Defeat & Victory. -
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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 05-19-2006, 03:21 PM Thread Starter
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Defeat & Victory.

Simon Barnes

The Times

May 19, 2006

Coping with the inevitability of defeat makes victories all the more sweet

Simon Barnes

SOME will tell you that sport is all about winning. Have nothing to do with such people. Winning is not the only thing in sport. There is also, for example, losing. Losing is one of the most important things in sport, and people do it all the time, and in a thousand different ways. You can lose gloriously, dramatically, heroically, unluckily, abjectly, humiliatingly, defiantly, haplessly.

You can lose by a street, by a distance, a canvas, a short head, a knockout, on points. You can be hammered, trounced, beaten out of sight. You can be edged out, beaten by the narrowest of margins. You can be beaten and hang up your boots/gloves/bat/racket; you can be beaten and take a lot of positives from this.

But it all adds up to the same common experience of sport: not winning. And not winning was very much on my mind as I looked back on Arsenal’s jaunt to Paris and the miracle that never quite was. I was with Arsenal for their last three rounds in the Champions League and enjoyed the ride: the wonderful demolition of Juventus, the angst-ridden squeezing out of Villarreal, and the final in Paris against Barcelona on Wednesday night.

It seemed possible that this would be the most wonderful night in their history. Arsenal winners! Arsenal, the best team in the world! Arsenal glorious, Arsenal for ever one-up on Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal repeating the unlikely heroics of Liverpool the previous year and stealing the European Cup from beneath the noses of the great. But it didn’t quite happen.

Arsenal were down to ten men but a defiant goal up, Barcelona were beginning to believe that God had forgotten them. For a brief instant, hope flickered and seemed ready to burst into flame. Then a goal, and hope collapsed like a house of cards. Glorious no longer, Arsenal bitterly accepted their right to be called the first loser in the Champions League.

But everybody except Barcelona lost. If winning is the only way of validating the sporting experience, the Champions League has 31 non-teams. Next season, there will be 32 more clubs at the start, and 31 more losers at the end. Losing is a big thing in sport, perhaps the biggest. Winners get more space in the papers, but it is the losers that have numbers on their side.

Take Wimbledon. The men’s and women’s singles each begin with 128 competitors. After the first round, half of them are already losers. That’s 64 athletes wiped out at a stroke: beaten, stuffed, trounced, second-best. By the time they have played the final, the number of losers has risen to 127. How can winning possibly be the only thing when so many people in sport quite patently are not doing it? Steve Archibald famously said that team spirit is an illusion glimpsed in victory. The idea that winning is the only thing is the same kind of illusion.

But we repress the idea of losing. So much of the sporting experience is about anticipation: the sort of things we might do, when it all begins. And in anticipation, we are all champions, and the teams we follow and cheer for and cherish are always unbeatable. Until, of course, we are beaten.

Defeat is the sporting experience that dare not speak its name. Defeat is the thing that keeps us coming back: for when victory is certain, where is the joy? A mismatch brings no pleasure to the winner, and we call such victories hollow.

The United States Dream Team basketball sides of the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games were no fun, not even to Americans, just a tautological demonstration of American global supremacy.

Victory is not much of a dish unless it is seasoned with the possibility of defeat. And even when teams or individuals dominate for a sustained period of time, we know that defeat will get them in the end. It always does: Steve Davis, Pete Sampras, Wigan, West Indies, Liverpool, Manchester United, Australia. Defeat is thrilling, defeat is intoxicating, defeat is the most exciting thing in sport, apart, that is, from winning. Defeat is an important — perhaps the most most important — part of the sporting life. Certainly, football fans and those who bet on horses know that.

Most football teams lose a lot of football matches, so why involve yourself in that, if losing is not to your taste? The Premiership has but one winner, likewise the FA Cup. Every horse race has more losing horses than winners.

To say that winning is the only thing in sport is to say that Tabasco is the only thing in a Bloody Mary. The Tabasco gives you the zing and the bite, but it is not the Tabasco that intoxicates, and it is not the Tabasco that keeps you coming back for more. Without defeat there is no victory; without losers, there is no winner. We celebrate the winners: and we do so while repressing the thought that every winner floats high on buoyancy on the tears of the losers. We should be for ever grateful to every loser. Without losers there is no sport.

We who follow sport are hooked on the twists and turns of the narrative: the ever-changing cast of heroes and villains, the thrilling alternations of victory and defeat. It is the unexpected victory that is always the sweetest, because it comes so close to defeat.

Arsenal were within a Thierry Henry miss of a wonderfully unlikely win. This time 12 months back, Liverpool provided the miracle that Arsenal narrowly failed to deliver. Last summer, England won the Ashes, and the joy of the victory sprang from almost 20 years of unbroken defeat by Australia, and intermittent defeat by practically everybody else. Without that history of defeat, victory would have been far less sweet. Defeat is a constituent part of sporting joy.

On then, to the coming summer. Some of us, at least, had some not altogether irrational hopes of an England victory in the World Cup. The injury to Wayne Rooney would seem to have scuppered that. Does that mean we will not bother to watch the World Cup next month? That with a massively reduced prospect of victory, there is no point in watching? It certainly does not. We will switch on in our millions, and as goal follows goal, we will veer from unbridled optimism to headlong despair. We will watch believing — more or less knowing that England will lose: that England will be one of the 31 losers at the party in Germany. We will watch as if we were seeking defeat and when defeat comes, we shall meet it with appropriate gloom. And yet . . . and yet . . . well, what if . . . what if Rooney recovered, if Theo Walcott was the greatest 17-year-old since Pelé, if the whole team built up a head of steam . . . if Elvis played the Rose and Crown tonight . . . if the flocks of Gloucester Old Spots blotted out the sun . . .

We are as hooked on defeat as we are on victory. Sport would not be sport without misery, without despair, without hopelessness. Victory is for wimps: it is in defeat that the true spirit of sport is to be found.
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 06-07-2006, 03:04 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Defeat & Victory.

Friday, 14 February, 2003,
Super Sampras silences critics

Sampras' win over Agassi brought the crowd to their feet

Pete Sampras (US) bt Andre Agassi (US)
6-3 6-4 5-7 6-4

Pete Sampras clinched his fifth US Open men's singles title to hit back at the doubters who claimed his career was coming to an end.

The American defeated old foe and compatriot Andre Agassi in four thrilling sets, much to the delight of the New York crowd.

"I guess I'm back," said an emotional Sampras after the win.

"I played so well today - Andre brings out the best in me every time and I think I deserved to win today because I just seemed to get into the zone."

Sampras looked to be heading for a straight-sets victory at Flushing Meadows after winning the first two sets comfortably.

But Agassi, who beat defending champion Lleyton Hewitt in the semi-finals, turned the match around by winning the third.

Sampras then rediscovered his best form to claim his 14th Grand Slam singles crown.

"I've had a great couple of weeks," said Agassi.

"But unfortunately Pete was a little too good today."

After a tight opening spell in which both players held serve with ease, Sampras suddenly found an extra gear at 4-3 in the first set and began producing some crunching forehands.

Agassi had no reply and the player who had been so commanding in his defeat of world number one Lleyton Hewitt a day earlier, looked decidedly ill at ease after Sampras broke and served out the set.

Sampras' serve, so often the key to the rest of his game, was supreme, and Agassi looked to be on his way to an embarrassing defeat when the 17th seed broke again in the opening game of the second set.

And when Agassi found himself 2-5 down, the crowd, who had been cheering both players in equal measures, threw their weight behind the Las Vegan in the hope of seeing a longer match.

Agassi recovered one break but it was a brief respite for the 32-year-old and Sampras duly took a two-set lead.

Sampras continued to apply the pressure in the third set but Agassi proved himself equal to the task and did well to hold off a rampant opponent.

And midway through the set, Agassi began to find the range on his returns and Sampras suddenly looked all of his 31 years.

The 17th seed held off his opponent until 5-6 but the pressure finally told in an incredible game which had the crowd enthralled.

Agassi forced a series of deuces and Sampras' resistance was finally broken when he made a rare volley error on Agassi's second set point.

Classic encounter

With Sampras apparently exhausted, Agassi turned up the heat on his returns and what was now the classic encounter it promised to be looked set to go the distance.

The sixth seed had two break points at 2-2 and on the second saw a simple backhand clip the tape and fall on his side of the net.

Sampras staved off that danger with some brave typically brave serving and a further crisis point at 4-4 when he delivered two double faults in the same game.

And the multiple Grand Slam winner showed his incredible mettle by taking advantage of his opponent's disappointment and breaking in the very next game.

A return deep to Agassi's feet did the damage and Sampras made no mistake in serving out the match.

Agassi's last throw of the dice was a stunning forehand winner but a trademark angled volley from Sampras left the 32-year-old looking to the sky in disbelief as he celebrated his first title in over two years.
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