Why give 100% in the hunt for a medal?

For four years, maybe many more, you’ve been working towards an Olympic gold medal. Your struggle has carried you into the quarter-final of your chosen sport. Win that match and the next for a silver medal; win the final for gold.

But first you have one more group match to play. The result matters little, for you’ve already secured your quarter-final place.

How hard are you going to fight?

Not 110%. Sure, there are people out there who think giving 100% is just lazy, but frankly giving anything more is impossible. Let’s move on.

Will you give 100%? Probably not. To what end? Why would you? In the hunt for a medal, expending everything for no gain is both fruitless and counterproductive. In the case of the badminton match between Yu Yang & Wang Xiaoli (China) and Jung Kyung-eun & Kim Ha-na (South Korea), fighting for a win would have been doubly counter-productive. Winning would merely have secured them a tougher draw in the quarter-final.

So it was nonsensical to give their best efforts, as Olympic rules demand. Note that by ‘best efforts’, I mean 100%. I mean giving it one’s all: straining every sinew for every point; finishing the match physically and mentally spent; fighting as if for gold. Who would do that? Did Michael Phelps give it 100% in the heats of his best events? Will Usain Bolt give it 100% in the heats of the 100m? I doubt it.

The South Korean coach, Sung Han-kook, rather unsatisfactorily, said “The Chinese started this. They did it first.” For the sake of argument, let’s accept his point. The South Korean players were giving it 100% at the start of the match. Perhaps! And the Chinese were giving it 90%. If the match had proceeded like thus, then we would have been none the wiser. Jung and Kim would have won. The untrained eye would not have spotted the travesty before it.

But (still accepting the South Korean coach’s argument) at some point, Jung and Kim must have realised the Chinese were playing to lose. So they too lowered their game. From that point, it became something of a Dutch auction in the ill-fated chase for defeat.

The spectacle was painful to watch. See the match in full here (UK only).

Quite rightly, the audience wants to see the world’s top athletes playing at the top of their game. And the Olympic rules demand that they do just that. But I contend this is a rule that is routinely flouted. It’s just that when two opponents both seek to lose, then inevitably they will both be found out.

Eight players in total (including another four from South Korea & Indonesia) have now been disqualified. In this case, that judgement was quite right. But this was not the first time such gamesmanship has been found in the Olympics, and it will not be the last. Rather than try to enforce a rule which is at times perverse, the IOC should consider how the contests are structured, to remove the incentive for athletes to give anything less than 100%.


6 thoughts on “Why give 100% in the hunt for a medal?

  1. David – a great piece, and I agree with all of it bar one aspect: you agree that they should have been disqualified. I strongly disagree. I think they were behaving rationally in the middle of a system that was ill-thought-out (and the organisers had been warned so already). That 4 different teams noticed the glaring flaw in the rules suggests that it was painfully obvious.

    I would disqualify the cretin who wrote the rule book – not take it out on athletes who were, essentially, trying to be in the best shape they could be for the final.

    • Thanks James. Certainly the structure is problematic; but those were the rules they agreed to play by. For me the more serious accusation against the players was not just that they gave less than 100%, but that they actively sought defeat. In at least one point, I saw an SK player stretching to rescue a Chinese return that was out in order to play her own diabolical return!

      • There are group matches in many sports – Football often has matches in last group games of World cup. This was cheating. It wasn’t to do with being in good shape – as they practice each day to exertions close to their match par. We can’t and don’t give 100% all the time. Playing a league match in lower levels of sport, one may not put as much into as a cup final or crucial league match, but one still tries to win.

        However, they activley tried to lose and that is against all the principles of sporting behaviour and eventhe Chinese team and political side have come out against what they did.

      • Yes, the Chinese authorities have responded in the appropriate (and obvious) way. But Chinese athletes, in particular, are under great pressure to seek medals. That pressure is born of Chinese foreign policy, which must bear some responsibility for this week’s events.

  2. If they are receiving pressure from the powers that be in China to bring back medals, whatever the cost, I think this is very shameful.

  3. Pingback: Olympic gold with a dodgy knee « World of Wad

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