Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Curious Art of Winning

Recall Tom's greatest football comeback story where one team was trailing by less then a touchdown (more than a field goal) with only a couple of minutes left. The other team had the ball and were close to scoring again on about the 10-yard line. The trailing team felt there was only one chance to win. They did nothing on defense the next play and let the team score, preserving precious time. Their strategy paid off as they ran back the kick-off for a touchdown, recovered an on-side kick, and quickly scored the winning touchdown. Sometimes teams embrace the most unusual strategies, by not competing at times, in their attempt to win.

Fast forward to the 2012 Olympics where eight badminton players were disqualified for "not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport”. But clearly they were trying to win…the gold, or at least a silver, medal. If they lost the match they would not have to face the second seeded Chinese team, which unexpectedly lost to the Danes, until the finals.

On the one side:
“It’s depressing, who wants to sit through something like that?” Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, told reporters at the Olympic Park. “The badminton federation will take it very seriously.” 
On the other:
Yu, Wang, Jung and Kim were booed by the crowd as they exited after the South Korean pair won 21-14, 21-11. Yu told journalists that she and her partner were already through and were conserving energy for the elimination stage. “If we’re not playing the best, it’s because it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The most important thing is the elimination match.”
No one thinks it unusual for teams to pull their starters and basically not play their best when they have already made the playoffs. What is different here?


Big Myk said...

I've actually run your complaint by several people including Sue, and nobody agrees. They admit to the idea that it's a legitimate stragedy to take a temporary loss for a later advantage. But they draw the line at deliberate throwing a match. They point out that none of your examples actually involve this. In Tom's story, the team was at least trying to win the match, and even when you play your second string, those players are still trying to win and, who knows, maybe they'll surprise everyone.

Having said all that, it's clear that in the Olympics, the match is not thing; the medals are the thing. Preliminary rounds mean nothing. Take, for example, Wallace Spearmon, taking fourth in the 200. Even though Spearmon ran his season's best time and missed a bronz by only .06 of a second, he reacted, as one reporter put it, "as if there had been a death in the family." He bent over in agony, his head in his hands. He hugged friends and family long and hard. He tried to hold back his tears. He apologized for "letting everyone down."

In most team sports you're judged by your overall record. One win means as much as another. In the Olympics, only medals count. Perhaps you have a point after all.

James R said...

Curious, here, the several people I mentioned this too (Peter H., Jamie) agreed that the penalty was too harsh. But, you are right in your assessment. The vast overwhelming reaction, as far as I can see, is one of complete agreement and no questioning of the judges decision. That shocked me a little. I could not find a web site that even questioned the call.

Peter mentioned that the same sort of thing happened in ping pong, and they revised the rules, eliminating the brackets. But there has been no such discussion as far as I can see. I just found it strange.

I'm not advocating anything really. I just thought there should be some discussion, and perhaps realization the rules led to this situation. The players were trying to win (the ultimate gold).

Big Myk said...

I really think that the bottom line for people is the fan in the stands who buys a ticket. He doesn't shell out the big bucks to see one team throw in the towel.