JAMES WILLSTROP watched the spotlight of success shine upon Nick Matthew after his World Championship winning final win over Greg Gaultier. But he questions the concept that the man who finished second is seen as a loser.
Some of the greatest achievements in sport are a result of so many variables coming together at one time and the difference between winning and losing is defined by very fine lines.
The spin offs from both eventualities tend to be wildly contrasting. The winner does seem to take it all: attention, publicity, congratulations, the trophy, the title.
In athletics, a slight anomaly, the athletes and the public are often more likely to deem an Olympic or World bronze or silver medal a success, but in any other context or sport there is little interest for those second placed.
When I held the world number one position there was a distinct difference between one and two: more interest, more publicity comes your way, and more people seem to watch your matches.
Nick Matthew became world champion last weekend in Manchester, and (especially because the tournament was held in Manchester) the attention that followed was remarkable both for him and the sport. Squash in England and of course Nick himself, can really thrive off the back of a victory like this. But those lines were fine; he beat Gregory Gaultier in a tight five-game match. The emails and messages will have no doubt been endless and this is a wonderful time for a winning athlete to stop and enjoy the plaudits and to absorb the victory with people close.
And to think all this came from the winning of one deciding game.
It would all have been very different had that game not gone the way it did.
So, imagine the Gaultier scenario. All those French journalists who had shown interest in the build up to the event will have found another story, there will have been few texts and messages because nobody knows what to say to someone who has lost, and he will have woken up – if he slept – to more Manchester drizzle to prepare for his flight home.
Anyone who did respond seemed to go straight for the jugular, touching upon the fact he had lost four world championship finals before. There is a habit of people, often from the media, to portray this as being some sort of failure. Even the commentary team talked about the best players who have not won major championships in various sports whilst referring to Greg. They mentioned Colin Montgomery and Chris Dittmar, both big achievers who happened not to win the finest tournaments in their sports.
Let’s be honest, Greg’s record at World Championships is outstanding; a success story that shouldn’t be portrayed otherwise by those who don’t understand the levels he has reached here. Montgomery was a brilliant Ryder Cup player, but for some reason people prefer to pick out the fact that he didn’t win one of the four majors, dwelling on the negatives. Greg Norman (pictured) was another golfer at whom people seemed to want to take a snipe, for simply coming second in more than one major.
We don’t have to look back very far to remember how the public reacted to Andy Murray before he won a major title. He had already been dubbed a nearly man which makes his victories all the more incredible. He managed to work those fine lines to his favour under severe pressure.
It is curious that some are quick to criticise teams or players in sport for coming second at the highest world level. If in any other area, say IT or law, someone achieves top ten status in the world, I assume they would be rather happy.
The lines are so fine, the margins between the top athletes minimal, and those who prevail under the intense circumstances should quite rightly get all the plaudits. But we shouldn’t make the runner’s up losers either. Their achievements are often very special too.
JAMES WILLSTROP COLUMN