Notepad on Life

August 20, 2012

Daley contentment an Olympian win

Filed under: Sport — - @ 9:59 pm
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LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11:  Bronze medallist...

My personal highlight of the Olympic Games came almost at the death and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it put me in something of a minority.

Tom Daley, after all, didn’t win. The 18-year-old British diver couldn’t even manage the first of the “loser’s medals”, as one odious little Englander who crept out of the woodwork on a fly fishing forum just days later would have called it. Instead he had to settle for bronze.

And settling for it was precisely what he did, diving into the pool with his backroom staff, to celebrate reaching the podium. If it was all just some big, contrivance to mask the pain he felt inside, he did a good job of hiding it.

Now, be in no doubt here: I need no persuading that true greatness lies in finishing top of the heap, nor have I any time for those who give the opportunity of a lifetime anything less than the maximum effort that it deserves. At the same time, however, I believe firmly that when someone has given his all for a cause and finds himself with any sort of Olympic medal around his neck, then the moment should be savoured, regardless of the metal with which it is plated.

Certainly, there are those who favour an alternative philosophy and I don’t doubt that Mr Empty-Barrel Fisherman would be their noisiest cheerleader. Second is nowhere in their eyes. Second is the first loser. Many are the mantras by which they try to cloak their surly niggardliness with the illusion of driven, valiant nobility.

I have seen those coaches who order their players to throw their runners-up medals in the bin after a narrow defeat. Rarely are they the kind of men whose company I would seek out over a beer. Only able to countenance one facet of sport, they imprison their spirit between crushingly restrictive parameters and the strain often taints their entire demeanour to the point where victory, when it does come, seems to bring them only joy’s poor relation; relief.

Worry about the things you can control.

If you have prepared as best you can and executed as best you can, where is the sense in beating yourself up because someone turned out to be better than you? Learn the lessons you need to for next time and then for heavens sake, take some time to smell the roses. There will be a point in your dotage when what you got out of the big stage won’t matter half as much as the fact that you were on it to start with.

This isn’t starry-eyed neo-Corinthianism but a necessary compromise with stark realities, without which restlessness and insanity beckon. Winning is not everything. Persistently wringing every last drop out of the talent you have, that is everything. Once done, you let the dice fall where they may and savour whatever bouquets may result. You had your shot, took it with both hands and walked away with no regrets. That is successful living, anything else just a crazed distortion.

And that is where I assume Tom Daley was, nine days ago. Still so much a boy, stuck in an impossible goldfish bowl, mauled on Twitter (or ‘Nutter’, as I suspect it will soon have to rebrand itself) and with his father recently snatched from him by cancer. All this and home-crowd expectation to boot.

His response? Composure from start to finish. Smart enough to ask for a re-dive first time up, savvy enough not to be rattled by the blip and then assuredly in the mix to the bitter end, challenging the competition to worry about him, instead of the other way round. How many popular British sportsmen  have found that last element utterly beyond them down the years? I’ve lost count.

So it was good enough for third. So what? He’d put it all out there and, on this day, bronze was where the dice fell. And maybe because Tom Daley knows better than many that tomorrow is promised to no-one, he opted for honest celebration over pretentious sulks.

This is no maudlin obsession with gallant losers. I just think any generation should be inspired by an 18-year-old who seems already to have a handle on life that sets him apart from the herd. As you’ll discover if you hang out long enough on Twitter.

[Tom Daley mage credit: Getty Images via @daylife]

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