Winners Are Always Losers

Yep, another Alpine World Cup life analogy.

Lindsey Vonn, perhaps the most well known ski racer in the U.S., accomplished the incredible feat of returning from back-to-back knee surgeries to compete in and win World Cup speed events this year.  She is now the winningest female alpine racer ever, with 64 World Cup wins.  The expectations placed on her to medal at the World Champs last week were outrageous.  And she only got a bronze in Super G, a 5th place in Downhill and failed to finish the Super Combined.  Loser.

When she later apologized for her 5th place finish in the Downhill, I was dumbfounded.  Girl, you just skied a very tough hill on a doubly repaired knee against the best women in the world and you took 5th place.  Yay!  You rock!  Go, Go Go!

The announcer at the races repeatedly reminds the fans that fourth place is losing, since it doesn’t win a medal.  He talks about a racer “just not bringing enough” to the hill when they were a second and a half out of first place.  I’m sorry, but anyone who is willing to send themselves careening down an icy mountain at 75 miles per hour is bringing more than enough, buddy.

The stands empty after the big name American racers compete, especially if they don’t finish in a winning spot. I look at the competitors out there from Czech Republic, Chile and Argentina, the young racers coming up, the older ones who keep at it, and I think they are all fabulous.  Even when they don’t cross the finish line.

We live in a world where winning is everything. We celebrate the guy who crossed the line one hundredth of a second faster than the next guy.  Do you know how little that is?  It equates to the blink of an eye.  The loser is angry, defeated and berated because of that  blip of a time difference.  And our memory is so short. Lindsey’s 64th win was less than two weeks before her embarrassing 5th place “loss.”

In normal, non-sports life, we compete through professional accomplishments and finances.  We compete through our children (he walked sooner than she did, he throws the ball faster, she got into Harvard, he just made partner …).  We admire the prettiest, the wittiest, the wealthiest.  Whatever-est.  Often it feels like a zero sum game.  If he is succeeding, I must be failing.

In the end, all winners are also losers.  With almost no exceptions, they have lost a match, a game, a race, a promotion, a something.  The focus we and they place on being the best blurs the backdrop of hard work, support from others, determination and dedication a winner must have to survive losing.  And it devalues the accomplishments of all of those out there who never quite win, who are bringing everything they have every day.  Who may be winning in every way but the one that “counts.”  Without the losers, there are no winners.

Mikaela Shiffrin is our next great hope for Slalom and Giant Slalom this week.  At 19, because of what she has been able to pull off in her young career, she is expected to win.  Anything less than a gold will be a disappointment for many.  The announcer will express shock and dismay. The fans will leave shaking their heads.  I hope she accomplishes what she sets out to do.  If she does fall short, I hope she doesn’t apologize.  I hope she is proud and happy with who she is, looks forward to the next chapter and congratulates the rest of the field for doing what they do so well.

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