We Don't Need to Win At All Costs

We Don't Need to Win At All Costs

October 27, 2016 0 Comments

There is always plenty going on in the world to make you question humanity, and for every act of kindness there seem to be hundreds of actions at the opposite end of the scale. This scribe is currently reading Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, so I am perhaps more philosophical than normal. 

You have probably already seen the video footage of Alistair Brownlee coming to the aid of his brother Jonny as he was close to passing out on the cusp of winning the finale to the World Triathlon Series, and as a result being crowned World Champion. If you haven't, watch this now, it really is a heart-warming 2 minutes:

Alistair said of the incident that it was "a natural human reaction" to come to the aid of his brother, adding: "I'd have done the same thing for anyone in that position." 

That clearly wasn't the same view taken by South African Henri Schoeman, the eventual winner, who displayed his selfish gene as he ran past the ailing Jonny on his way to the top of the podium. That is maybe a bit harsh on Schoeman as he would have known that medical teams would be in attendance near the finish line, and it wasn't his brother after all. 

The Selfish Gene explores behaviour genetics, which entertains the view:

"that genes are dynamic contributors to behavioral organization and are sensitive to feedback systems from the internal and external environments." "Technically behavior is not inherited; only DNA molecules are inherited. From that point on behavioral formation is a problem of constant interplay between genetic potential and environmental shaping"
—D.D. Thiessen, Mechanism Specific Approaches in Behavior Genetics

Clearly the Brownlee brothers have inherited genes that are near-perfect for elite triathletes (thanks Mum and Dad). But the more one watches these world-class athletes conduct themselves, it is clear that they have been raised to be humble, polite and look out for each other. They are a credit to the sport of Triathlon and Great Britain. 

When Alistair says he would have helped anyone in that position, it is not hard to believe. Would he have stopped to help Spain's Mario Mola, who was competing against Jonny to be crowned World Champion? Probably. 

As it happened, Jonny couldn't quite get the first place required to win the title, and was literally thrown over the finish line in second place. Mola, finishing in 4th, was crowned World Champion. 

In an unnecessary lack of class (Mola was already champion), the Spanish Triathlon Federation appealed to disqualify Jonny, which the ITU declined because "athletes can receive help from another athlete". Not sure what genes led the Spanish to that petty course of action. 

We sometimes have to remind ourselves that sport is first and foremost meant to be fun. Winning at all costs isn't necessarily the way to go (Exhibit A: Lance Armstrong). Give me a field full of Brothers Brownlee any day; up at the front, pushing the pace and behaving with humility and humanity.

These boys don't really have need for athletic fit jeans but if they did we would have had free pairs in the post long before now! 

Here's a closing quote from Dawkins himself, which might be an analogy for Team GB and their Olympic program, such was their success at the Rio Olympics:

"On the bank of the Oxford canal...is a large willow tree, and it is pumping downy seeds into the air...It is raining instructions out there; it's raining programs; it's raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading algorithms. That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth"

— Richard Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker, p. 111



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