Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sportsmanship Day

Today is a "day to celebrate sportsmanship". In sportsmanship it is easy to say that we should all have simple rules of etiquette right? How about during the "heat of battle"? I know it is very hard. I've had to learn that and I hope others learn it too. Especially in the privileged world of triathlon.

A few stories...good and bad. Let's start with the bad.

In the 2006 Florida 70.3, I was having a solid race. I ALWAYS finish very hard. It is a rule that I probably won't be able to speak at the finish for about 2-4 minutes at any race. To make things interesting...I had FOUR guys in my age group who apparently also have the same view on finishing hard. The last three miles we all traded position several times. (It was one hell of a race.) The last 400 meters and coming down the finishing straight, I pulled ahead and put some space (no more than 25 meters) between myself and the top two other guys. I could see the line, but in front of me was a parade. A guy in the 40-44 age group was blowing kisses to the crowd with his daughters and three "raging bulls" of 35-39 right behind them charging in an all out sprint to the line. In his finish line family portrait...both of his girls are looking back at me...I am literally on their heels - no incident, but close on my my heels were two more guys all trying to qualify for Clearwater. We made it...even the fourth guy. In a wave start you don't know who is racing for what and if that guy and his girls were another 15' up from the finish...this story might not be as good. What would have happened if the guy behind me trips in his exhaustion; falls on me and I fall on the girls? They'd have about 400 lbs. of sweaty "OLD GUY" on them...eeew! What if we fall on them and they break their arm? How about a leg or hip? On a positive note, the four guys who just about killed each other in the final three miles to the line...we all shook hands at the finish. Literally, leaning on each other until we could walk again. I've become friends with them and THAT is what racing is about. hard competition to the line. (OK...maybe that isn't so bad because nobody got hurt.)

In my opinion, take your family photos after the race unless your family member raced the distance with you. Take a look at the Kona finish line these days. Each support crew is finishing with their "athlete". That would be like A-Rod's mom running the bases with him when he hits a home run in the World Series. How about in the Super Bowl Terrell Owen's posse comes out to spike the ball when he scores a touchdown. Yeah...it looks really stupid and self centered when we do it too. I love my family too, but how would you like it if the next time I'm finishing a race I have my grandmother and her walker in front of you? If you finish in front of me...(I love this) YOU are considered the bad sportsman. Seriously? Come on! I race to the line. I'll give my grandmother, mom, dad, in-laws, Lorrie, God daughter Lauren (cute as a button) and who ever else comes to see me race a big sweaty, sloppy hug and kiss AFTER the finish line.

RULE #1: You race hard PAST THE LINE. (See my Ironman Canada finish photo where my chip is over the line in 11:07:00 but my "official" time is 11:07:13. WTF? That is a story for another day.)

How about a warm fuzzy good story?

In the Inaugural Ford Clearwater 70.3 World Championship, I was traveling a lot before the race but I knew that this would be the last time I'd see Jon Blais alive. Strong motivation. I wrote a note for Jon and his parents and slid it under the door in the hotel. I reminded him of a story he told me where ALS patients told him that "you are our arms and legs in Ironman and we are with you." On 11/11/06, I told Jon that today, John Wolski and I are "your arms and legs" and today we race "for you". I had no business "racing". I was out of condition and form, but you travel for work when you have to travel. The entire run I played "cat and mouse" with a pretty young gal from California (25-29). We pushed each other hard the entire run. At the end, I knew I would see Jon and had motivation to bring it home. She was failing badly but had a chance to pass a few gals in her age group in the last miles. I turned to her and said, "Come on. All the way to the finish we fight!" (breathlessly) She smiled and squeaked out, "OK!" Every time she started to fail, I said, "Come on! Little longer." We passed all those chicks and she (and I) PR'd. At the finish she gave me a hug and said, "Thanks for pulling me in. I was hurting badly today." Just past the finish line was Jon Blais in his wheel chair. I leaned over with my hands on my knees, half being held up by finish line catchers and said to him, "That PR was because of you pal because it sure wasn't me!" He just smiled. In the shot below, she is right behind me.

Lastly, I give you sportsmanship from college football. LSU - I can't even believe I'm complimenting that team. Anyway... When Kentucky beat LSU the Kentucky fans, in their exuberance (because that doesn't happen a whole lot of times), separated the two coaches and players from shaking hands at the finish of the game. LSU head coach Les Miles called the Kentucky head coach and asked him if he'd meet him on the field to shake hands after the crowds had gone away. No cameras. No fan fare. Just them and a handshake to say, "Nice game."

THAT...it sportsmanship.

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