Upcoming events –

Napa-Sonoma Half Marathon, July 20, 2014
Noble Canyon 50km Trail, September 20, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Winner or Champion?

A few years ago I heard Janet Evans speak about her Olympic swimming experiences. She talked about her first Olympics where she was a young, outrageously talented teenager who came in, won a bunch of medals, but didn’t really understand the significance of her performance. She said, “I was a winner. I crossed the line first, that’s it.” It wasn’t until she came back years later to compete in her second Olympics that she appreciated the dedication, perseverance and courage that it takes to make it to the Games. What she realized was that she could give her very best effort, be completely committed to her goal, and still not win. By living in the moment, appreciating her gift and giving it her best, she was a champion. It didn’t matter whether she was a winner or not. When she did win the gold in the relay, it was that much more special.

Which brings us to today’s 20km racewalk for men. Pre-race favorite Jefferson Perez is a winner by any definition: winner of the Olympics, World Championships, Pan American Games, World Racewalk Cup, etc, etc. However, he is also a champion. He wins with grace, humility and integrity. Today he finished second and won the silver medal. The ‘winner’ was Russian Valeriy Borchin who pulled away from Jefferson in the final five kilometers. Borchin served a one-year doping ban in 2005-06. He trains with the three Russian racewalkers who were banned weeks ago from these Olympics for EPO doping violations. His name was initially listed as one of those caught for doping but then his federation removed his name. Borchin is a drug cheat. He is not a champion. In my book, he’s not even a winner. It disgusts and infuriates me that he is allowed to race at all or that his coach is allowed to work with any athletes, especially kids and juniors who are just starting in the sport. Aaaagh, I get so mad.

America’s only 20km walker Kevin Eastler raced today for the last time (so he says). He announced days ago that he was very excited to be retiring from the sport immediately after his race. And since I am his roommate here in the Olympic Village, he has reminded me a thousand times since the race that he is retired. Tonight as I was heading to bed and he was heading out, he said, “Man, I’m so glad I don’t have to get up and racewalk tomorrow.” Thanks, roomie. Thanks a lot.

It was nice to get up early this morning to accompany Kevin to the National Stadium, take a short course walk-through (out the tunnel, around the 2km loop, and back) with US assistant manager, Tracy Sundlun, and see the procedure for the pre-race check-in. I walked with Kevin while he did a short warm-up and then headed into the stadium to catch the start. From the gun, Jefferson and some of the other pre-race favorites set a brisk pace. Kevin started conservatively and found himself in the back of the pack as they headed out of the stadium. Slowly, he began to catch the stragglers and moved up into 43rd place. His time was only a minute slower than his winning Olympic Trials race and the conditions were much tougher here. Given all the injuries Kevin has dealt with over the past year, he raced well.

I was rooting for Jefferson to repeat his gold medal performance from the 1996 Olympics, but he wasn’t able to match the surge that the convicted drug user from Russia set at the end of the race. To explain a little of the doping controversy, check out this article. I’m trying not to be too cynical about the drug use that seems to be pervasive in sports, but it's difficult. I’m optimistic that some day the testers will be one step ahead of the dopers and sports will be clean. I just don’t know how an athlete that cheats can feel any sense of pride or accomplishment at winning the gold. Or how someone can sleep at night knowing that he/she is a fraud. Sigh. Enough of that.

For some great photos and a summary of the race, check out Jeff Salvage’s excellent photo story.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the Village, listening to Kevin talk about the joys of retirement (shut up already!), and visiting with my family. Kevin and I took a taxi to the US Hometown Hopefuls hospitality. It was my first time there. The sponsor this year, Bank of America, found a really nice location with three stories, outdoor seating and a spot near the Worker’s Stadium – soccer and boxing events. The Hometown Hopefuls house is great because each US athlete can invite up to four friends and family to hang out, eat free food, watch video feeds of all the Olympic events, and check email.

My folks, Liz, Miles and Malcolm were all there and we stocked up on some good food, watched a few other sports on the live video feeds, and mostly tried to keep up with Miles as he was running around. Miles loved walking up and down the stairs with me. He doesn’t realize that I’m not supposed to be doing too much extra stuff like stair climbing or touristy stuff. But he got tired eventually, took a short nap, and we headed home.

The taxi ride home was an adventure of sorts. When Beijing was first awarded the Olympic bid in 2001, Chinese authorities assured the world that all the taxi drivers would be able to speak English by the time the world came to Beijing. Not so much. Liz helped me get on my way back to the Village by explaining, in Chinese, where I needed to go. The cabbie said, “Yeah, sure, I got it,” or the equivalent and we were off. We had driven 15 minutes and he started asking me, in sign language, whether we should turn or go straight. “I don’t know where we are!” We did make it, obviously, but if it wasn’t for the laminated card that says “Olympic Village” in Chinese that I showed to a few cops that stopped us at controlled intersections, I’m not sure we would have made it. Wheh.


Tim said...

Great to see your comments!

I've included many of your posts on racewalkingrecord.com

Best wishes for your race.


Anonymous said...


I'm loving the blog! I've read every entry! It is giving a way better insiders perspective to the Olympic experience than anywhere else on the web.

All the best,

Good Luck in the 50K

Glenn Osten Anderson

Amy Ketterer said...

Thanks for your consistent writing, Philip - we're thinking of you often, mentioning you to everyone we know, and celebrating you - your accomplishments, your focus, your attitude, your ethics - you!! DRINK UP every ounce of the experience! Much Love,
Amy and Tony Ketterer

Ryan said...

Hey Philip,

Much like the others I've read every entry and enjoyed it thoroughly. I've been thinking of you a lot these days and this blog has given me the chance to experience the Olympics as I've never experienced them before.

I get as frustrated as you when I hear about cheating. But all you can do is go out and be a champion yourself and not worry about the rest. Your job is to do your best!

Have a great race!

All the best,