Saturday, August 23, 2008

De Agony of De Feet

Taekwondo athlete faces lifetime ban for kicking referee in the head

One-time Olympic taekwondo champ Angel Matos of Cuba was booted from the sport for life after angrily kicking a referee in the face following his disqualification in a bronze medal match.

Matos - who took the gold in 2000 - flew into a rage Saturday after referee Chakir Chelbat disqualified him for exceeding the one-minute limit for injury treatment.

There's a lot that we can say about this. We can decry Matos' obvious failure to understand the concept of "Sport". We can talk about his not "being a good loser". And we can discuss the many ways in which his intemperate reaction has put his chosen sport (which was his life) in "Ill Repute".

Let's roll it all up into Door Number Two: "Being a Good Loser".

Many serious competitors will respond with this acerbic quote: "Show me a Good Loser, and I'll show you a Loser."

For the most keenly competitive, there is no acceptable alternative to winning. That is what makes them good competitors. They don't know how to lose "gracefully". They will not allow the concept of losing to taint their determination, and it is all part of their plan to win. Often, this is the critical 'edge' which turns a stellar performance (in a field of stellar performers) into a Win.

And win they do.

Matos won in the 2000 Olympics.

He came in at 11th place in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Clearly, he was disappointed in this finish, and his determination was even more powerful than it had been in 2000; back then, he didn't have a reputation to protect. Today, he did.

When he was knocked down today, he was either unwilling or unable to regain his feet after the 60-second countdown. (Boxers only have 10 seconds!) The referee "disqualified" him, which we can only assume was vaguely similar to being "Disqualified" in IPSC/USPSA shooting competition. (Note the vague nod to the notional theme of the blog.)

Matos reacted badly. He physically assaulted the referee who had DQ'd him ... more than once. And then he spit on the mats to further express his extreme disgust at what he must have perceived to be an unfair judgment which had nothing to do with his competence at his sport.

He really thought he could win.

After all, he was fighting with two broken toes. The endurance of pain in pursuit of victory is a primary indicator of excellence in all sorts of competition.

I'm not excusing Matos' out-of-control behavior. I'm only trying to understand it.

At that level of competition, nobody is a "Nice Guy". To Win, is everything. And in his pain, and disappointment, and sense of having not being dealt with fairly he lashed out against the perceived author of his loss ... the referee.

The referee just ... walked off the floor.

After Matos departed, Cuban coach Leudis Gonzalez said the decision to disqualify the Olympian was "too strict" - and suggested the match was fixed. Gonzalez claimed he was offered cash for Matos to throw the fight.

The World Taekwondo Federation announced a lifetime ban on both athlete and coach, ruling neither can ever participate in any championships sanctioned by the organization.

And the WTF could do nothing less, to defend the sport.

He did The Wrong Thing, so they Did The Right Thing. This is one time that "Throw Him Under The Bus" was needful.

Matos, of course, is ruined. As is his coach. And this is as it should be, because at the extremely high level of competition, it must not only be fair, but it must be seen to be fair.

Moving back to the world of IPSC/USPSA, if a competitor exhibited a similar expression of outrage ... or, as we say in the real world, "threw a hissy-fit", that competitor should similarly be banned eternally from competition.

Unfortunately, that is not always the way it works.

But even if the competition is only at the Club level, that is the way it should work.

You know what I'm saying?

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