Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fair Play

In the summer of 2000, I was training for my second marathon. Training for a marathon is an all-consuming thing. Running becomes your life for those months and often it seems that every decision you make is influence by your training. Can I go to a movie tonight? Nope, have to be up at 5 to run before the heat sets in. Can I have an ice cream? Better not – have to run in an hour and all that dairy will mess me up.

It gave me an appreciation of what professional and Olympic runners go through. The lucky ones have sponsorships that allow them to focus only on training but I imagine most have to essentially work two jobs: the day job and the athletic job. But when you're focused on a goal, passion can often become an obsession.

So it was for me that summer, as I read Runner's World, soaking up information on sports nutrition, training tips, and inspirational stories of other runners. The 2000 Olympics were in September at the height of my training schedule. Although I took inspiration from the marathoners (I was rooting for Joyce Chepchumba, a two-time winner of the Chicago Marathon), I was also fascinated with the sprinters.

As a kid, I was the fastest girl in my class, until I sprouted hips at least. Even though the adult-me was more tortoise than hare, I remembered that feeling of flying, of invincibility, of knowing no one could catch you. (Well, in my case, no one except George Basil, the fastest boy in the class.) Marion Jones was in the press a lot in the summer of 2000, as her highly publicized “Drive for Five” captured people's attention.
Although she didn't win five golds, she did win five medals, the first female athlete to do so. Even the controversy surrounding her then-husband didn't seem to touch her. She was everything we look for in our Olympic athletes – tough and competitive yet also photogenic and charming.

Of course, that was then. When the BALCO case broke and Jones was implicated, she was irrevocably tarnished. Even though she's never actually tested positive or been indicted on charges, she's still surrounded by banned athletes and waist-deep in suspicion, since she hasn't been able to replicate her 2000 performances since the allegations were raised.

Six years later, I'm still a sucker for high-achieving runners. My newest idol is Derval O'Rourke, who just had a thrilling second-place finish in the 100m hurdles at the European Championships in Sweden. It took less than 13 seconds to win the race, but took the judges 3 hours to decide the photo finish results. It was expected that a bronze was the best she could hope for, especially has she'd been out of training for a couple of months with a groin injury.

Two weeks ago, the Saturday magazine section in the Irish Times had a feature on Derval O'Rourke. Not only did she come across as fiercely competitive, she also seemed forthright and on-the-level. She talked about being competitive to the point of stupidity, once running into a cement wall at age 10 in order to beat a boy who'd challenged her to a race. She also talked about drugs and the effect they've had on her sport, about how if she woke and felt that the only way to win was to take drugs, she'd walk away from the sport.

I like that. It seems like every baseball player who talked about steroids said that because “everyone” was doing it, that they had to do it in order to compete. The fact is, there's always another way. Becoming a whistleblower to clean up the sport. Train harder. Eat better. Run faster. Lift weights. Doing what everyone else is doing is just lazy rationalizing.

It's exactly what I did in my eleventh grade math class. The teacher was a football and hockey coach and spent most of his time talking sports with the players while the rest of the class were meant to work on our homework. He graded on a curve and on the first few tests, I watched the students around me slide tiny cheat sheets out of their calculators. I did poorly on those tests.

So, using the faulty “if you can't beat them, join them” reasoning, I cheated on a test for the first time in my life. But you can see what the problem is, right? I never tried to beat them – I just gave up. Looking back on it now, I realise that I could have informed the principal about how crap the math teacher was. I could have gotten myself a tutor and worked harder. There were other ways, but I hated math and didn't care – I just wanted to pass with the least amount of effort.

There's always another way, even if that other way is walking away. It depends on what you value. It seems that Derval O'Rourke values competition and fair play. After the scandals in athletics in recent years, we need more athletes who are going to do what's right rather than what's expedient.


At 14 August 2006 at 00:07, Blogger Career Guy said...

In that environment (former all boys school, jock mentality) if you had gone to the principal you would have been murdered and strung up on the goalposts, or ostracized with extreme prejudice. In this case, I'm glad you didn't blow the whistle.

BTW, I've posted my book meme.

At 19 August 2006 at 07:43, Blogger -Ann said...

Hi Dad. I think you're being maybe just a teeny bit alarmist there. I liked your book meme and am thinking about answering your extra credit questions.


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