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Agony of Defeat

By Staff | Mar 5, 2014

The recent XXII Winter Olympics reminded me of the Wide World of Sports on CBS in the early-1970s. The many different sports shown on the weekly program gave us an understanding of events around the world beyond the hills of our valley.

I enjoyed watching teams travel the ice covered track in a bullet-shaped bobsled at incredible speeds. Have you ever wanted to try something dangerous and exciting like bobsledding? For me, it was on an old Buick hood coming down snow-covered Whitman Hill with some friends. That long ago challenge gave us a chance to slide down an imaginary Olympic course toward the intersection of the road at high speeds. When we passed the sign post near the bottom of the hill, we knew it was time to roll off for safety. If by chance you missed that opportunity, you were going all the way to the bottom of the steep snow-covered road. No brakes and no steering. Your only control was leaning to the left or right to try and not hit a parked car or house. One time waiting at the bottom of the hill was a police cruiser and Officer Arnett. He was waiting to explain how we were not supposed to endanger ourselves or the public on our Buick Sled coming down the public roadway. We survived the hill and Officer Arnett’s cautionary words to watch the next episode of the Wide World of Sports, dreaming of speed skating down the frozen Fish Creek.

If someone were to say to you, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” most likely you would remember the Wide World of Sports television program. Do you remember watching as the announcer spoke those famous words? If I were to ask, could you remember the image on the screen when the words, “Thrill of Victory” were said. Most likely you could not remember the image that goes with those words. But, if I were to say, “The agony of defeat,” most would remember the ski-flyer and his terrible fall as he raced down the snow- covered slope.

In fact, I would guess the only image most of us would remember would be of Vinko Bogataj of Slovenian and his fall. Vinko was a competitor in the Ski-flying World Championship and making his third jump of the competition. As he was making his way down the steep ramp, he realized his speed was too fast and he tried to lower his center of gravity. His efforts caused him to lose his balance and fall, sending him off the lower side of the ramp, spinning and tumbling wildly through the air. He landed near a fence that was protecting the stunned crowd. Vinko received minor injuries and a slight concussion.

His fall in television history happened 44 years ago and most likely, if not recorded by television, it would be lost in time. Vinko returned the next year to compete in other ski-flying events. The spectacular fall made his misfortune famous in the sports world. By the way, if you could not remember whose image was on screen for Thrill of Victory, it was Mario Andretti following an Indy-car race.

The past two weeks of the winter games produced some great moments in Olympic sports. I will have to admit that the games seemed to be a little more exciting this time. The games broadcasted nightly highlighted what most call the X Games. These high-energy sports are relatively new to the Olympics and the competition brought home several event medals to the United States.

I found myself watching the competitors on ski-boards, traveling down slopes or the half pipe on the edge of control, wondering when the next wipe-out would occur. And often it happened; sending athletes flying off in a direction they had not intended.

Did you notice, when the news programs ran stories of the day’s events, they highlighted the moment when competitors crashed coming down the slopes or fell while skating in competition? We love to watch sports and the competition, but we also find ourselves watching intensely at the moments they call the agony of defeat. Just think about it for a moment. Olympic athletes train for years to compete, then in a single moment all is lost. They realize after all their training the moment of glory they had dreamed of was captured in a picture or video clip as a fall ended their hopes for gold.

Does it make you feel bad watching misfortune in that moment of defeat in dangerous sports? Most likely not, as long as they do not get hurt. We realize it can be part of the sport and people win and they lose in a split second. It is the thrill of anticipation that makes it exciting as we watch the games. It was that same anticipated excitement of riding a car hood down Whiteman Hill, surviving the ride, and of course not being met by the police. I guess that is what made it all worthwhile those many years ago.

Competitive sports began with the Olympics Games in ancient Greece. Those early games were a way for the different regions of the country to compete as a celebration through athletic competitions. During the times of the games, people could travel around the country to follow the events and support their champion. To the victor went a crown made of olive leaves. This often led to political and military alliances made during the times of the games among the different regions of the county that the athletes represented.

During those ancient competitions chariot races were sometimes held as part of the games. If you have watched the movie Ben Hur, you understand why this event is not part of the Olympic schedule today. Thank goodness we only had Buick hoods and no chariots in New Martinsville 50 years ago!

One event I found myself cheering for the underdog (and underdog is even a stretch of the imagination in this case), the Jamaican Bobsled team. Normally television only shows teams in prime time that are in the top of the competition. But, they made an exception and included the team from Jamaica. The possibility that a team competing in a winter event from a country where sunny skies and warm tropic winds are the normal is intriguing to us. It is unlikely they will ever win over teams with sleds made from carbon-fiber and designed by sports car engineers. But, it is the hope inside all of us that the human spirit through athletic competition will win against long odds. The longer the odds, the more thrilling a win would be.

Who knows, some day if they keep trying with their competitive spirit, the day may come when Jamaica will be holding gold medals on the podium. Wouldn’t that be a day when the Thrill of Victory would over shadow the Agony of Defeat as we watched Through the Lens?!