Rio 2016: Just an Olympic bronze medal? Sergiu Toma’s success should spark judo boom in UAE
Face it. We may possibly be the most spoilt and entitled generation of sports-watchers ever in the history of sports-watching.
In our lifetimes, we have seen the greatest men’s tennis player of all time (take your pick from three actually) and the greatest female tennis player of all time (no picks, just one name). We have seen men run the 100 metres faster than ever before. We have seen the two greatest footballers strive season after season to prove they are the better than the other. We have seen some of the most evolved football teams known to man.
We take all their successes – especially the overwhelming and recurring nature of it, of grand slam title after grand slam title, of goal after gazillionth goal, of 9.58 seconds for 100m – for granted.
Maybe that is the only way to deal with the enormity of what they are accomplishing, to become almost inured to it. Athletes, we begin to think, are machines not humans, designed and calibrated to produce success wherever and however they may be.
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We hold them to ridiculous, exacting standards – Usain Bolt will win three successive Olympic golds in the 100m and if he does not, then he may not be a failure but we will question his GOAT quotient.
If Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams do not complete the Grand Slam, or had they not won each one of the four to complete a career Grand Slam, they might not have been considered the finest of all time.
Big football clubs that do not win trebles have to find someone to blame and fire. An NBA side puts together the best regular-season record ever but because it loses in the final, somehow the regular-season record loses a little sheen.
This kind of excellence has conversely devalued, almost belittled success – which is probably the main reason why the Olympics still continue to hold relevance in this climate and not just that, but a certain, unmatched resonance as well.
Here, in Rio, in London, in Beijing, in Athens and beyond, every four years, we are reminded that success is not inevitable, that it cannot be taken for granted and that the multiplicity of it is unusual in the extreme, certainly not the norm.
Even and, perhaps, especially when, the success is one, fleeting moment of glory, we begin to understand how much success really means.
On Tuesday, the UAE’s Sergiu Toma won the bronze medal in the men’s judo -81kg division, beating Italy’s Matteo Marconcini with a quick takedown to put himself on the podium. He was not far from going further, having lost to eventual gold-medallist Khasan Khalmurzaev in the semi-finals in a “golden score” takedown.
Now you could look at some of the athletes around in these Games, and because you are spoilt, think sure, a bronze is great but a gold is something else. Soon after Toma, in fact, Michael Phelps picked up his 20th and 21st Olympic gold medals, a feat that would, if he were a country, place him 39th on the list of all-time Olympic golds.
Now we are likely to be pretty nonchalant about it because it has happened so often – of course he won, he is Michael Phelps. He was bound to. It was helpful of Phelps, then, to prick our bubble. “That’s a lot of medals, it’s just insane. It’s mind-blowing.”
Even winning the one medal is mind-blowing, as Toma and the UAE will appreciate (and neither Djokovic or Williams go home with one from here). It hardly matters that it was bronze and not gold. How much can the distinction matter to a country for whom this was only the second medal at the Games, following Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher’s gold in shooting at Athens 2004?
To a relatively smaller sporting country like the UAE, these individual successes have the potential to have as great an impact on that sport as Phelps might on young swimmers in the US.
A return of a bronze for the funding that goes into judo will suddenly mean that more funding will come into the sport, that it can and should be taken to more schools. Above all, it means, in Toma, there is a role model to latch on to, to rally around and aspire to.
Nearly 30 years ago in Seoul, Hussain Shah won a bronze medal for Pakistan in boxing. It was only the country’s second individual medal at the Games. They had a fairly established tradition of boxing in the country but Shah’s success sparked two decades of regional and international success for Pakistan that would otherwise have never occurred.
Pakistani boxing, like so many other sports, is dead now, in the main from maladministration. The UAE, however, is inestimably better placed to look upon that little boom, inspired by a solitary medal, and build itself a far sturdier, richer legacy.
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Updated: August 10, 2016 04:00 AM