Monday, July 06, 2009

There was a winner, and I didn't see a loser

Sport teaches. It enriches. And this isn’t restricted just to the people who play it, this extends to the people who watch as well, in fact the followers learn more. As I watched yesterday’s Wimbledon men’s singles epic final culminate to Federer lifting his 15th Grand Slam, a message was re-emphasised to me. The message was that in sport there is always a victor and a runner-up, but never a loser. This is not shown by a way a sportsman plays, but by the way the sportsman behaves after ending 2nd best. That is what Andy Roddick showed yesterday.
Roddick was the better player in the final, who never looked like his serve would be broken. Well, Federer won because he knows what it takes to be a champion, that he needs to stick around. He won because he hung on, because he refused to be a runner-up, because the grabbed the slightest opening (the only one in the whole match) that came his way. He did not win because he was the better player, for that was Roddick.
I cast my mind back to 2006. Michael Schumacher was racing like a dream, in Japan. It was his last season and he was fighting Alonso for the title. More than any of his fans he wanted to sign off as a world champion, for Michael Schumacher could never accept defeat. Then the unthinkable happened. His reliable Ferrari engine blew, with Schumacher leading the race, and with the engine went his chances of ending as a world champion. He’d never ever regain it. I thought that I’d see Schumacher walk out of the car disappointed, dejected, and walk into the Ferrari garage. After all, for no fault of his a championship, that was his for the taking, had gone away.
But there was a different script being written. Schumacher stepped out of his car, had a smile on his face. I don’t know what emotion hid behind it, but he was waving to the crowds as he walked back to the Ferrari pit, saying goodbye and thanking people. The Ferrari pit was a picture of dejection. The engineers and crew were heartbroken, because they had let Schumacher down at such a crucial juncture. But Schumi walked up to every one of them with a smile and hugged them all, consoling them. It seemed that he told them ‘forget about today, what you have done over the last 6 years is immeasurable. What happened today is a part of sport’.
As I saw that bit of magic unfold, this heartbroken fan learnt a lesson. That I should thank Schumacher for winning 7 championships and 91 races and not feel bad because he’s lost this one. The heart did not seem that broken then. I saw on screen a man who didn’t win, but who by no means was a loser.
A bit of that magic unfolded on Wimbledon’s centre court yesterday. Roger Federer walked all over centre court, carrying his trophy. In his corner, quietly sat the valiant Roddick. Teary eyed, with the runners-up plate, wondering what went wrong, but there was a difference. With those teary eyes he was looking at Federer parade and Roddick was giving his conqueror the most generous applause. It was genuine, it was dignified, it was tragic, and it was magical. He wasn’t moping and grumpy. He took his defeat like a sportsman. He lost to a man who did not play better tennis than him, but that did not stop Roddick from applauding one of the greatest feats in modern day tennis, 15 grand slams.
Maybe, Roddick’s day in the sun will come. Perhaps he would be a champion one day. He taught me the old lesson sport has been teaching me since forever, that why a defeated sportsman is not a loser. Maybe, he's a champion already...

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