This Isn't A Movie, It's A Race

When it comes to team sports movies, Hollywood loves a great come-from-behind victory, a story about an underdog team overcoming long odds to win a fantastic final championship. Who doesn't love a story like that?

But when it comes to racing, Hollywood loves contrived garbage. At some point, long after Brad Pitt and Rick Schroeder starred in the surprisingly excellent Across the Tracks, Hollywood decided that movies about running should always be about community and friendship, rather than about excelling at a sport. In the movies, runners give up their first-place finish so that they can tie with their friend, they stop running in the middle of the race to demonstrate good sportsmanship or to help an injured competitor. On the silver screen, running is all about the clownish and puerile concept of "finishing."

In light of this, I was pleased to read the story of two top finishers in the Tokyo Triathalon, Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown, who were disqualified for finishing, "in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made." This is against International Triathlon Union rules. And there is no doubt that Learmonth and Taylor-Brown did indeed violate the letter and spirit of that rule.

There is predictable outrage in some quarters, of course. They were the first two finishers! Don't they deserve first and second place? First of all, no, because they deliberately violated a clear and unambiguous rule. Second of all, which place do they both deserve: first, or second? Thirdly, if winning wasn't important to them, then neither should be their disqualification.

Listen, I have never been a rabid competitor bent on smashing the other racers. I did well in my early running career, but I did not race to win, I simply raced to run fast. Other runners drafted off me regularly, and I was fine with that, because it wasn't important to me that I beat other people. It was important to me that I ran as fast as I possibly could. Running has always been a meditative act for me, a chance to commune with nature, to regulate my emotions, and to explore my own, personal, physical limits.

But ending a race in a contrived tie is pure idiocy. It's against the spirit of everything we do as endurance athletes. We need not end the race in a tie to be happy for our fellow competitors and to consider them our equals. We owe it to ourselves to do the best we can possibly do on race day. Trotting into the finish line, showboating, contriving a tie with your friend, and other such nonsense is not merely childish, it is also unsportsmanlike.

Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, a world in which friendly competition is shunned in favor of agreeableness and non-competition. It's sad. We could be pushing each other to greater heights and greater feats of athletic accomplishment, and instead we're hamming it up for finisher's medals.

Running is supposed to be fun. The spirit of friendly competition is supposed to be fun. To push each other, through competition, to achieve things we never could have done alone is the whole point of racing. And anyway, this wasn't a fun run.

I guess you could say, I'm in favor of their disqualification.

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