Winning isn’t Everything

Meeting Areva 2011 3 000 m steeple.jpg
Abel Mutai in the lead in 2011. Photo by Yann Caradec from Paris courtesy Wikipedia

The finish line was in sight, but Kenyan long-distance runner Abel Mutai didn’t see it. Mutai was in the lead – at least ten meters in front of the second-place runner, Spaniard Iván Fernández Anaya – when Mutai suddenly stopped. He believed he had crossed the line of the cross-country race. Then something remarkable happened. Instead of taking advantage of Mutai’s mistake, the second-place Spaniard shouted for Mutai to finish the race. Mutai didn’t understand, so when Anaya reached him, he gestured and pushed Mutai across the finish line, intentionally taking second place.

Anaya’s coach, Martin Fiz, said, “It was a very good gesture of honesty. A gesture of the kind that isn’t made anymore. Or rather, of the kind that has never been made. A gesture that I myself wouldn’t have made. I certainly would have taken advantage of the mistake to win. The gesture has made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win.”

However, some things are more important than winning. Anaya said, “He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed. I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

But why? Why not take advantage of the situation? “But I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.”[1]

King Saul brought an army to hunt down and kill David. 1 Samuel 26:7 – 11 reads:

“So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, ‘God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.’ But David said to Abishai, ‘Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?’ And David said, “As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed.”

A single word describes Iván Fernández Anaya and David’s actions. It’s a word rarely heard and a concept even more seldom practiced: Honor.

  [1] Quotes from

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