posted by Joe Anaya on August 6th, 2012

Like a lot of households, we’re watching some of the Olympics and marveling at the physical abilities of the athletes. You hear the usual human-interest stories about how they’re motivated by the memory of a deceased relative/friend or how their families sacrificed to get them to the Olympics. But I haven’t heard much regarding the Olympians’ competitive nature. Usually, high-level athletes are hyper-competitive.

During the 1992 Dream Team Olympics, John Stockton, the NBA all-star turned Olympian, spent most of his time with his family in the specially set up hotel. When asked if he had spent any time in the Olympic village making friends, he replied, “We’re here to win the gold medal, not to live in the village.” The site of international cooperation and brotherhood was taken a little aback by this overtly competitive attitude. But every great professional athlete is like that.

There are legendary stories of how Michael Jordan hated to lose at ANYTHING. If you were lucky enough to beat him at ping-pong, he would harangue you to play again and again until he won.

Dave Krieg, the Seahawks quarterback from the 80s, was so competitive that he couldn’t even lose an argument. He would come over for dinner and get into a heated debate with the host until they conceded either by acknowledging they were wrong or simply by attrition. Usually, the next day he would call and apologize, but the competitive nature over took him.

In certain things, I have a very competitive nature. My wife and I were on our way to a basketball game and picked up a friend at his office. On his desk was a crystal ball kind of thing with clear liquid inside and some rings and smaller balls floating around. I mindlessly, fiddled with it. And then he said, “It’s a sort of puzzle, nobody in the office has been able to do it.” “Nobody?” I questioned. My wife instantly knew what was up, “You shouldn’t have told him that.” I spent the car ride over and ¾ of the game mastering the puzzle. “Now, ONE person has solved it,” as I triumphantly handed it to him. But that competitiveness is only visible in generally meaningless situations.

When I saw the movie There Will Be Blood, I knew why I hadn’t achieved greatness. (SPOILER ALERT) The main character, Daniel Plainview, is so competitive he couldn’t stand that he got beat  and actually kills the only man who ever got the better of him. But the scene that struck a chord with me is when Daniel rescues his son from an exploding oil rig. As his son is realizing he’s gone deaf, Daniel notices that his men are still struggling to handle the fire breathing gusher. He abandons his traumatized son to gain control of the hellacious well. I knew then, I will never be THAT driven to win.

Do any of the Olympians want to win that badly? Are they willing to abandon their child to win? Some of them leave their families to train. If by some fluke I found a skill that might get me to the Olympics, I’m not sure I’d leave my family behind so I could win. Unless maybe they make solving puzzles an Olympic event. Them I’m there.



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