All about the gold, really?

SOMEONE posted the medal table of Sukma 2016 (Malaysia Games) showing Sarawak running neck and neck in the gold medal tally with its nearest rival. He exhorted, “Come on Sarawak, one more gold. You can do it!”

Somehow it reminded me of the 2014 song ‘All About That Bass’ by American singer and songwriter Meghan Trainor. Really? Is a song only about the bass, no treble? Similarly in sports competition, is it just all about the gold? Of course, in the heat of the moment everyone is focused on the gold medal tally so that his state can claim the bragging rights as the overall champion. But this youth games is certainly much more than just about the gold medal count. Firstly, Sukma is a welcome diversion from our depressing situation. All the more so at this moment when bad news (and bad attitudes) swirl around us like malignant dark clouds.

It drives me to unabashedly quote Charles Dickens (1812 to 1870). “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, …” (from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’).

This week we wait in fear of the coming into force of the National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016. This is a frightening piece of law. It gives one person virtually unlimited powers without any form of checks. So, it is a week of darkness. It is the winter of despair.

Sukma, on the other hand, brings us the optimism of light, of the hope of spring. It brings together our brightest young sports men and women to Sarawak to produce their finest at this mini ‘Olympics’. It is a time when one’s worth and entitlement is not conditioned upon one’s connections, race or religion. Yes, it is a time when meritocracy reigns as young Malaysians strive to produce their best in sporting rivalry.

It is such a joy to see the winning athletes receiving their medals with unbridled happiness – medals that they richly deserve. Of course at the medal ceremony and the photo call after, some people who helped them to reach the top are featured quite prominently. These are the sports officials and the immediate coaches. I trust as they look at their gleaming medals they will see the reflection of other faces too. They will see the faces of their parents, of the kind of people Josh Groban sang about in ‘You Raise Me Up’.

My niece Jessie achieved some measure of success in synchronised swimming. She won a silver medal at the South East Asia Games some years ago. For over 15 years, one person was constantly at her side, driving her to the training pool in the morning and in the afternoon. In those years, her mother never once had the luxury of lying in bed after 5.30am. (Morning training sessions started at the crack of dawn.)

If the champions look deeper they will see the faces of the coaches who first ignited their interest in the game, who taught them basic skills, and who picked them up from zero to get them ready to be handed over to the elite squad coaches.

When the Sarawak men won the squash doubles gold, Edgar Ong, an avid Facebook buff, posted the photo of the late Ken Goh. It was very decent of Edgar. I remember Ken, who passed away a few years ago, and his coaching partner, Paul Moh, patiently coaxed and coached the little boys and girls on the rudimentary elements of the game.

Just as our young champions bask in the glory of their achievement, they would also be aware that at some point their playing days at the top will be over. The fact that the age limit of Sukma is 21 is a reminder. They may have won accolades at this national tournament but it is unlikely that many of them will be able to continue in the same vein professionally. Does it mean that the years of hard work and sacrifice were good enough merely for a fleeting glory?

Henry David Thoreau (1817 to 1862), American author and philosopher, said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

I am sure many of you may have heard of the Chinese legend ‘Journey To The West’; in Chinese it is called ‘Xi Yu Chi’. This is the story of a monk by the name of Tang Cheng who went on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Buddha in India. He was accompanied by three immortals. One of them was the monkey god, Sun Wu Kong. The journey from China to India was an arduous one. They had to cross treacherous rivers, climb high mountains and confront man-eating monsters.

After years of enduring such hardship, Sun Wu Kong was fed up. So he pleaded with his master, Tang Cheng, “Master, why don’t you just climb on my back and I will transport you to your destination in a blink of an eye.” For the monkey god, Sun Wu Kong, was really a super god. He could ride the clouds, cover 10,000 leagues in one step and reach the ends of heaven in 72 somersaults.

“Dear Monkey,” said the master, “I am disappointed with you. After all these years with me, and after studying all the scriptures, you still do not grasp the point. The journey is the mission. The mission is the journey. It is the journey, not the reaching of the destination that will transform you into the enlightened one.”

That then is the crux of the matter – the real prize in any competition is not just the medal. In time, these medals will just gather dust on the shelf and the euphoric glow of the public acclaim will fade.

However, these brave young souls who dare to take the arduous journey to realise their potential would have lived out all the motivating clichés one can think of. They would have learned “no pain, no gain”; “it is not over until it’s over”; “success is not final, failure is not fatal”; “Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out”; “There is no shortcut to success” and many more.

If our young men and women can learn from some of these valuable lessons, they should be able to face the bigger tournament that life is. Then truly they represent the “the spring of hope” and can help the nation to roll back “the winter of despair”.

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