, athletes Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar chose to share first place at the Olympic men’s high jump final thanks to a quirk in the rule book.

According to the rules, they could either settle it with a jump-off or share the gold. NBC video from the competition shows an official trying to explain just that when Barshim cuts in.

‘Can we have two golds?’ Barshim asks the official.

Before the official can even finish explaining, Barshim reaches out to Tamberi to shake hands, and the two — and the crowd — go wild.”

Sportsmanship still exists, but it is nice to witness it.

Sports Illustrated Cover and GOAT Jinxes

When the weekly magazine Sports Illustrated was published only in print, whoever made the cover was subject to a jinx. Based on analysis of the data, the player or team who made the cover fared less well in the next few weeks. It may be related to over-confidence after the notoriety or that opponents tried harder to knock off the more publicized.

Lately, sports pundits have been throwing around the term GOAT, which is short for Greatest of All Time. This level of immortality is a hard accolade (or cross) to bear. To me, to call someone this before he, she or they finish playing puts unbelievable pressure on the athletes. Simone Biles has been called the GOAT for women’s gymnastics.

I am not saying this is what happened to Biles, but I have to believe she put enormous pressure on herself. I do know, after several moves have been named after Biles, she is still trying to push the envelope with bigger and better moves. Rather than focus on moves she has done well, she is trying harder ones. Did this lead her to lose confidence in herself when she fell short? – maybe.

It is tough to be king or queen of the hill. I have always felt Tiger Woods handled the pressure so well, but even he had his personal issues that hurt his ability to compete at the same high level. And, just like in Biles’ case, the competition got better. She deserves the accolades she has received, but like Woods, she is only human playing a sport that requires equal parts athleticism, art and precision.

So, we should be mindful no one is immortal. Let me switch to another golfer who even Woods is chasing – Jack Nicklaus. While Nicklaus has won twenty major golf championships, he has also finished second I believe twenty-one times. So, we should not forget that the person who has won the most major trophies, just missed twenty-one times. That shows how hard it is to win, but reveals how talented he was.

Speaking of pressure, many may not know who Bill Russell is. He is arguably the greatest basketball team player of all time. Why? His teams won eleven NBA basketball championships, two NCAA championships and one Olympic Gold medal. One thing about Russell is before every big game, he could be heard throwing up in the locker room bathroom. His teammates knew if they heard this, they were going to win, as if Russell was nervous, he would play better. But, Russell was a rarity. Dealing with pressure is tough.

The baseball pitcher John Smoltz was known for being a better pitcher under pressure. When asked about this, he said he actually performed at the same level, it is every one else whose performance fell off under pressure situations. So, the lesson to all athletes, but especially the better ones, take care of what is under your control. When the best player on a basketball team was asked why he tended to take the last shot to win, he responded that he was the only one who could handle the failure of missing it.

But, when folks slap the label GOAT on you while you are still performing, it adds an extra dose of pressure. I feel for those folks, as it takes an extra dose of courage and humility to carry that burden. It seems the best athletes tend to function at the highest level when they have good competition – think Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in tennis.

Who are the greatest of all time? Let’s wait until they finish and then judge. And, let’s enjoy their talent while we can.

A quiet and competitive baseball star passed away

As a boy, I had dreams of being a professional baseball player. I began playing organized baseball when I was 8 and did not stop until my senior year of high school. I was reminded of that yesterday, when one of the older stars named Bob Gibson passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 84. You may not know who he is, so allow me one paragraph on his success, courtesy of Wikipedia, which I will follow with a few recollections.

“Robert Gibson was an American professional baseball pitcher who played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. Nicknamed “Gibby” and “Hoot”, Gibson tallied 251 wins, 3,117 strikeouts, and a 2.91 earned run average during his career. A nine-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, he won two Cy Young Awards and the 1968 National League Most Valuable Player Award. Known for a fiercely competitive nature and for intimidating opposing batters, he was elected in 1981 to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The Cardinals retired his uniform number 45 in September 1975 and inducted him into the team Hall of Fame in 2014.”

The above paragraph speaks of him being fiercely competitive implying he must have been some kind of jerk. While pitching, he was a force as he was paid to get the batters out. And, he could be off putting to teammates. This talented pitcher was very quiet, even soft-spoken, and did not brag on himself like too many do today. He was very smart and confident and largely kept to himself. That did not always sit well with reporters and others. So, to say he was a warm person would also be off the mark.

But, as his former catcher and later baseball announcer Tim McCarver said about Gibson, he scared batters because he had command of two pitches – a moving fastball and curveball. Batters did not want to dig in too deep at the plate because of these two pitches. He would throw the fastball inside, then strikeout the batter with his curve ball away. As a former player, facing a fastball that moved was more frightening than one that was straight.

In 1964, 1967 and 1968, he led the St. Louis Cardinals to three World Series, with his team winning two of them. They came close to winning all three, but succumbed to a loaded Detroit Tigers team in seven games in 1968. Yet, even then, Gibson pitched the Cardinals to two victories. In the first game against the Tigers, Gibson struck out seventeen batters. At the time, the record was 18 strikeouts.

When Gibson was pitching against a team I was pulling for, I knew it was an uphill battle. I remember a sports show where Bob Costas interviewed Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, two of the greatest baseball players who played in Gibson’s time. Gibson was in the audience and when Costas asked him to stand, both players showed Gibson much respect as a worthy adversary.

There is an old saying that applies to Gibson; be more scared of the quiet one. He did not boast, he just performed. He was quiet, but he was confident. He was someone I would love to talk with about his philosophy on pitching. Then, again he may not have let me.

Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.