Sportsmanship

A bit of a departure today. For the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of news and coverage of some former cyclist who’s finally admitted to systematic cheating for the better part of a decade, and to misleading a lot of people along the way. It’s been a bit in your face, and not particularly good publicity for elite sport, let alone cycling. We’ve all heard enough about it.

While doing some interweb surfing at work (I’ll admit it), however, I ran across a completely different story which rubbed me another way. Those of you who are astute surfers of the information highway, or tuned in to the running world and the twitterverse, may have heard of a Basque runner named Iván Fernández Anaya. For those who haven’t, take a look at this article: http://elpais.com/elpais/2012/12/19/inenglish/1355928581_856388.html

There are plenty more articles about this event out there, but the facts speak for themselves. Anaya was running second in a cross-country race, trailing some distance behind Kenyan Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the steeplechase at London 2012. Mutai, apparently disoriented and understandably lacking in Spanish fluency, stopped 20 metres short of the finish line. Rather than pouncing on his competitor’s mistake, Anaya, catching up, used gestures to guide Mutai over the finish line, still in first place.

In choosing to win the race, Anaya would not have broken any rules, moral, sporting, or otherwise. I’ve grown up in sport being taught that it’s each racer’s responsibility to know the course from start to finish. In choosing the sporting high ground that he did, though, I think that Anaya serves as a reminder that when we get away from professionalism and large paycheques, sport isn’t so much about winning as about pushing limits. Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement, once said that “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” It may have been a bout of turn-of-the-century Utopianism, but I think that the guy had a point.

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