I love the social aspects of sport and all the friendship that I’ve developed with people who were first my teammates, fellow competitors or training partners. There is, however, a flip side to this: those who make my skin crawl the second I see them lacing up their shoes or buckling their helmets. Having spent the last twenty five years involved in a variety of different sports, I’ve run into some awfully lousy sportsmanship. I’ve developed a classification scheme, in order from harmless to most harmful, of the poor sports I’ve encountered.
The interloper is the uninvited guest. She’s the girl who picks up the pace when you pass her. She immediately develops superhuman strength in the presence of strangers. She’s the one who comes home with an invisible gold medal from the commuter olympics. She’s the random stranger who sits on your rear wheel without saying a word.
We’re probably all guilty of this. Once, in hot pursuit of the Wednesday morning medal, I clipped a bollard with my pannier and cracked my bike helmet. I think that I probably deserved it. Crashes and injuries aside, pretend races like this are pretty harmless and add a bit of drama into the same old routine. It’s easy to slack off. Finding a rabbit to chase isn’t terrible.
Every athletic event from the start of time has had someone like this. It’s the gal who starts the day talking about all the reasons why she will under-perform. The rest of us tend to feel a little anxious about our abilities too. Unlike the Sandbagger, however, we have enough respect for our friends and competitors not to mention the bronchitis we had six months ago, the tough interval session we did yesterday or the fact that we gave birth last week. We’re mature enough to know that we don’t need to explain, in advance, that we might have a bad day; everybody has bad days. We take responsibility for ourselves and we know that our ego will recover if we’re not the best. Bottom line is that if the Sandbagger is too sore, undertrained, hungover, sick, overworked, tired or injured to run, hike, swim, ski or ride, then she should stay home.
Every fall, my high school would get flooded with visits from recent graduates. Presumably they felt lost among all the other college freshman and missed their high school glory days. They still long to be the big fish in the small pond. Eventually my high school posted a “By Invitation Only” sign and the visits stopped. I suspect that these Big Fish are now forced to find their glory either in the beginner category in bike racing; the finish line of a mini-triathlon; or taking the win at a charity 5K run/walk.
Don’t get me wrong, rookies need a place to start and having events geared toward them is a perfect way to enter into a new sport. What’s not so cool are individuals who sign up for these races week after week and use a win to feed their fragile egos. A well-trained and experienced adult beating a bunch of newbies and a few fast twelve year olds does not quality for elite athlete status.
It takes a special kind of athlete to win a social event or training session. Really special; but not in a good way. There is a fine line between a group pushing each other out of their comfort zones and a win-at-all-costs cage match. I’ve been involved in both. Knowing what is appropriate probably comes down to observing those around you and reading the signs. Unfortunately, the Über-Competitive athlete is too self-involved to look for those signs so she’s going all-out from warm-up to cool-down and everything in between, trying to rip the arms and legs off everyone around. Afterwards she tends to gloat and feel pretty smug about her skills, as if everyone else was ignoring the coach’s instructions and trying just as hard. She’s not much fun to be around.
The Excuse Factory is like the Sandbagger, except that she prefers to wait until the end of the day to discuss all of her hindrances to performance. This way, officials, other competitors, equipment and weather can be also blamed. While the Excuse Factory is trying to explain her poor performance, she’s also taking away from the effort that the winner, and all the other athletes, put out. To me, this is a perfect example of being a poor sport. Good losers accept that it wasn’t meant to be and quietly try to learn from any mistakes they might have made. Humble winners congratulate their opponents and recognize that, under different circumstances, someone else might have won.
Le Petit Cheat
Le Petit Cheat might never cut corners in a race with officals and marshalls, but she has no qualms about cheating in training or in low-profile races. Maybe this means drafting at the local time trial or riding outside the cones to get ahead of the pack in a criterium. When called out, she’ll justify her actions by calling the event a training race and saying that the results don’t really matter. It matters. Or, at least, it should matter. No matter how trivial the outcome of a race may be, without rules, sport is meaningless. I’d workout by myself before I’d race with a cheater.
Le Grand Cheat
Le Grand Cheat is rare in the amateur and weekend warrior ranks. Most of us have the common sense and ethics to keep things in perspective. I have heard a handful of stories of amateur racers cheating in running and in triathlon. I’ve never seen it. I can’t begin to understand why. Often they are called out through an online forum, their past results are analyzed and they are vilified. Watching this play out online isn’t much different than an episode of that show on TV where half a dozen people scream over who the baby-daddy is. It’s sad, but it also has an element of “I can’t look away” drama to it.
There it is, a classification scheme for the various types of poor sports I’ve run into over the years. Got any other good ones?
(P.S. To be clear, these aren’t restricted to females or males. Feel free to substitute “he” for “she” in any of the above text. It just seemed better to stick with one gender.)