Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lessons from the Olympic Games

I have been enthralled for the past two weeks with the action, high drama plus thrills and spills at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Mainland China. I never thought there were so many sporting disciplines in the world!
I was fascinated by the contrasting fortunes of the Mozambican runner, Maria Mutola, and Kenya's Pamela Jelimo in the 800 metres women's race. Mutola has been dominant in this event for the past decade and was named "the Maputo Express" for her exploits. But two or so years ago, Mutola now in her 30s started to dip in performance and I believed she would not go to Beijing for the Olympics. Alas, Mutola did and she was well-beaten into 6th place by the 18-year old Jelimo as the Kenyan won the gold medal.
It was almost a similar story in the 10,000 metres race in which former champion Gebre Haile-Sellasie of Ethiopia lost out to his one-time protege, Kenenisa Bekele.
The lesson I drew from these two events is that it is better to retire when one is on top of their game, when they are still energetic, when things are still good after achieving what is to be had. Otherwise the end is like the sorry tale of Mutola and Sellasie.
This is a word especially for those that cling to public offices or attempt to do so, particularly in Africa. I cite Africa because that is where I come from and it is where I have noticed worrying trends with this practice.
Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe won several gold medals in the 2004 Olympics and called it quits soon after the Games. That was good. They that have ears, hear this.


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