I’m not a big sports fan and I haven’t watched much of this year’s Winter Olympics, though I happened to be watching when favorites Evgeny Plushenko, a Russian figure skater, injured his back during his warm-up and withdrew from the men’s short program and Lindsey Jacobellis, an American snow boarder, crashed during the women’s semifinal snowboard cross event. Though they may not have won a medal for the performance of their sport, both athletes demonstrated grace under pressure, deserving of the medal they didn’t win. Plushenko, 31, walking away from his last chance to compete in the Olympics told his fans, “I tried until the end.” Jacobellis, who crashed eight years ago in Turin and clipped a gate in Vancouver, said, “There’s worse things in life than not winning.”
It’s much easier to evaluate “trying” and “winning” in sports than it is in most careers. The athlete knows when they showed up for an event and there is only one first place winner. The rest of us are left to define trying and winning for ourselves. Any cognitive dissonance we may experience about our definitions of trying or winning we can easily resolve through justification, though there is a difference between justifying our lack of effort and actively changing our course to pursue a different ambition.
No doubt that Plushenko, who has expressed interest in coaching, and Jacobellis, who did not rule out participating in the next Olympics, will have another opportunity to try until the end and discover that indeed there are worse things than not winning. The only thing worse than not trying until the end and not winning is not trying at all and giving up on trying what’s next.