Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The problem with this winning lark

I, like more or less everyone else who was unable to get out of London for the Olympics, have really been enjoying it, revelling in the fact that I was unable to get out of London and have been able to be part of the spectacle, which has mainly consisted of me watching it on telly and occasionally considering trying to buy a ticket. I've been hanging over the Wikipedia entries on Olympic cycling rules like a bad smell, hoping to just about understand the latest Omnium event before it finishes, and I have been regurgitating spurious info on the metal composition of the medals or the chemical composition of Victoria Pendleton’s underwear to passing motorists; in short I’ve been an Olympic cheerleader, although not an Olympic-standard cheerleader, but I’ve got down with the programme and shouted at the right times and generally tried to forget my last seven years of doomsaying and overall Olympic badmouthing that attentive readers may possibly recall.

And yet, and yet, something’s not right here, Stanley. Something’s just not A-OK. I don’t mean the panem et circuses element, which Andy Worthington alludes to here, nor the subjugation of athletic prowess to the myth of the State, which Mike Marqusee considers here; although I don’t know why not, because they’re both right and worth reading, and I speak as a great panum eater and circuses watcher; anyway I’m not really talking about the distracting of a crushed populace with illusionary visions of success and national unity while stealing the roofs over their heads stuff, I’m more talking about sport, competition and especially winning.

I’m not really one of nature’s winners – a whiner maybe – or at least I never win unless I absolutely have to, an attitude born largely of intense laziness, and also probably due to being well looked after as a youngster and as a result generally feeling safe and secure and complacent and spoilt. I do know how to win, in that I have occasionally stirred myself to victory over someone in something, or at least I imagine I have done, but generally winning is something to be looked down upon, a consolation for inadequate types, who can’t just be happy sitting in their underwear at 3 in the afternoon.

And much as I cheered Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis and the rest I am struck with unease at their celebrations and those of the crowd – what are they so blinking happy about? That they won? Why? Someone had to. It was them, this time. They’re like: all that hard work paid off, while next to them someone else who put in presumably an equal amount of hard work – or even more, in the case of Usain Bolt’s rivals – are going “I’m so sorry, I let everyone down, I’m so sad and useless” and if they lived in Imperial Japan would probably be expected to go and commit hari-kari right there and then and I’m left asking: Why? Why are you sad, why are you happy? “Because I won!” says the winner; “Because I lost!” says the loser. And I understand that, I do, I get it, but still I’m left thinking: So what? It’s a bit me, me, me isn’t it this winning lark? (While all of the crowd are going: it’s us, us, us!) And once you're about 13, aren't you expected to sort of get over it?

It’s strangely self-absorbed and the more I think about it the more unfathomable it seems. It’s not achieving the unachievable, breaking down barriers, climbing Everest or running under 4 minutes (and even most of these descended into races between frankly deranged individuals), it’s just being better than the other guy, whoever he is. It's the irrelevance of it that is so striking. It's just a game, just for sport. And you've only overcome another person; a person who on another day might have just as well beaten you. Of course I can understand the satisfaction of winning, and getting a 92.6% silver medal coated in gold for your pains, of completing a goal that has taken an entire life of dedication, robbed you of the pleasures of youth and which will bequest to you an old age of knacked knees, and yet, when all is packed up in the wheelie bin of life, what good is it if you have to have a loser beside you to make you a winner?