August 16, 2021 at 08:15 pm
Nathaniel Dela Cruz
How much of our success±or defeat - as athletes do we attribute to factors we cannot control, like divine intervention, or luck? How much depends on God or Lady Fate’s fervor, and how strongly do we believe that? Is our success in itself a blessing bestowed upon us, paid for by equal parts faith in God and faith in the rewards of relentlessness, or is the former all that matters? How much of us winning or losing as athletes is out of our hands?
I overheard someone say it, upon hearing the news that a Filipino athlete was unexpectedly defeated in the Tokyo Olympics. It was caused by ill luck, he said.
Luck is ubiquitous in sports, a slap in the face of the science and mathematics that shape athletic excellence because it is not enough that you’ve worked hard, that you’ve scouted and studied your opponents, and that you’ve practiced your moves and sharpened your skills. Above all, it is important to have luck on your side, too.
Between two equally-matched boxers fighting toe-to-toe, the one who can sneak in that lucky punch has the better chances of emerging victorious in the match. Probably. An impossible heave that went in is a lucky shot, and an improbable play that worked nonetheless and against all odds is considered a stroke of luck. In billiards, you call it a lucky break when the balls are spread on the table in such a way that the opponent has no clean shot – unless that other cue artist can pull off a lucky shot to get out of this sticky situation.
Luck. Or the lack of it. I used to believe in the concept of luck in sports. We all heard the luck logic: Mahirap talunin ang maswerte (it is hard to defeat a lucky player).
I found myself thinking about the comment I heard, about how the defeated athlete was just out of luck, and I realized this just now: it stayed with me because I didn’t want to accept the notion. It implies that luck was on the side of the victorious opponent. I didn’t want to accept it as much as I don’t want to accept the notion that Liao Qiuyun only managed silver because the winner in the women’s 55kg category in weightlifting just got lucky. The calloused hands of Hidilyn Diaz tell a different story.
If losing is the work of luck favoring the other athlete or the other team, it is an insult to how hard athletes worked to become winners.
Winning and losing are both reflections of our work. Granted that in this endeavor of the imperfect human being, we can always argue that there were many times victory was denied the deserving, still, many gold medal games and championship matches were won by the more deserving of the two, by the merit of superior athletic performance.
“Minalas lang” stains the honor awarded the winner and insults the winner and the defeated alike. A true competitor wants to believe that he or she went down fighting. In a contest meant to identify who is the best, the knowledge that he or she was defeated by the best is the consolation of the defeated. I would like to think that I fought and lost to a great opponent in a great match. Adding the element of luck tarnishes the experience.
I can’t accept “minalas lang” because it is a dishonorable exit that trivializes the really important factors that shape a game or match, and simplifies a complex moment of struggle and competition. We accept defeat and victory as a reflection of who is the best because that is the honor in sports. We do not compete merely to feed our conceit.
“Minalas lang” is a belief that leads the athlete away from the path of learning available only to those who accepted defeat as a result of being bested. The defeat should spark an impetus, a craving to train harder, become better, learn and improve, not nurture indignation as if he or she was robbed and cheated, doomed to wallow in bitterness. A gallant fighter does not deserve such cheap suffering.
But what about when athletes are performing below par? That is not ill luck. That is human nature: we are inconsistent beings, far from the machine-like consistency expected by fans, with their sometimes unrealistic expectations of athletes.
“Minalas lang” is a harmful notion. This monkey on your back swings from ear to ear whispering words of poison, and if you listen long enough, you will begin to fear the lingering shadow of ill luck, cursed by such malefic trepidation no one but you can exorcise. And bereft of genuine faith in winning, the desire to compete is the next one lowered into the grave, marked by a tombstone adorned by a single silver star.