Sunday, September 27, 2009

Great Expectations: Existential Relativism and How a Win Changes Everything

On Sunday I pulled 4th place in the Socal Cross Prestige series cat 4 race. Just a couple months ago this would have been a big event. MMS text messages would have been sent around with images of the results, calls made home proudly reporting the great news. A residual high would have gotten me through an other wise gloomy Sunday evening and motivated a Monday. Not today though. Today, 4th place seems... not that great. Not after standing atop the podium last week as number 1.

Some time back when I was freelancing at Universal Sports on the 09 Giro d'Italia, I formed a negative opinion of sprinting sensation Mark Cavendish after he did an embarrassing performance on the race leaders podium at the end of stage 3. After donning the maglia rosa (pink jersey) and retaining his lead in the over all, the obnoxious prat could barely muster the enthusiasm to uncork his double magnum of preseco to make the obligatory spray onto the crowd. I couldn't believe the amount of disrespect this guy was showing. He looked like a spoiled little boy who got the wrong present on Christmas day. As a fan of professional cycling any subsequent win from Cavendish seemed hollow to me. Yeah, so he's the fastest guy out there, but his attitude sucks. As I'm no Anglophile to begin with, I've come to enjoy seeing the guy loose. At least then he's got something to cry about.

This weekend however I gained a small insight into what motivates his embarrassing behavior. Once you've won a race - anything less than that feels empty. Before winning, I never used to understand why guys seem disappointed with second or third. But once you've crossed that threshold your point of view is rearranged. The lens from which a winner see the world has a narrow focal point, where being number one exists in sharp and vivid contrast, while second and third place are background elements, softly focused and less appealing.

Take for example this image from the cover of last month's issue Velo News. This is a guy who's not used to being second to anyone in the Tour de France, finding himself of the third step of the podium. The look says a lot about reward and expectations. To come back at the top of the sport after four years and even be on the podium of the Tour is an amazing accomplishment, but for him clearly not enough.

How does one ever adjust to anything less than the best after being a winner? Is there ever a way back to mediocrity, where a good finish is good enough? Perhaps there isn't. Once you crossed though the winner's door there is no going back. It explains a lot about why many winning athletes make "comebacks." For me, the important thing is to try maintain perspective - so yeah I've won a race. I just need to make sure that win continues to fuel my motivation to train hard and win again.

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