So what is it that separates the champion athlete from what I consistently refer to as a true champion?
Many may look at that question and think to themselves that the difference between the two is insignificant, or that there really isn’t any difference at all. Others might see a champion as an athlete who has won a championship and a true champion as someone who wins several (or more) over time.
I suppose that there are bits and pieces of truth to each of those definitions above…yes, certainly. However, from my perspective…there is much more depth that defines the internal nature of a true champion, aspects that unquestionably separate them from those who simply win championships.
You see a true champion not only strives to reach their true full potential (winning championship(s) along the way), they subscribe to and follow a more positive code of ethical standard. One that insists they do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do, whether someone is watching or not…aka character, both on and outside of the athletic arena. It is simply a part of who they are…part of their foundation, giving them an inner strength few understand. Simply put…their thinking places much more importance on the process of becoming a champion; well beyond the actual winning of any championship.
True champions are far removed from the thought processes that exist within athletes like Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, and the like, as “winning at all costs,” and the loss of perspective that accompanies that, just isn’t part of their rationale. They would much rather earn what they get, taking little pride in anything less.
And this process (as mentioned above) of becoming a true champion (and it is a process) most assuredly starts within. Encompassing aspects like good sportsmanship—an underlying demonstration of one’s character, as well as many others, a true champion does not always have to take first place to be considered such. This was the case for Spanish runner Ivan Fernandez who knowingly allowed, and helped, London Olympic Bronze medalist Kenyan Abel Mutai win a recent “cross-country event in Burlada, Navarre.”
According to the Huffington Post piece, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, Spanish Runner, Intentionally Loses Race So Opponent Can Win, Mutai lost track of the finish line slowing down 10 meters sooner than he should have allowing Fernandez to close on him quickly. But rather than passing his fellow competitor, based on the obvious mistake Mutai had made, Ivan chose to direct him to the finish line in front of himself. Yes, he intentionally took second place.
Why would Ivan Fernandez do such a thing and purposefully take second place? The answer is simple. Running past Abel to win that race would not have been something Fernandez felt he would have earned. His character, and demonstration of that character through good sportsmanship, would not allow any other choice for him. In Ivan’s own words:
"I didn't deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."
That statement right there shows a willingness to be more than just a “winner” of a race…it shows the makings of a true champion.
And how about the story of high school basketball team manager Mitchell Marcus? Haven’t heard of him or his story? Well…it might be best to simply watch and listen to CBS Steve Hartman's story on Marcus as the character and good sportsmanship shown by the following athletes is well above and beyond the norm in today’s sports culture.
Now I know these high school athletes may not have won any championship per se; however, they are well on their way to developing some of the foundations that a true champion exhibits. Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, as well as quite a few others, could learn a thing or two from these two stories.
Looks like the quote “winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing” should really read “winning isn’t everything…and it most certainly isn’t the only thing. It is only part of the story, and not the most important part.”
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