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Olympics offer lessons for winning — and losing

Columnist Ryan Taylor comments on life in the slow lane.

By Ryan M. Taylor

For the Capital Press

Published on February 21, 2014 9:39AM

Last changed on February 21, 2014 1:35PM

TOWNER, N.D. — I like the winter Olympics, even more than the summer Olympics. Maybe it’s because I’m a snow and cold, northern climate kind of guy with a pair of cross country skis leaned up against the garage.

Any Olympics will give us stark images and valuable lessons of winning and losing that we don’t get to experience every day. Most days here are pretty noncompetitive. I’m mostly satisfied to get our kids on the school bus and get the chores done on the ranch.

Cub Scout competition

We do get some competition in our lives, though. As parents, we can’t help but have our kids in activities that are competitive. We don’t enroll them in every activity solicited to us by the forms and flyers that come home in their school backpacks, but they get to do a few things.

The boys are both in Cub Scouts, and the big competition of the Cub Scout year is the Pinewood Derby. They make their own cars to race down a track and see who can cross the finish line first.

Our 9-year-old has raced before with some success. Our 7-year-old was making his first attempt as a “Tiger Cub” competitor. I helped add the weights to their cars to get them close to the 5-ounce optimal velocity, but, otherwise, it was their project.

Our 7-year-old was the first one up. He was full of anticipation and excitement. He wanted to win. The two cars went down the track and he lost. The excitement drained from his face. And when I caught his eye 20 feet away, the sadness and disappointment started to well up in him.

We left the room and I tried to wipe away the sadness with the old lines, “not everybody can win, you did your best, I’m proud of you, we should be happy for your friends that won and congratulate them.”

All good lessons, of course, because, in life, not everybody gets to win, but we do our best and we try to be a good sport. We should always know that Dad will be proud of us when we try.

Olympic good sports

But, when the Olympics are on, we can show our children real time examples of victory and defeat. The athletes I’ve seen have all set pretty good examples.

There’s the red-headed gold medaling snowboarder, Shaun White, who surprised everyone by not winning the half pipe, finishing fourth with no medal at all. His lessons were trophy class, though — hug the winner, tell everyone you’re happy for the guys who won, and that, despite having a bad day, he wasn’t losing heart and was looking forward to the next time.

It’s OK to play hard, lose and be disappointed, too. When the U.S. women’s hockey team took silver to Canada’s gold, the hurt was evident. In their mind, they didn’t win the silver, they lost the gold. Still, some of those women will be back in four years. They will never give up, no matter the hurt.

I also like that the Olympics can remind my kids that sports can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s not everything. My new Olympic hero is Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the skiing, shooting biathlete from Norway with a record 12 Olympic medals to his career credit.

I like having world class athletes named Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who can come from a small farm, who can be 40 years old and still win a gold medal, and who can be a world class competitor but still have a day job. He’s a carpenter.

So, sports can be important and healthy, but so is building a house for someone. Maybe Ole Einar can talk to my children about skiing and shooting and carpentry, and winning and losing and life.

Maybe he already has because the Olympics allow common families to have that talk with world class athletes, in a modern roundabout way and the thrill of old-fashioned sports.


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