Monday, July 16, 2012

Who's On Third?

On June 23rd, a women's 100 meter race of USA Track & Field made headlines when two runners, Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh, tied for third. It was a photo finish, so to determine the true winner (and true loser), the photograph - taken at  3,000 frames per second (we must be exact here)- was consulted. The photo didn't settle the problem of who came in third, but exacerbated it. It was as close a tie as possible. But since there can be no ties in a track and field event, the official rules had to be consulted. The outcome of the race had to be settled, seriously, by a coin toss.

What this controversy highlighted for me is the absurdity of all such sporting contests. When winning, or in this case, showing, is the only goal, but when losing is the overwhelmingly probably outcome, what is the point of competing in any sporting event? Reports of the race results never mention the people who came in 4th or 8th or last, do they? They are forgotten. Yet they are the ones who can teach us something.

I saw an Olympic runner from Morocco on TV the other day, talking about how the word "lose" doesn't exist. Lucky guy. Does he ever think about the runners whom he left in the dust? Of course not. He spends his life always looking forward. My ideal race is the one in which all ten runners cross the finish line simultaneously. A photo finish won't help. There they are, all ten of them, apparently crossing the finish line at the exact same moment. What would they do? Stage another race? Toss a coin? The coin would have to have ten sides.

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