Thursday, February 23, 2006



One of the more compelling American stories this Winter Olympics has been in men’s speed-skating, as two world-record-holding participants, Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis, have sought gold medals in their respective and over-lapping events. Alas, what could have been a glorious experience for athletes and viewers has turned into… well, Shaq-Kobe II. I mean, can we have some graciousness please?

Here’s the situation: Davis is a lone wolf type, he goes his own way, makes his own rules, doesn’t have many friends in the U.S. Speed skating organization, grants few interviews, etc. But the guy is the first African-American world-record-holder in speed skating history, who grew up in a tough area of Chicago and persevered to success. What a great story.

Hedrick is the All-American Texan type, intense, friendly, highly competitive, accessible to the media. What started it all is Davis’s decision to skip the opening ceremony and then the team pursuit competition, in which the U.S. subsequently did not medal, and in which Davis’ excellence might have propelled them to gold. This seemed insensitive because two of the four skaters (the third was Hedrick) were competing in only that race and saw any medal chance disappear when Davis opted out.

Well the media, working the relationship triangle to beautiful destruction, pursued the controversy like little Screwtapes, eliciting a heated series of exchanges between Davis and Hedrick such that last night’s marquis event, the 1500 meters, which featured Davis and Hedrick vying for the gold, was won instead by a superb Italian racer, Enrico Fabris, with Davis winning the silver and Hedrick the bronze. One could say that their little feud made them unaware of, and vulnerable to, Fabris. In the press conference afterwards neither spoke to or looked at the other. It was, ahem, awkward.

Hedrick seems to be the “good guy” in all this, but wait! Sitting next to Hedrick but speaking to the reporters, Davis said “It would have been nice… if after the 1,000 meter race he could have been a good teammate and shook my hand, just like I shook his hand – no, hugged him – after he won the 5,000 meters.” One gracious gesture might have averted all this.

Frankly, I’d like someone to spank ‘em both and put ‘em in a time-out.

Imagine how this could have been different (and since I’m writing this mid-week, maybe it will have a happy ending by the time the Olympics close). Davis could have said, “I know my teammates were disappointed I chose not to do the team pursuit. I truly wish them the best and want our whole team to do well. But I know what I need to do to prepare for my maximum performance and that is to train alone and focus on my events.” And Hedrick could have replied, “I don’t agree with his decision but I respect Shani as an athlete and I wish him the best. He’s an outstanding competitor.” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. And then shut up.

My point is that a little graciousness goes a LONG way. It can change the whole tone of a relationship. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t have something good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

Husbands and wives, listen for a second: Are you gracious to one another? Do you say things like “please” and “thank you” and “I appreciate that” and “would you mind if” and “I’m sorry for” and “here, you hold the remote” (that last one is huge). Cards and chocolates once a year on Valentines Day are great, but these kinds of words are the DAILY cards and chocolates of a relationship.

Call them “winning words.” No athleticism necessary.


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