Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat

Here's to the Losers - And the "Class" System
"There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way. You win with class and you lose with class." - David Carroll (Denis of Cork trainer) on Big Brown's Belmont Stakes loss

What a sports shocker weekend and how fitting that ABC Wide World of Sports catchphrase is in light of the events of the past weekend.

Class Dismissed

First and foremost, broadcasting suffered the agony of defeat this weekend with the death of Jim McKay, who defined class and integrity in his long and distinguished sportscasting career - highlighted by his continuous live coverage of the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy. McKay, who was 86 when he passed away at his Monkton farm, was a Maryland native who always championed local horse racing. I recall seeing the legendary Maryland native 6 years ago when, the night my mother passed away at GBMC hospital, McKay was in the adjoining room, where his wife was hospitalized. He was low-key and totally focused on his wife, slipping in and out of the room like a fleeting shadow, avoiding drawing attention to himself. A class act, in other words.

Brownout: Triple Frown at Belmont

New York sufferered a Brown-out at the Belmont Stakes

Saturday, of course, all the swagger and braggadocio from the camp of Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown came crashing down in the space of 2 minutes. In the weeks following Big Brown's wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, outspoken trainer Rick Dutrow had bragged about his horse's potential stud fees and place in horse racing history, basically writing off a win in the Belmont Stakes as a foregone conclusion. He forgot the part about Put Up Or Shut Up, Get 'Er Done, Just Do It, etc. - and a spoiler by the name of trainer Nick Zito (Smarty Jones' connections sure remember him after Birdsong's 2004 upset of yet another Triple Crown hopeful). As a result, Big Brown will go down in the history books for the dubious achievement of being the first Triple Crown favorite to finish dead last in the Belmont Stakes. How's that for egg - er - Big Brown in your face?

As Baltimore Sun columnist Rick Maese put it, "Somehow - and this is amazing when you think about it - the staggering margin of defeat suffered in the race was in direct proportion to the insufferable levels of boasts and bluster that poured from Big Brown's camp these past few weeks. Yes, there are racing gods - and their sense of humor is apparently equaled by their sense of justice."

In other words, a horse's class doesn't necessarily extend to his or her connections. As David Carroll, trainer of 2nd place finisher Denis of Cork, put it: "I feel bad for the horse, but [Dutrow] basically called my horse a [expletive deleted] and I didn't like that." Very classy, Dutrow.

La Terre Battue Beatdown

Roger: Searching for Clues

Tennis also has its gods, but for Roger Federer on clay they are gods of tragedy and injustice. To borrow Maese's line about Big Brown, Big Roger likewise suffered a "staggering margin of defeat" in his latest final showdown at Roland Garros. I mean, like jaw-droppin!

We all know by now that Rafael Nadal owns Roger Federer on clay (9-1 lifetime, including four wins at the French Open - including consecutive wins in the last three finals) and overall (11-6), but even the closest observer of tennis in general and this rivalry in particular could not have expected the straight set beatdown Rafa handed Roger on Sunday in the 2008 French Open final: 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Federer won just four of 22 games! Not only that, but the multi-lingual Federer (English, Swiss-German, German, French) no longer wows the French crowd with his trophy presentation perfect French, as now Nadal has learned to speak a few words in French and English, in addition to his native Catallan Spanish. He's catching up!

Once-jolly Roger is beyond bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Nadal after this humbling bow-down to the King of Clay. Though he never outwardly revealed his inner turmoil, I'd suspect these descriptions would describe how he's feeling right about now: beetle-browed, black-browed, black, blue, bowed-down, cast down, crestfallen, dark, dashed, depressed, despairing, despondent, desponding, disconsolate, discouraged, disheartened, dispirited, dour, down, downcast, downhearted, droopy, dumpish, feeling low, forlorn, frowning, gloomy, glowering, glum, grim, grum, heartbroken, in low spirits, in the depths, in the doldrums, in the dumps, languishing, low-spirited, low, lowering, melancholy, miserable, moodish, moody, mopey, morose, mumpish, pessimistic, pining, sad, sorrowful, spiritless, subdued, sulky, sullen, unhappy, woebegone, world-weary.

I know how frustrated he feels, for I too suffered a beatdown this weekend in my tennis league singles match (though against me every opponent plays like a soul-crushing Rafa Nadal!)

Sometimes in life you just hit a wall and have to admit that it's not meant to be. No matter how hard a spin the Administration puts on it, they can't justify the invasion of Iraq or hope for success there. It's a wall, whether it's Iraq for Bush or Nadal for Federer. People with class acknowledge their limitations and accept defeat with grace, not ill humor or stubbornness.

But even though he lost, Federer lost with class, a fact not lost on Nadal. Rafa, a class act himself, paid tribute to his opponent when he said, "I congratulate Roger. He has a great attitude in victory and in defeat."

World Class Pole Jumper

Pole Vaulter Podolski

In closing I'd be remiss in this discussion of class and losers not to mention Sunday's Euro 2008 clash between Germany and Poland. Though I'm sure they'd love some well-deserved payback for September 1, 1939, Poland is a perpetual loser against their border rivals in Deuschland and this day was no different as they went down 2-0 on a brace by Bayern Munich star striker Lukas Podolski. What makes Poland's pill that much harder to swallow is the fact that Podolski - like fellow Bayern Munich and German national striker Miroslav Klose - was born in Poland! To his credit, though, Podolski showed world class by not celebrating either of his goals, as he thought it would be disrespectful to the nation of his birth. He certainly showed a lot more class than the Polish media, who stoked tension during the build-up to the match by publishing a fake picture of national coach Leo Beenhakker holding the severed heads of Germany head coach Joachim Loew and captain Michael Ballack. Not to mention the 100 or so German hooligans that were detained for shouting Nazi slogans before the match.

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