With the Olympics in full swing, Jonty Pearce questions why we all have such a competitive approach to life, even when it comes to sailing
The Olympics are upon us – and eager competitors are chasing each other about on the water after years of training, tactical sessions, qualifying heats and general stress. I know it’s all very exciting, but the (maybe not so) small maverick tendency inside me has raised its head above the gunwale and asked the dreaded word ‘why?’
Now I know that since the dawn of mankind each caveman has been in competition with his peers for the capture of his wooly mammoth – but back then, it was succeed or starve. Through the ages man has put his abilities against his colleagues in a bid to be fastest, cleverest, prettiest or richest. In Rio, our finest sailors are pitting their wits and skill against teams from all over the world. There may be little risk – viruses and pollution apart – and the rewards are immense, but I’m afraid it really is not quite my cup of tea. Or tot of rum?
You see, I am just not competitive. Much. I do admit to a frisson of pleasure when I out-sail another yacht when we are both ‘not racing’, but the drive to compete and win passed me by when the dog-eat-dog gene was handed out. I’m just a natural cruiser. Not a racer, or even a cruiser-racer; I am built for comfort, not speed. Dinghy racing did not enthrall me – I did try it but, maybe because I was no good at it, gained no real value from it. I found that exploring small channels through the reed beds gave me more pleasure than blasting round the cans being fog-horned by some dementedly signaling club commodore intent on correcting my racing ineptitude. Watching wildlife drew me more than observing sport. Apart from rugby, I find little thrill in watching games. Cricket I like, but more as an excuse to drink cider in the sun than to follow each nuance of the batsman’s stroke. Football just irritates me – the acting performance the players seem to consider central to the game only serves to alienate me. To watch a grown man rolling about in alleged agony in order to falsely press home the advantage of a supposed foul is not an admirable trend – especially when he gets up and races round the field with nary a limp as soon as it is apparent that the referee has ignored him. Rant over.
All this combative ‘I’m better than you’ behaviour just seems too stressful to me. Working as a GP in the NHS has probably slanted my viewpoint adversely here – every medical colleague I speak to these days is chasing his tail, exhausted, and burnt out by continual worry-invoking novel ways of squeezing a quart into a pint pot. I’ve got a bad case of change fatigue and freely admit it. My own stress levels are far too high to relish the fortunes of high level competition. I do enjoy exercise; but when cycling I am content to be the fat one at the back when going uphill, though I am often in front on the down slopes – it’s something to do with gravity, I’m sure. I am proud now to be nearly as good at playing badminton left handed as I was when I played right handed (shoulder arthritis enforced the change, though oddly I can still play tennis right handed). My own sports are played for personal enjoyment rather than dominance.
But thank goodness we are all so different. If we were all grumpy selfish sack potatoes like me our lives would be poorer and infinitely more boring. So well done, sailing Olympians – chase your dreams, and we admire you for it. I will look forwards to reading about your successes in the yachting press after the excitements are all over… Bah! Humbug.