Wait, a second

Looks pretty good to everyone else . . .Second is the hardest prize; you win gold and lose silver; always a bridesmaid . . . Watching the Winter Olympics there’s been a lot of talk about the heartbreak of not-quite-winning, and the fractional seconds and centimeters between glory and “defeat.”

We pipers and drummers are of course used to all that. The greater the competition’s stature, the less satisfactory any prize but first can be. Kids take gleeful pride in their third- and fourth-prizes in amateur and junior competitions. Grade 4 bands relish even a mention in the list. But, when it comes to the Professional Solo or Grade 1 band events, there’s often more disappointment than joy with the competitors who placed, but didn’t “win.”

As the Olympics remind us, that’s not right. Just qualifying to be good enough to compete at the highest level of athletic sport or piping/drumming competition is a massive accomplishment on its own. The competitors who don’t meet that lofty standard – probably 99 per cent of people who compete in the sport or art – are envious of just the achievement of competing at the top tier. They’d covet just being good enough to play in a Grade 1 band or at the Professional solo level, and any prize, to them, would be dreamy cake-icing.

It’s a bitter reality: the better you become, the more disappointing competition can be. Part of the reason why there’s disappointment is the pathological competitive drive required to reach the top tier. You keep pushing and pushing to be better and better, so, of course second-prize even at the loftiest level is tantamount to losing. It’s a necessary competitive mindset.

But the overall piping and drumming culture mistakenly and unhealthily plays in to that first-or-lost attitude.

It doesn’t help when we continually tear down our own. The sordid and spiteful tradition of ripping everyone but the winner continues in some fusty, old-think places. That sort of Sunday Morning Quarterback analysis is at least useless, if not downright mean. We should celebrate the winners, but we should also continually vaunt our best and brightest.

It’s interesting to me that, during these Olympics (which granted are receiving far more attention in Canada than anywhere else), it’s the favoured competitors who didn’t quite rise to the top who usually take things the hardest. While the disappointed athletes have on occasion sobbed inconsolably over their “loss,” the public cheers them on, proud of their achievements and their extraordinary dedication, commitment and talent.

We pipers and drummers can learn from that.

Hounds and foxes

I'll show you early E!It’s too bad that World’s Week coincided with the first half of the Olympics. Not that I watched or followed the second week that much, but I didn’t see any of the first week except for the awesomely staged opening ceremonies.

I did note quite a bit of commentary about the Olympic events that are subjectively judged. Diving, judo, synchronized swimming and the like are all subjective sports; that is, you don’t score goals or race against a stopwatch. There even seemed to be calls to get rid of these judged events, since uneducated viewers can’t easily determine what’s a good triple-spin-double-loop-hold-the-toes-no-splishy-splash dive and what isn’t. These events are also fraught with allegations of bias and corruption.

Sound familiar?

It all got out of control when a Cuban tae kwon do competitor took out his frustration on one of the judges and delivered a flying wheel-kick to his chin, putting the judge in the hospital, resulting in the Cuban’s probable ban for life from competing.

Pipe band judges over the years have rarely been the victim of an actual physical assault by a competitor, but every year there are tales of band members having a verbal go at a judge for the decision they rendered. Usually, it goes like this: after the contest competitors meet at the beer tent or a popular pub for one two or 20 pints. After tense competition there are those few who are celebrating a win, but the majority is probably disappointed. Emotions run high, and alcohol fuels the mood. Someone decides to ask a judge a question about the result. The answer’s not satisfactory. An argument starts. People get pulled apart. Complaints are filed. No one wins.

A few judges make the chronic mistake of trying to share in the socializing with the competitors. Instead of doing their own thing, or simply going home, far from the madding crowd, they instead try to take part in the competitors’ party. In an ideal world there’s no reason why a judge should not be allowed to socialize with competitors, and one would wish that everyone could just get along. But that’s just not realistic.

After a significant event, it’s best for a pipe band judge to make him- or herself scarce. As tempting as it might be to hit the beer-tent, it’s not advisable. There will always be disappointed competitors and those who read their score sheets with incredulity and make a B-line for the judge for an explanation. Add a few drinks to the mix and you’re just asking for trouble.

Judging can be rather lonely. By necessity, it should not be about socializing with competitors before, during or after the event. That’s not to say that a judge should not be approachable and not welcome reasonable, sober questions. Far from it. But that can happen a day or days after the contest, when heads have cooled, recordings have been assessed, and hangovers have been beaten.

An adjudicator who insists on hanging out with those he just judged does so at his peril.