Mediocrity – the Northern athlete’s best friend

McCarthy's Musings

James McCarthy | Nuuk, Greenland
March 9, 2016

My personal streak has continued here at the Arctic Winter Games and it isn’t a pleasurable one.

I caught another cold, the third consecutive time I’ve done so. Hasn’t affected my work in any way but it’s a pain in the arse because I always catch a cold.

I went to the grocery store beside the Hotel Hans Egede here in downtown Nuuk and asked if there was any cough syrup. The poor lady behind the counter didn’t have a clue what I was talking about so I had to demonstrate pouring it onto a spoon and putting it in my mouth. Apparently, there was no cough syrup so she offered me Strepsils. Steady diet of those and I feel about 5 per cent better.

But enough about me being sick of being sick. I’m writing about being sick about yet another way to take the competition out of competition.

I was milling around in the lobby on Tuesday evening, heading out to find some supper, when I heard a conversation among a couple of delegations about how the Arctic Winter Games should stick to being a participatory event.

And so it begins.

And imagine my non-surprise when I read an article about how the Arctic Winter Games International Committee wants to keep everything equal and not be an elite competition.

Here. We. Go. Again.

Honestly, why even bother? Why don’t we just bubble-wrap the kids, give them all a big hug, toss in a warm cookie and give them 12-foot trophies because they ‘tried’?

I read with interest about how the Yamal team from Russia was told to keep its best skiers home because they would be too good? Kind of along the same lines about how Alaska can’t bring its best basketball players or how no one playing anything higher than AAA can play hockey.

This is a sporting event. You play to win. That should be the attitude no matter what the level. Football coach Herman Edwards said it best after a press conference once upon a time:
“Hello? You play to win the game!”

You don’t play because it looks like fun. If you are in an organized event, you play to win the damned thing. Plain and simple.

It’s little wonder this generation of kids is growing up with a complex of mediocrity because that’s what they’ve been led to believe. Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule – Michael Gilday, Denise Ramsden, Jordin Tootoo and Brendan Green among them – proving that not everyone needs to be dragged down to the lowest common denominator.

If this is as participatory as some would have us believe, why are ulus handed out? Ulus mean three people are better than the others and they have an award to show for it. They finished ahead of the pack and have been rewarded for doing so. But that smacks of elitism, doesn’t it? Someone has a gold ulu. That’s not fair. The other racers or competitors didn’t receive an ulu so it can’t be participatory. It’s a contest. Someone was better than another.

In a participatory event, that shouldn’t happen. Everyone gets a trophy.

This is a competition, no matter what anyone would have you believe. There are several athletes out here who go out and want to win and succeed. They want to fly like an eagle, not be dragged down to join the turkeys. Could you imagine telling someone like Gilday, you’re too good and you can’t play? In some ways, I see that as a compliment. That means I’m better than most.

That’s what we should have our athletes aspire to. Be the best at what you do. You are competing and you have been chosen as one of the best in your sport. You know how I know that? Because you went through territorial trials, that’s how. Your coach thought you were good.

The longer we keep telling them it’s participatory, the longer we will end up fooling ourselves.

In the meantime, I need to find bubble wrap.