Sportsmanship: The Art Of Winning And Losing Well
To say that sports are the classroom of life may not be far from the truth. In competition, an athlete learns the importance of self-discipline, teamwork, motivation, honesty, commitment, respect for others and authority, hard work, self-evaluation, overcoming obstacles, and more.
One important element of competition, especially on the elite level, is sportsmanship. Webster defines it simply.
: conduct (graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.
A true athlete works to develop this character trait, and exhibits it at every opportunity. Some inspiring examples can be found from the world’s best.
Lutz Long, German long jumper
At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Lutz Long set an Olympic record during the heats to qualify for the finals. American Jesse Owens fouled on his first and second jumps, and faced disqualification if he fouled a third time. Long, a German, advised Owens to adjust his take-off point to several inches behind the foul line to ensure that he would advance to the next round. Owens took Long’s advice, qualified for the finals, set a new world record, and won the gold medal. Long came second. “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,” Owens later said.
John Landy, Australian distance runner
Australian distance runner, John Landy, the second man to run a mile in under four minutes, was chasing the world 1500m record in 1956 at the Australian National Championships. Another Australian legend, Ron Clarke, was in the lead when he stumbled and fell. As the other runners passed Clarke, Landy jogged back to help him to his feet, and abandoned all hope of breaking the world record. However, Landy’s race wasn’t over. Coming from well behind, he displayed amazing speed and endurance over the last two laps to win the race only six seconds outside the world mark.
Lawrence Lemieux, Canadian sailor
Racing alone near the halfway point in his Finn class race at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, Lemieux was in second place in a seven-race event when he spotted two Singapore sailors in the water. Both injured, they were unable to ride their boat. Lemieux broke away and sailed to rescue them—waited for an official patrol boat and then transferred the two sailors. He continued his race and finished in 22nd place. After the race, the International Yacht Racing Union jury awarded him second place, his position when he went to the aid of the capsized crew.
It is touching, to say the least, when an athlete steps away from his life’s focus to help someone else. Whether it is a simple tip, a dramatic rescue, or a kind gesture, sportsmanship elevates the competition, and those lucky enough to witness the moment.
The boxer, Muhammad Ali, was quoted as saying, “I never thought about losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.”
Michael Jordan shared his view of success when he said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career, lost almost 300 games, missed the game-winning shot 26 times. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
The standard has been set, and it has been waving for all to see for centuries. The idea of chivalry, gentlemanly behavior, and good manners is not a new idea. In 1920, Baron de Coubertin wrote the Olympic Oath, which has been recited at every Olympic competition since.
While holding a corner of the Olympic flag, an athlete from the host nation repeats the following.
In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.
As we work every day to improve our speed, endurance, strength, and skills, let’s remember that character development is an essential part of being elite.