The Netherlands had plenty of bad luck during the recent European Soccer Competition. Weeks before the show started, Dutch soccer fans already had a clear vision of bringing the cup home, or of, at least, playing in the finals. However, things went wrong from the very first match, when ‘we’ shamefully lost the game against Denmark. Well, I do not know much about soccer, but loosing against the Danish seems to be a real tragedy that you want to forget as soon as possible.
The Dutch participants in the Tour de France did not do much better. A certain Laurens ten Dam (of whom I had never heard before), passed the finish line in Paris with a miserable 28th place.
Last night, at long last, the Olympic Games in London have started. During the next few weeks more than ten thousand men and women will compete for 302 gold medals, and for just as many silver and bronze plaques. How many gold medals are the 178 Dutch participants going to win at the 18 events in which they compete? I understand that, if all goes well, we may expect to hear the Dutch national anthem about eight times. Well, we will see.
All around the world the expectations are high. China, the US and Russia will no doubt again top of the list of the countries with the highest number of medals. But every participating country has its hopes! An Afghan boy told me last week that his country will probably win the taewondo competition. After his explanation I now know that taewondo is an (originally Korean) kind of martial arts.
How important is it to win? Many of the athletes have unequivocally stated: ‘I am going for the gold!’ But the actual value in money of a gold medal is very limited, since there is only 6 gram of real gold in this much desired object—the rest is mostly silver. The winning is clearly a matter of personal or national honor. (It is easy for me to say that this would not be an important factor for me, since the chance that I would bring a gold medal home would be somewhere in the region of one in seven billion.)
But . . . is, in fact, the privilege of being a participant not more important than to win? Is it really such a drama if someone else happens to be just slightly better than you are? And, let’s face it: winning does not always depend on whether you are in fact the very best. The other may just have had some bad luck. And you may loose, since you had a day on which you were not fully fit, or somehow could not fully concentrate. Is it not primary a matter of preparing as best as you can, and then simply of giving it your best? It would seem to me that this applies to all ten thousand-plus athletes in London, but also to all of us in the week that is about to begin.
For most of us life is one great, constant competition, in which we must try to be the best. Can we not, however, simply be content with the privilege of being able to participate, while so many can only be spectators? And then, can we be happy to simply do our level best? And can we not accept that at times we may not have our day, or that a colleague is just a bit better in some things than we are? Always going ‘for gold’ may often only lead to a lot of painful frustration.