Saturday, 4 February 2012

Is it vulgar to want to win ?

I’m sure you already know all about Dorando Pietri – but if you don’t, well don’t worry, it’s not a test. Dorando was an Italian athlete who contested the 1908 marathon in the first London Olympic Games. You’ll know that this was the race in which the distance for a marathon was fixed at 26 miles 385 yards so that the race would finish by the Royal Box in the White City Stadium ( now sadly defunct ). Dorando was the first person to enter the stadium , well ahead of the American John Hayes, and the rest of the field. However by this time Dorando had well and truly hit the wall. Older readers may recall watching television coverage of the women’s marathon in the LA Olympics of 1984, when swiss runner Gaby Andersen-Scheiss staggered all over the track, watched by worried officials , who knew if they helped her she would be disqualified. She did finish, and suffered no ill effects. Well, apparently , Dorando was worse. He was in a hell of a state when he arrived in the stadium – staggering, falling, and looking as if he was going to go the wrong way at one point. Worried officials gathered him up, and helped him over the line, to an ecstatic reception from a packed crowd. John Hayes finished shortly afterwards, and the US team made a protest that rules had been broken, and Pietri had been assisted across the line. They were right. The protest was upheld, and Hayes was declared the winner. That wasn’t the end of it though. There was a huge outburst of public sympathy for Dorando, who became something of a celebrity in Britain for a short while – so much so that Queen Alexandra presented him with a gold cup in memory of his efforts. In Britain we’ve certainly had a soft spot for a gallant loser ever since. It’s not the winning, you see.

Personally, I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to applaud both the winners and the gallant losers. If we pick on another example from sport, I always liked Roger Black – a nice, personable guy who came through terrible times with injuries to make the most of his considerable talent. But not as much as I admired Daley Thomspon. Because Daley, while he was at the top, always found a way to win. As a matter of act I met him once. It was just a week or so before he won his last major gold medal in the 1986 European Athletics championships. I was working as a porter in the Novotel in Hammersmith, and here he was, my hero, walking in carrying his own bag. I offered to take it, and he said “Nah, that’s alright mate !” What a man.
Still, you can’t argue that there is still this lingering , public school ethos in this country that it’s rather vulgar to actually say that winning matters to you, because the game’s the thing. So I always feel just a tiny bit ashamed of admitting that I do care whether I win or lose a particular quiz. I wouldn’t say that I’m a totally hopeless case – I never actually quite got as far as morosely wondering whether I’d ever win again after losing two quizzes in a row in January , but I won’t lie to you, it’s nice sitting here with four wins on the bounce in my last 4 quizzes. 7 out of 11 sounds a hell of a lot better than 3 out of 7. Last Friday John and I were ringers again in a quiz for family and friends in a works quiz in Swansea. To be honest, this kind of stuck out like a sore thumb when we top scored on 3 of the 4 rounds – on General Knowledge – Entertainment – and Sport, only to have the lowest score of any of the teams on the actual business ! Mind you, I always enjoy it when a complete stranger tells me – you should think about going on telly, you should.

As for this coming week we’re up the Dyffryn Arms on Sunday – which is a fun quiz whatever happens. However, we have a tricky league game against a distinctly useful Tyrisha Royals outfit in the League on Monday, and what with Brian being QM on Thursday we look like being outgunned again in the Rugby Club. So if I can maintain anything above a 50% success rate by this time next week, then I won’t be doing too bad.


Quentin Vole said...

Of course not. As Vince Lombardi put it: "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser". If you don't want to win, why take part?

PS On the subject of hotel porters, I generally insist on carrying my own bags, partly because I've often just arrived in the country and don't have any small coins, but mainly because I'm a mean bugger. I'm sure Daley's a top bloke, though!

Andrew B. said...

It's misleading to say that Pietri became a celebrity *in Britain* - he toured America running a string of races, including two against John Hayes (both of which Pietri won), and had a song written about him by Irving Berlin.

DanielFullard said...

Of course not......if you dont play to at least try and win whats the point?

Londinius said...

Hi Guys

Well, maybe celebrity is not an appropriate term, but there was certainly a wave of public sympathy in Britain for his plight, and that's really the point that I was making.

Come to think mof it, a loser doesn't even have to be that gallant to be taken to our hearts. Witness the lingering affection for Eddie the Eagle. Mind you, he was a worldwide hit for a few days in 1988.

Anonymous said...

In my athletic younger days, I competed against Daley Thompson in an athletics match. He was world and Olympic champion at the time but I concur, a top bloke in every sense.

In relation to the original question, it is not vulgar to want to win provided that you are not vulgar in the acto f winning!

Londinius said...

Hi Chris

Ah - that may be where I've been going wrong, then.