Father Mack’s Musings #3 from the WEG 2010 - Being a Good Sport

“I never thought about losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.” ....Muhammad Ali

Perhaps my mind has dredged that quotation you see above from the darker recesses of my memory because those of us attending the opening ceremonies of these games were privileged to see the boxing champion known simply as “The Greatest” pass by and wave to us from the front seat of a convertible. Another possibility is the simple fact that, after so many of us had whipped ourselves into a frenzy at the possibility of the US dressage team winning one of the medals awarded on Tuesday afternoon, we need to take at least a passing glance at the topic of sportsmanship.

The pugilist once named Cassius Clay got it right (in my not always humble opinion). When one has lost, do it right. This day’s series of dressage tests presented me with two worthy examples of consummate sportsmanship. Both, I am happy to report, may be seen as well as written about thanks to the sharp eye and the camera skills of my beloved Ruth.

The first instance of sportsmanlike behavior I present for our consideration involves one of the sportsfolk here in Lexington who still has high hopes for personal accomplishment even though his team (the USA) finished fourth and out of the medals. But this case requires a bit of background: The beloved Ruth booked tickets for us and for some of her buddies from the barn (Howdy! Marilyn, Lisa, Theresa, and Pia!) over a year and a half ago. Little did we know that the row in which we now sit overlooks the table reserved for Akiko Yamazaki and her family and the squad of people who support Steffen Peters. I as a journalist could not have begged for a better place to sit during the WEG!

I will be the first to admit that I am NOT a groovy, cool, and relevant kind of guy. That is another way of saying that I do not pour over magazines such as “People” while waiting in the dentist’s office. Oh, yes, as a computer geek I am fascinated by the fact that this lady (who must ladle considerable financial resources into the Peters’ equestrian operation) is wife to Jerry Yang (the co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo! Inc.), but that does not make me a potential stalker of Akiko and Jerry. FAR more interesting to me is the fact that this entire family unit not only has turned out for nearly every ride during these first two (largely preparatory) days of WEG dressage, but that they also WATCH each and every test with obvious interest and acumen.

Enough background to the example of sportsmanship that I wish to consider in your company, dearest of readers. Through the wonders of the World Wide Web you should now be gazing upon a relatively simple scene. It is that of the US anchor rider for our dressage team applauding while seated in Akiko’s and Jerry’s table. “Applauding who?” you may ask. Steffen’s applause was for Edward Gal who had just completed his nearly impeccable ride on Moorlands Totillas to lead the Netherlands to their team gold medal. Regardless of whether at that point on Tuesday afternoon Steffen thought he could top Edward’s score or not, he applauded in admiration of his competitor’s accomplishment. Muhammad Ali, I believe, would have been proud of Steffen today.

The second visual aid for our contemplation of sportsmanship comes courtesy of the individuals in frighteningly orange clothing. In this photograph the Dutch youths are visible displaying their obvious enthusiasm over and love for Totillas and his rider. In fact, if you look at the photo with some care, you will see that the object of these Totillas worshippers and his tow-headed rider are passing before them.

“Alright,’ you may be saying to yourself, “we readers are a forgiving and a tolerant bunch, but what in the name of a gracious God do Totillas fans have to teach us about the topic of sportsmanship? Steffen respects and applauds his arch-enemy, that we understand. But Dutch fans cheering their Dutch fair-haired boy? What are we learn from that?”

A very good question! I am glad that I asked it! Just two rides after this photo of Dutch jubilation was snapped the top rider for the Netherlands’ traditional nemesis (Germany), Isabell Werth, put in a darned good ride. And what did the Dutch orange-clad lads do? They stood and cheered with what seemed to my trained eyes the same level of zeal as they had for their hero and his horse ten minutes before. Again, I imagine that Mister Ali would approve.

Oh, yes, there is a third example of very sportsmanlike behavior, but I cannot show it to you in a photograph. This final illustration requires that you and I turn our gaze inward. Look down into the depths of our horse-loving hearts and examine the high regard we should (must?) have for Mssr. Gal and his teammates who on Tuesday took home the gold with exemplary rides. I trust that Muhammad Ali and other good sports who have gone before us are smiling down upon us.

Photos: Steffan applauds Edward Gal, Totillas fans by my beloved Ruth.