x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

So this is what they call 'winning'

We have finally understood that winning is not a dirty word, nor an impossible dream. It is just a matter of finding talented people, investing in them and giving them our permission to succeed.

Bradley Wiggins not won the Tour de France he backed that up with a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Bradley Wiggins not won the Tour de France he backed that up with a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

 

Oh, so this is why the Americans love winning so much.

Forgive my ignorance. I'm British, you see, and we do not really do sporting victory.

Well, we didn't. Not until this glorious summer, when the wins came along all at once like - fittingly enough - London buses: Bradley Wiggins on a bicycle in Paris, Rory McIlroy with a golf club in South Carolina, Andy Murray with a tennis racket in New York.

And don't get me started on the innumerable triumphs of Team GB at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Not since the turn of the 20th century have my countrymen worn the laurel crown on so many occasions. But to cherish those old sepia-tinged wins would be like a father diligently noting the back yard goals scored against his toddler son.

They did not really count. Back then we were the global superpower playing our long-standing national games against a bunch of guys still thumbing through the rule book, wondering which end of the bat to hold or why the "offside trap" cannot be used to hunt beaver.

Once the rest of the world got the hang of "our" sports, we were done for. We went from being the toast of the town to, well, just toast.

Man, we were dismal. The last Brit to win a tennis major before Murray was Fred Perry in 1936, the last to win the US PGA Championship before McIlory was Jim Barnes in 1919, the last to win the Tour de France was ... oh, hang on, we never won the Tour de France. We left that to the powerhouse nations like, erm, Belgium.

But at least Le Tour was a proper contest. For a long time we could not even win the cricketing Ashes, despite having a guaranteed place in the final.

Face it: Brits were losers. So what did we do about it? Well, we faced it. We got used to it. In fact, we learnt to love it. We became, in our view at least, the world's best losers.

We lost with courage, pluck and grace. We often lost with humour and magnanimity.

When we inevitably crashed out of yet another tournament we rolled our eyes, sang Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, then packed away the damp union flag bunting for another year.

To further cushion the blow of defeat, we developed a warped and somewhat snobby attitude towards victory.

At best, we decided, the pursuit of victory was rather vulgar.

All that whooping and hollering was a tad adolescent, therefore best left to adolescent nations like America, Australia and New Zealand.

At worst, the hunger for endless athletic pomp was sinister.

Bulging medal counts were for totalitarian regimes in need of yet another propaganda coup.

But this summer it feels like Britain discovered a Third Way: to win humbly, to top the podium without crowing or arrogance or boastfulness. We remain self-effacing but, for the first time in living memory, we actually have something to efface.

I should add a caveat here. Many other nations have been doing this for years. For every scornful Australian wicketkeeper or preening USA relay team, there have been hundreds of gracious, noble, sporting victors from outside this rain-lashed island in the North Sea.

This problem with winning was ours and ours alone.

And now, perhaps, we have solved it. We have finally understood that winning is not a dirty word, nor an impossible dream. It is just a matter of finding talented people, investing in them and giving them our permission to succeed.

So how does it feel to be a British sports fan? Well, for now - until we either relapse into defeatism or this novel delirium is calloused by an arrogant sense of entitlement - it feels victorious, happy and glorious.

sports@thenational.ae

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