The Struggle vs. The Triumph

by: Justin Reid-Ross

The Olympics Games is the Mecca of the sporting world. As hockey players, we grow up dreaming of participating on that ultimate stage and if we are fortunate enough, that opportunity presents itself once in a lifetime. Success and failure are both part and parcel of top-level sport, but participation allows us the opportunity to experience those sensations. Without participation, we would never have to feel the agony of failure, but we would also have to live without the exhilaration of success.

My personal Olympic experience until now has been one of trials and challenges. The history goes that in 2000, the South African men’s hockey team qualified for the Olympic Games of Sydney, but were not sent and therefore did not participate. That was before my time as an international hockey player, but I clearly remember the distinct feeling of dreams being shattered. Not only those dreams of the players who would be missing out on the games of 2000, but also for the young players of my generation who would not be watching their hockey heroes competing against the best in the world. The captain at the time Craig Jackson was quoted as saying, “Over the last two or three years we kept thinking that all we need is one little break and South African hockey would soar. Not going to the Olympics has just put us further back in that quest.”

In 2012, I was a member of the team and we had to qualify twice to get our chance at the Olympic dream. Once, by winning the African Continental Championship (the official qualification criteria) and for a second time by winning the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which we did. London 2012 was the highlight of my sports career. The experience is hardly describable to someone who hasn’t lived it. I loved every second, but I left craving more. As a team, we struggled to get the result we wanted and a large group of us swore it would not be the end for our group.

London qualification, part II

Four years later and a similar situation exists. South Africa have won the African Championship and are therefore the rightful heirs to the final Olympic berth, however it is still uncertain whether or not we will be that final team participating in the hockey competition in Rio 2016. The apparent reason for this, is that our team is not likely to compete for a medal. The hockey competition in Rio will be dominated by the “big four” nations, the teams that constantly jostle for the medal positions in major tournaments. Current world number 1 and World Champions Australia, current Olympic Champions Germany, current European Champions The Netherlands and England, all have the chance of medalling. Throw into the mix; Belgium, Argentina, India and Spain, and the top 8 at the tournament becomes quite crowded with quality teams who have all been preparing for a long period of time. South Africa have never finished higher than 10th place at the Olympic Games, so to expect a medal with little preparation and even less funding would be expecting a miracle. Perhaps a more realistic target would be to support and encourage the team to write a little bit of history with a possible top-ten finish and by doing so, providing young sportspeople back home a glimpse into the passion and pride that comes along with representing your nation at the Olympics.

Handling success with humility and failure with dignity is a great challenge of sportspeople, but both are infinitely easier than watching your dreams evade you because of something outside your control. That is something that I don’t believe you could ever prepare for. I hope that the words of the Olympic Creed leave their mark on the people who hold our dreams in their hands. “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Photo: Getty Images

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