Above All, Laud The Winners

Whatever happened to cheering for the winners?

All the news outlets are pumping the story of the Boston Marathon marine guy who crawled across the finish line. I understand the superficial value of the story: all-American boy does good; guy who lost his friends (in 2010) decides to do something difficult in their honor and manages to complete the task through the force of true grit. What I don't understand is why anyone thinks his story is more significant or amazing than the story of the winners.

Congratulations to marine guy for running the Boston Marathon, and my sincere condolences for his fallen friends. Still, there were hundreds of other runners at the Boston Marathon this weekend who were running for similar reasons, and who managed to finish ahead of this marine without crawling to the finish line. Why does marine guy deserve a disproportionate share of attention and accolades? He doesn't, at least, not for his marathon performance.

Every year, tens of thousands of human beings finish a marathon. It's difficult to complete a marathon, and it requires a lot of training, but it's feasible for most healthy people to run a marathon at some point in their lives without being the high-water mark of their existence. It's not that I want to pour cold water over people's accomplishments, but neither should we over-inflate the significance of a thing. The continuum between a huge accomplishment and a mundane task is long and granular; if we cheer loudly for any minor accomplishment, we risk ignoring truly great things. If we waste all our energy on cheering for people who merely finish a marathon, how much energy do we have left to cheer for the leaders?

Nor am I impressed that he crawled across the finish line. Crawling across the finish line is not the mark of great will power and determination, it's the mark of someone who did not adequately prepare for the marathon. We should not ignore that fact just because he ran for a noble cause. As runners, we must train in order to finish our events safely and strongly. This is a serious matter, and we ought not lose sight of its seriousness just because the media attempted to pull our heart strings and mouse strings. Every year, thousands of athletes use the Boston Marathon to fund-raise for charity and to call attention to many noble causes. They manage to train effectively and they manage to finish the race. If we're being frank, we must acknowledge that their accomplishments at the Boston Marathon are superior to the guy who crawled across the finish line.

Marathons are tricky business. Even a well-trained athlete can have a bad day and not finish the race. Perhaps the marine came down with a cold or flu a few days before the race, and ran despite being physically ill or exhausted. That's not worthless, but it's also not particularly great. The marine's friends did not lose their lives so that this guy could hospitalize himself in an effort to pay them tribute. It's good that he finished, but it's not newsworthy.

And we ought to be able to say so.

We also ought to be able to say this: the people who had the greatest accomplishment yesterday morning were the top finishers: Lawrence Cherono and Worknesh Degefa. They may not be former US marines who have seen active combat, but they had the best marathon performances in Boston this year, and they deserve the highest marathon accolades.


  1. Related accolade inflation: Every live performance I now attend appears to merit a standing ovation. I don't know when this happened, but, previously, standing ovations were quite rare and reserved for exceptional feats.

    1. Absolutley. I've noticed that, too. And unfortunately, no one wants to be the one sourpuss who refuses to stand when the rest of the audience has done so. So now we're stuck with it!