Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Losing Is an Art for Most Olympians ; for the Thousands of Athletes Who Don't Medal, the Olympics Teach Lessons in Defeat

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Losing Is an Art for Most Olympians ; for the Thousands of Athletes Who Don't Medal, the Olympics Teach Lessons in Defeat

Article excerpt

Some bow gracefully to the inevitable as they approach the finish line; others grimace with fury and frustration. Some go home happy simply to have taken part; others wonder why they wasted four years of blood, sweat, and tears.

They are the losers, or at least the thousands who will not win a medal at the Athens Olympic Games, to be forgotten as the cameras focus on the victory podium. And how they face defeat could be crucial to their future success, say sports psychologists.

"In a lot of ways, athletes take a lack of success as a bereavement," says Jim Bauman, one of the psychologists helping the US team in Athens. "They have to go through a grieving process."

But with the right approach, adds Andrew Walton, who advised the British Olympic team in 1984, "Losing itself is a valuable experience."

Obviously, the top athletes go to Athens intent on winning. But they can only do so, says Mr. Bauman, armed with a sense of perspective. "We try to stay away from talking about winning and losing," he explains, "because if you don't win you are automatically a loser, and things aren't that black and white in sports.... The key question is, 'Are you satisfied with your performance?'"

The sporting world was not always so forgiving. At the ancient Olympics, record keepers did not even write down the names of athletes who placed second and third. Pindar, the 5th-century BC Greek poet, praising a victorious wrestler, wrote that the men he'd vanquished "slunk along the side roads, away from their rivals, downcast by their misfortune."

That is certainly not the case for Catherine Arlove, an Australian judo player who placed fourth in the under 70 kilogram class last week. The day after she lost her last fight, she was busy deleting dozens of congratulatory text messages on her cellphone, making space for the hundreds more pouring in from family and friends. "It's quite nice actually, and it helps because I am still really disappointed," she says.

Fourth place means out of the medals and record books. But it was still more than Ms. Arlove had expected. "I had only one expectation of myself," she says, "to compete at my best on the day. …

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