Figure Skating

Jian Ghomeshi - Monday Feb. 17, 2014 20:37

Q Essay: When going for gold goes too far

Patrick Chan didn't win a gold medal. Did you?

Patrick Chan placed second in the men's figure skating event at the Sochi Olympics. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

When does the primacy of medal winners in our minds cross a line? Put more simply: when does going for gold go too far?

It's a question that arises as we pass the midway point here at the 22nd Winter Olympics.

Of course, it is about the medals. After all, would we all be here if there were no competition? Would the world be riveted, and would national pride be inspired by coverage of recreational skating or pick-up hockey? Certainly not.

The medals are a galvanizing point and a way of identifying the top athletes in the world, at their game, at this moment. Own the podium, indeed.

But think about this (if you can without your national colours getting tarnished) for just a moment: if these athletes have spent years and years training to get to the Olympics, should it really ultimately come down to one second, one fall, one goal, one miss, or one questionable call ... as the marker of how we will hold them in judgement, forever?

And so it was that the remarkable Patrick Chan – the world champion, the gentle, elegant, multilingual, hardworking beautiful skater who was a major gold-medal hopeful for Canada – finished just short of that on Friday night.

As he came off the ice, he apologized. Then headlines called his performance "disappointing." Armchair critics on social media wrote that he "choked" and called him a "failure." When I tweeted I was proud of him, one respondent declared him an "embarrassment."

Some of this strikes one as strange, if not ludicrous.

Patrick Chan didn't have his best skate. True. He lost a chance at gold. True. This will be something he repeats over and over in his mind. True.

But he's also one of the best in his sport (if not the best) in history.

This is a remarkable athlete who has worked tenaciously to get himself to the highest level of his sport. This is a young man who has been victorious consistently for Canada in a glamour sport. This a competitor who has given many Canadians and skating lovers excitement and joy over the years.

If Patrick Chan is a failure, if he’s an "embarrassment" ... what does that make the rest of us?

This is when the medal obsession, the "going for gold" alone is a problem. This is when we've lost perspective. This is when we need to fill in the context and reserve the judgement.

Not winning gold may be a disappointment in the moment, but there is zero shame in silver.

As for Patrick – he’s an inspiration.

Big congrats to PChiddy. You did it. We're proud. This one's for you.

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