So recently the 2012 Olympics wrapped up. Just over two weeks of sports excellence played out on the world's largest stage. And although the games are played to bring countries together in the spirit of sportsmanship, it's also conducted on the field of competition. So while we agree there are no real losers among those who make it to the games, there are definitely winners.
Every event was a battle to prove who could be first. But more than that it was the race to see who could be best. Whether it was Usain Bolt proving that he could out sprint his competitors or if Michael Phelps could three-peat in any one of half a dozen races, we watched anxiously to see who would cross the finish line first. But the competition within the competition was to see who could prove themselves as the best.
We watched as World Records were carefully tracked across the screen pacing the leaders and taunting the "also rans." Olympians were even asked to react to the knowledge that they just missed the record by the slimmest of margins. This question was only second in diminishing a performance to the question "what went wrong?" when a would-be gold medalist fell short. So how have we come to this point where simply winning isn't good enough?
Perhaps the phenomenon of calling "first" has called into question its inherent worth? Has having thousands of people doing things, no matter how inane, simply to claim the title of "first" eroded the value of being the first? Or have we decided that being first is just not good enough?
I submit that we have raised the bar on a group of people who perform feats most of us cannot even begin to dream to execute. By creating a new standard of best rather than first we are saying that people must not only compete against their peers but against every single other person who has come before. And at the end of the day it is far easier to be first than to be best.