Saturday, September 10, 2016
The Myth of Silver
Genuinely sympathetic, some TV programs empathized with her tears. Yoshida is truly a legend in women's wrestling, having already won gold in three prior Olympics and won gold in every major championship she attended since 2002. She had been considered basically invincible. "Settling" for merely a silver medal must have been humble pie indeed. Saori Yoshida surely wanted to go out undefeated but now will be thinking hard about whether she can still step on the mats in Tokyo in 2020 at 37 years old.
However, the psychology goes a bit deeper than that. Helen Maroulis had her sights set on Yoshida for years, even choosing to wrestle at 53kg instead of her usual 55kg since that was where Yoshida competed. She spent countless hours studying Yoshida's videos and training specifically to beat her, having previously lost to Yoshida in a mere 69 seconds during their first match. Saori Yoshida has not been complacent by any means, but it is very hard to defeat someone whose entire being is focused on beating you. Maroulis' laser focus, commitment and dedication are the very definition of what makes an Olympic athlete.
It is easy to celebrate a gold medalist. Winning an Olympic gold medal is a testament to the many years of hard work and dedication in overcoming all the obstacles that separate truly incredible athletes from everyone else. It must be the pinnacle of pride to stand on the podium in front of the World, celebrated for your prowess. I can't imagine anything like that feeling.
At the same time, Bronze medals are laudable achievements. We recognize that making the top 3 slots and ascending to the stage requires a burst of effort for the athlete that may not be a legend, but can surprise you with an unusually great performance. The battles for bronze are often some of the most hotly contested among athletes that can be far easier for us to relate to. These are not storybook heroes but their struggle for the stage is no less glorious and we applaud them for being able to share the platform with the champions.
Sadly, the silver medal is neither of these. It does not have the impact of winning a gold, nor does it have the merit of struggling to barely make it into the top 3. For many, a silver medal is actually considered a sign of FAILURE, an "almost bronze"- a shameful reminder of someone who worked hard, but just not hard enough to win the gold. An athlete who will be considered as never being quite good enough to take it all, or starting to show they are past their prime and fading away. As if to say "Second Place is just First Loser". Nothing but the best is good enough.
Our modern society is one of extremes, and little sympathy for those in the middle, left to obscurity. We idolize the rich and shame the poor, and for those of us in the middle, a bronze medal is the best we could aspire to as our 15 minutes of fame.
In the martial arts world as well, we see the black belt as a basic symbol of achievement and dismiss the hard work that goes into every single step of the way. We forget the pride of each belt we achieved along the way and the many lessons we learned with sweat and blood on the mats every week as we inched our way forward. When people hear I do martial arts usually the first question they will ask is "Are you a black belt?" as if none of the others matter at all. Of course, to those us who are serious in the art, a black belt is really just a beginning; a symbol that we are finally ready to start the deeper learning that comes next. It's a lot like finally buying that plane ticket to an exotic destination. It shows an investment that is in preparation for the next stage.
I hope we will remember that a Silver medal is no minor accomplishment and is still worthy of great praise. I hope we will remember that the key to success in life is to do our very best at every opportunity and not obsess over how we will be "ranked" by others, to celebrate our victories however small. I hope we will remember to be simple and humble, and to just DO GOOD WORK every day. There is honor in that, silver medal or not. Everyone wins if they have given their all.