Michael Phelps: How Dare You Celebrate
After winning his 2oth gold medal, Michael Phelps encouraged the crowd to cheer a bit more and a bit louder. Apparently there were concerns about his behavior as perhaps not being PC -Politically Correct. Everybody gets a trophy, but someone who has won more gold medals than 170 countries combined, cannot celebrate his victory without condemnation.
Kids post “selfies” on Facebook as if they clicking a camera is a great accomplishment. His competitive spirit is not without compassion. In the 2004 Olympics when Phelps won 8 medals, he offered his secure position on the relay team to another so that he might have the experience of winning. It may be time to bring “celebration” back into our vocabulary.
In one of my books, Winning! How Winners Think – What Champions Do I made the following comments regarding winning. While winning and the success of being a champion is not necessarily happiness, happiness is always success and of course is based on one’s personal preferences and values. Participation, personal commitment, and involvement are essential to the rewards of winning. In a recent study, it was revealed that people who won the lottery were not happier after their winning. In fact, it often added an element of chaos and disorder to their lives, rather than the anticipated freedom and elation. There obviously is little meaning to winning when one has not “earned” the victory or had the challenge or struggle of overcoming.
For example, what would it mean to hang a gold medal around your neck if you had never participated in the Olympics? The meaning of the medal comes only when it is a reflection of one’s work, commitment, discipline, and efforts. The admission into sororities, fraternities, and even gangs involves initiation rituals which force people to endure a challenge, struggle or at their worst extreme, destructive activity. Terrorism is an example of misguided winning, driven not by good but rather evil intentions.
Overcoming personal limitations and nature’s boundaries have always provided a spiritual elation of transcending and rising above. We love the gamble and the challenge of testing our limits and beating the odds. Whether it is Evil Knievel flying over cavities in the Grand Canyon with his motorcycle; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. racing cars in the same sport that took his father’s life; or Deena Kastor, after so many failed attempts, finally winning her first medal in Athens; all winners not only stretch their personal boundaries, but actually redefine human potential as being without borders, except for those that are self-imposed by a nervous mind. Athens was also the triumphant territory for male runner Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco. Hicham took home the gold after several heroic attempts in previous Olympiads: a close call in Sydney and a sad stumble in Atlanta. His last 800 meters in the 1,500 meter race broke all records as he came from behind to claim his much deserved medal. Even the runners he had just defeated hugged him and shared his joy which was so contagious that everyone watching, even those of us thousands of miles away, were part of his magical moment.
Oftentimes, winning is not just a personal victory but a collective experience and political/social statement as well. Billie Jean King, renown tennis champion, recalls the pressure and weight she felt on the courts, knowing her victory would alter the position of women in the world of sports, and it has. In the 2004 Olympics, forty-eight percent of the participants from the USA were women, and forty percent from other participating countries were women. I’m not sure how the Greeks of 2,800 years ago would have handled that one! Pioneers and change agents, however, do pay a price. Billie Jean King admitted that after all these years, she still feels somewhat fatigued and stressed out from that one moment in time.
As the five-time NFL champion Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything – but wanting to win is.” That philosophy was most dramatically exhibited by Gabriele Andersen, another female marathon runner, who was so frightfully delirious that she literally staggered across the finish line. In that life-threatening marathon run, winning seemed to be more important than survival, or, in a sense, may actually have been her survival.
Sometimes our losses are our greatest victories and our bronze is symbolic gold. For example, a Brazilian male marathon runner was attacked and pushed out of the race by a madman who leaped from the crowd. For most the race would have been over, but rather than accept the unfair fate, he jumped back up, got back in the race and took third.
Although life is not fair, we always have a choice. We can pout and become angry, hardened, bitter, and defeated, or we can get back into the race and win. In fact, one of the things I learned in my interviews with so many magical people was that winning was less about the prize and more about the process. It was more about how one dealt with losing and losses. In my interview with Bonnie St John, an amputee skier and medalist in the 1984 Paralympics in Austria, she confirmed that the one thing Olympians most share in common is loss. “Olympians lose more than anyone else. If you’re not willing to be bad at something, you’ll never be good at it. The champion mindset is a willingness to lose, otherwise who would try?”