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Anna Meares shows how to triumph in defeat

By Debbie Cosier

Stephanie Morton and Anna Meares_share_the_podium_at_the_Glasgow Commonwealth Games

Morton pulls her idol and rival Meares up onto the stage to share her celebration in winning gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Sometimes you get beaten. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you’ve prepared and how hard you try on the day, you will still come in behind your opponent. You will see them ride away from you while your legs are still spinning like crazy – and wonder how in the heck that happened.

After losing the gold medal in the women’s sprint cycling at the Commonwealth Games to friend, fellow Aussie and training partner Stephanie Morton on Monday (Sunday night England time), Anna Meares said, “I gave everything for this competition. I couldn’t have done more. I know I didn’t win the gold medal in the individual sprint but that was my best that I could put out on the track tonight…. Sometimes you get beaten.”

The fact that Meares’ defeat was caused by her good friend and training partner – someone who had idolised Meares – was comment worthy by most of the newspapers in the country:

  • …friend and roommate stuns Anna Meares in sprint (SMH)
  • Morton beats Meares for gold (SMH)
  • …Stephanie Morton dethrones Anna Meares… (Courier Mail)
  • Meares and Morton are friends and foes (SMH)
  • Morton beats Meares in cycling upset (The Australian)

‘Sometimes you get beaten’ is not a popular message to deliver in modern Australian culture (or Western culture for that matter), which tends to elevate its heroes to superhuman status and teaches children that they will always be rewarded if they just put in the effort. Winning is important and anything should be possible if we just try hard enough, right?

Well, no. Not always. Certainly hard work will get you places as demonstrated by Meares who is a multiple time trial world champion and gold medallist at Olympic and Commonwealth Games. Her story riveted Australians when she came back to cycling after an accident at the 2008 World Cup left her with multiple injuries (including a broken neck). At the 2012 London Games she beat her arch rival Victoria Pendleton in a spectacular effort. But hard work doesn’t always pay off the way we expect it to.

The gracious acceptance of defeat by Meares and equally gracious win by Moreton demonstrates a lot that is right about human endeavour and competition.

Here’s what we need to know:

1.  Learn how to lose with no excuses.

Having been an avid spectator of professional and amateur cycling for several years now, I’ve noticed that some competitors have a tendency to rationalise their defeat by saying they were not at their best due to injury or poor health, or that their opponent had more luck. Anna Meares’ comments about her defeat show her determination to make no excuses for herself. She was satisfied with the job she had done, which were her best efforts (a silver medal is nothing to scoff at!).

Instead of finding excuses for every thwarted or disappointing endeavour, we should acknowledge the truth of our performance, which not only shows our integrity but also opens the door to a change of approach for next time.

2.  Learn from losing – it’s important in learning how to win.

There are usually two options when things don’t go to plan and we are disappointed with our results – we either give up or we learn how to do better. Losing is part of the learning process. It’s not something to be feared but welcomed as it hones our responses. Champions adapt and find their path to success through a trail of wins and losses. As Morton said in an interview after an earlier win in February: “I might get one over her [Anna]; she’ll get the next ten.”

3.  Play fair no matter what.

When it’s time to go out there and do your best, do it with commitment. Morton could easily have been intimidated by her rival’s success and reputation, but neither competitor would have been satisfied if the other had not given their best – their win would have felt like a cheat. As Morton said of Meares: “She is the Olympic champ so I knew she wasn’t going to roll over and she didn’t. It was a tough race.” One code of ethics describes fair play this way:

Fair play incorporates the concepts of friendship, respect for others and always playing within the right spirit. Fair play is defined as a way of thinking, not just a way of behaving_ Code of Ethics, Council of Europe.

4.  Be delighted in the success of others – it will give you a greater delight in your own success.

Meares showed great humility and generosity when she celebrated with Morton and cut her own victory lap short while Morton stopped to hug her family and friends. This was reciprocated when Morton pulled Meares up onto the top tier of the podium as they received their Olympic gold and silver medals and hugged for the national anthem.

Finding genuine delight in the success of others gives you a greater right to delight in your own successes as they come along: “I’m really proud that I’ve been able to be consistently successful at a high level like this,” said Meares. “If you would have said that to me when I was a little girl, I would have just been happy to go to one Games and maybe pick up a medal. Never thought I’d get eight.”

5.  Approach life with an abundance mentality.

When we feel envy at the success of others, we fall into the ‘scarcity’ trap. This is reflected in our language when we say things like “They were just lucky”. What we’re really saying is that there is only a finite amount of good fortune to go around and when someone is lucky, there’s less left in the bucket for us. Marketers often play on this scarcity mentality because they want us to think that if we don’t act now, we may miss out.

On the other hand, the ‘mentality of abundance’ (coined by Steven Covey in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’) recognises that there is enough resource and success to go around. Taking this approach maximises performance because it reduces anxiety and allows us to discern opportunities that we can put our best efforts toward.

6.  Success is about your impact on other people’s lives.

When you recognise that success has more to do with your impact on the lives of other people in your sphere of influence, winning takes a back seat. It changes your thinking from a win-at-all-costs mentality to win-win (also a Steven Covey principle); which is community minded and lifts the quality of more than one life. Soon after an earlier defeat by Morton this year, Meares tweeted a photo of cap she’d signed for Morton five years before that no doubt spurred the younger girl to greater efforts at achievement: “Steph, maybe one day you’ll beat me.”

 ***

“Sometimes you get beaten” plain and simple. When winning is more about making your best endeavour in the first place and contributing to society, we take out the ugly side of competition and replace it with something like the event we witnessed at the sprint track on Monday morning.

It’s reported that silver medallist of the women’s sprint Anna Meares, and her good friend, rival and 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Stephanie Morton shared an ice bath after the event. Despite the discomfort, there’s a social gathering I would have liked to attend!

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