Winning isn’t everything

Derek Redmond, helped over the finish line by his father in the ’92 Olympics.

Success isn’t about always coming first

In his inimitable style, Piers Morgan was ranting on Twitter yesterday, arguing that winning is all that matters for those competing in the Olympics. It’s gold or nothing as far as he’s concerned. Losing, he said, is always under-achieving.

This, I hope you’ll agree, is nonsense. As Gary Lineker noted in his response, ‘being in the top 3 in the world in your sport is a great achievement’.

One of the most beautiful things about the Olympics is that it celebrates the top three finishers and not only the first.

But it goes deeper than this. The winning is everything mindset assumes that everyone has the same capacity and that we all have equal potential to come first and so, if we don’t, it doesn’t count and we’ve failed to accomplish anything meaningful.

The Olympics though is full of competitors who never even won a medal but who pushed themselves to the limits of their potential. Winning as far as I’m concerned is first and foremost about maximising our potential. The silver medalist who failed to hit their peak should be disappointed at missing out on gold. But for others, finishing fourth may be the best they could ever hope to accomplish. It’s the limit of their potential.

Are those people losers or failures? No. I choose to celebrate all people who make the most of their gifts and talents and take them to the absolute limits of what they can accomplish with them. That is success. It may sometimes align with winning, but it won’t always. And that’s okay. Winning isn’t everything.

Sadly, the kind of thinking Piers Morgan brings to the mix is the shallow, dualistic kind, only ever seeing two possibilities. Everything is binary. It’s win or lose. Succeed or fail. But out in the real world, life is full of grey.

None of this is to suggest that we shouldn’t aim for first. We should. It is only in the pursuit of becoming the best that we make the necessary steps to make the most of our capabilities. If winning didn’t matter, we’d never make the sacrifices to try and turn our talents into strengths. But winning, though important and, obviously, a big part of success, isn’t everything.

For some, making an Olympic final is a true success. For others, a bronze medal is like a gold. We don’t all start from the same place, or have the same capabilities, and success can only every truly be measured on an individual basis. Success for you will never look the same as success for me.

So it is perfectly okay to celebrate getting a bronze medal. Or making a final. Or getting to the Olympics at all. All of these things are success. And I choose to celebrate each and every athlete who is pushing themselves to the limits of their potential.

To be clear, I’m not saying that sport is merely about taking part. No. Winning is part of sport. It’s just that success takes many forms and coming first isn’t the only one.

How you believe what you believe

Writing for myself