Olympians ‘not trying hard enough’
This Olympiad’s Summer Games in the long term will be remembered by Americans for extraordinary accomplishments by their country’s youthful swimming squad, the women’s gymnastics team, led by all-around champion Gabby Douglas, the redemption of the women’s soccer squad, and the domination by the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Yet in the short term, much of the talk has focused on athletes who have not, shall we say, put forth a sporting effort in the Games, which is intended to be a global showcase of both talent and sportsmanship.
The bloggers for the International Journal of Sport Finance have done a good job highlighting some of the competitions that have become tainted, some by lack of effort and others by use of illegal tactics. The sports affected have included badminton, cycling, soccer, swimming, and track and field.
The most prominent, of course, is the case of badminton teams intentionally attempting to lose in pool play in order to secure a more favorable matchup in the elimination bracket. It was so bad that in one match, neither team wanted to win. The Chinese received the harshest judgment for their failure to play up to their abilities, and as a result several teams were ejected from the Olympics.
This is similar to the Japanese women’s soccer team, which attempted to avoid a draw with Brazil by trying not to defeat South Africa in group play. While Japan was successful in not winning, the plan backfired when Great Britain upset Brazil, resulting in a Brazil-Japan match anyway (a match won by Japan, which eventually lost in the gold medal game to the US).
Track and field also had its share of headlines of an athlete not trying his best. Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi was temporarily expelled from the Olympics after officials ruled he didn’t “compete honestly with bona fide effort” in an 800-meter heat. The ruling was later reversed, allowing Makhloufi to compete a day later in the 1500-meter finals, an event he easily won. The reversal of his ousting was due to documented evidence of a medical issue with his knee, although doubters point to his ease of victory in the 1500 as evidence that he dropped out of the 800 heat solely to save himself for the 1500.
The initial ruling about Makhloufi’s perceived lack of effort begs the question, where do you draw the line about “bona fide effort?” Jamaica’s Usain Bolt made history by defending his gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, yet in qualifying races he obviously didn’t put forth maximum effort, coasting nearly the entire last half of the distance in his races in the 200. That, however, is viewed as strategic in track, so that runners can conserve their energy for the finals.
While there were athletes accused of not giving an honest effort, there were other athletes whose honesty tainted other competitions. In cycling, a rider from Great Britain admitted to intentionally falling in the team sprint competition so that the race could start over, giving his squad a redo after a slower-than-hoped-for start; ultimately the British team claimed gold.
“So I crashed, I did it on purpose just to get the restart, just to have the fastest ride. It was all planned really,” said the rider, Philip Hindes. “… We were speaking yesterday, that if anything happens someone has to crash. So I did it.”
Then there’s the case of gold medalist Cameron van der Burgh, a South African swimmer who finished first in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke. Days after the event van der Burgh admitted to taking more than the allowed number of dolphin kicks during the race, but attempted to justify his actions.
‘‘If you’re not doing it, you’re falling behind,” van der Burgh told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s not obviously—shall we say—the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it. I think every single swimmer does that.
‘‘It’s got to the sort of point where if you’re not doing it you’re falling behind or your giving yourself a disadvantage so everyone’s pushing the rules and pushing the boundaries, so if you’re not doing it, you’re not trying hard enough.”
The emphasis on his last few words is my own. Those words, “not trying hard enough” are essentially what is being taken away from this Olympics. If you are not cheating, you are not trying hard enough. If you are conserving energy for another race, you are not trying hard enough. And if you are attempting to avoid or secure a particular matchup with a future opponent by not winning a pool-play match, you are not trying hard enough.