Winning is something great. People like winning, surely you love winning. Even when we are playing cards or videogames we try to do our best in order to win. The victory is the shaft of the sport, but it is not only about to win. Is it worth winning at any price? Why does our society tend to praise the winners and forget those ones that albeit making great efforts and overcoming themselves in an outstanding way, they fail in holding a trophy or being the first to cross the finish line?
Many athletes cheat because they suffer a great pressure to win and if they don’t, they become unworthy. This lack of reconnaissance of the no-winners makes them take the decision of gambling and acquiring products for enhancing their performance. They do it because in professional sport only winning matters.
But I would like to take a look back. More than a century ago some countries were struggling for being the firsts to set foot on the North Pole. We still do not know who really was the first man to reach the Pole, as many thought or pretend to have reached it, but later it was demonstrated that they did not say the truth.
Frederick Cook claimed that he reached the Pole on April 1908. Now we know that he lied, as at the pace that he stated to have carried on in his way to the Pole was not possible for an early 20th century explorer. To take Cooks version true we will need to believe that he walked 60 kilometres a day, what is absolutely impossible under those conditions (heavy baggage, rough surfaces…). In those years of controversy the Royal Geographical Society considered that Robert E. Peary was the first to reach the North Pole, a year later Cook had claimed to do so. However, nowadays, it supports neither Cook nor Peary, although it is widely believed that Peary did it first.
But there are many evidences that put into trouble Peary’s version and albeit he probably got very close, surely closer than anyone before, it is unlikely that he got his aim. And, furthermore, many suspicious gaps where found in his journals.
Both Peary and Cook had fight during years for something that had become and obsession for them. Reaching the North Pole was their ultimate goal and who knows if their cheated to their own and, of course, the American society, which expected them to conquer that uncharted land and rise the countries glory. In fact, Cook had cheated some years before when claimed to have surmounted Mountain McKinley. To demonstrate his feat Cook took a photograph of himself on the summit of a mountain that, years later, was discovered that it was a much lower mountain (15.000 feet lower). Now it is called the Fake Peak.
Since them, many other great feats are believed to be false, like Maurice Herzog’s climb to Annapurna. The book he wrote after going down the mountain, while recovering from his serious injuries, describes a magnificent and epic adventure in Nepal. First, it was a great challenge to explore the lands and try to find the possible ways up to the mountains and, then, going up an eight-thousand mountain was also quite challenging.
After finishing the World Was II, countries started some kind of race to conquer the still uncharted places of the world. France was one of the countries that invested more to put their flag on the top of the highest mountains. The goal was clear: to find and reach the top of an eight-thousand mountain. They invested money and hired the most skilful mountain climber from the Alps. Herzog lead that expedition.
In some way, all the country hoped tthem to reach the summit and, this way, raise the countries glory and gain international respect. There was much more on game than just surmounting a peak. Herzog and company brought in their rucksacks the expectancy of a whole country. To fail meant to disappoint a nation. And with that pressure, they left towards the unexpected.
The fact is that although Herzog claims that he reached the summit, and so he described in his book, after some years his version has been dismissed many times. Lachenal, the one that escorted Herzog in his way to the summit, died just a few years later they come back from Himalaya. Maybe too soon to feel sorry about their big lie and to confess.
I don’t want to state that Herzog cheated and that he was a liar, but it seems unlikely that when people still die climbing that mountain and the death probability at Annapurna is so high, he reached the top in 1950. He had just two evidences to certify his success: his word, and we know by experience that people uses to lie when such feats are called into question, and two photographs of him supposedly on the summit of Annapurna. I say supposedly because we can not say that the pictures show the summit of the mountain and thus his epopee has been questioned during many years. In fact, we have just Herzog’s word as a proof of his success and, unfortunately, he also died a few months ago. And, once again, some suspucious gaps in his journal put into doubt his succesful story.
Precisely at Annapurna, in the race to become the first woman reaching the fourteen eight-thousand mountains of the world, Miss Ho, the South Korean alpinist stated having reached the summit when she did not. On 27 April 2010 she became the first woman to get that feat, as Edurne Pasaban got his fourteen mountains on 17 May. But Miss Ho’s climb was under suspicion since the beginning and some months later the Korean Mountain Federation didn’t recognise Miss Ho’s ascent. Formerly, some Sherpas told Edurne Pasaban that she neither reached Kachejunga’s summit.
To have the first woman climbing the fourteen eight-thousands would be a reason to be proud for Korean government and that is why the Korean alpinist had a wide support from the authorities. She climbed the mountains at a frenetic pace but, at the end, become a victim of her own ambition. Alpinism is not a speed sport. It is much more than climbing mountains as fast as possible. She probably never understood that, she cheated and shamed the world of sport and alpinism.
More recently, Lance Armstrong leaded the greatest cheating story in the world of sport. He confessed afterwards and thanks to that we all know now that, certainly, his sport career was so successful thanks to performance enhancing drugs. I am not saying that Armstrong was not the best rider of the moment, as many other rivals of him also admitted having doped and thus he won in equal conditions. But he cheated and lied. And he is paying for it.
Doping is probably the most used way to cheat in sport. Diving, flopping and pretending injuries are another.
The society is sending a clear message to the world of sport: we only care about winners; we do not care about effort, overcoming stores or so one. We love the ones that get the ring, hold the trophy or reach first to the finish line.
The way of avoiding cheating in sport is changing the values of our society. If we praise an athlete that trains 8 hours a day and overcomes difficulties, but does never win, he will not have the temptation of cheating, as this public reconnaissance might be enough prize for him.
Of course, winning is great and winners deserve to be praised. But is not only about winning at any price. He must not only focus on the goal but in the way. Probably media is guilty for creating this kind of society that only praises winners. If we do not want cheaters we must promote other type of values.