August 15, 2008

Ara Abrahamian Wins Award For Medal Toss, Saved By Passport


Between 1am and 9am, a previous 2 paragraph version of this post managed to offend Swedes, Armenians, wrestlers, the Olympics, bronze medals and mats.

In the interest of completeness, I will this time include the French.

Background: Ara Abrahamian, Swedish wrestler, wins the bronze/loses the gold. At the podium, he steps down, tosses the medal on the mat, and says, "this medal means nothing to me.  I wanted gold."

That's Roget's antonym for sportsmanship.   Because competitions are so clear--winner/loser-- you're supposed to reserve your emotions.  I'm not saying you have to be the Charioteer of Delphi if you win, but tossing your medal on the mat when you lose is a definite no.

I am told that he was robbed, that the judges didn't make just a bad call, but purposely made a bad call.   I believe you.  You don't need to convince me that Olympic judges border on corrupt, are susceptible to bribes or even petty personality/nationality controversies. 

But that fact makes his behavior worse, not understandable.  That's the point of sportsmanship.  We know you were robbed, tossing the medal doesn't support your case; Better if he quietly taken the bronze, noble in the eyes of the world.

Because if we didn't think you were robbed, we'd just think you were a jerk. 

To illustrate this, imagine if this guy was American.  The world would completely lose their marbles.  "Did you see that fucking American!" would be all anyone would say about Beijing 2008-- and that would just be coming from the Americans!

The Swedish wrestler had to be restrained by team-mates earlier as a row erupted with judges over the decision...    

Can you imagine what would have happened if an American wrestler went at the judges?

Which brings me to the French.  Michael Phelps decided "eat, sleep, swim" would be his tagline, and without reading too much into it, maybe it signifies an individual devotion to self-improvement in the service of himself/team/country.  But when the French choose, "we will bury the Americans"-- is that a bit broad?  Even "we will bury Michael Phelps"  makes more sense, since he actually is their enemy, but "the Americans" actually aren't.

Flip it: imagine Phelps had said, "I will bury the French."  If he actually wins, people will just dismiss him as an arrogant American who should have drowned.  And if he loses, how did saying that help him?  It makes him look, well, French.  And that's all anyone would talk about, those arrogant Americans.

You will observe that no one, anywhere, is writing that the French team were a bunch of arrogant losers who got, as they say, pwned.  That's a double standard, yo.

So Abrahamian was saved by a Swedish passport.  Because he's Swedish, he doesn't carry any other baggage-- his tantrum only reflects on him and the judges.   An American wrestler who tosses a medal would be General Assembly level outrage.

Especially if the American wrestler was robbed.  Somehow, people would see it as a sort of justice, yeah, he was robbed but see how he's acting?  He doesn't deserve to win anyway, he doesn't represent the spirit of the games, those Americans think they can do and have whatever they want.   

"It's all politics," said Swedish coach Leo Myllari.

You said it, brother.  People working out their grievances in ways and in forums that have nothing to do with either the way or the forum, and so creating new grievances.   The judges, I'm sure, thought they were righting some social/personal/political wrong through the medium of point deductions; the French were voicing the cultural hopes of the world; all under the unfortunate maxim of the powerless: there is no justice, get justice however you can get it.


How, if at all, does your a... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2008 2:49 PM | Posted by CC: | Reply

How, if at all, does your analysis here square with your analysis in your post, "Psychiatry is the pressure valve of society"? Recall your closing there, where the argument seemed to me to be that in a society that had created unrealistic economic expectations and no way of fulfilling them, then protests --even to the level of riots, would at least have the virtue of honesty as against a tendency towards the illusory perhaps afforded by psychiatric treatment. ("But the larger problem is that in going to psychiatry, their socioeconomic issues get demoted to "factors" and the feelings become pathologized." Id.) If one is truly robbed, then shouldn't one protest? Or would it have been better for him to just suck it up and remain calm? Then go into treatment about his frustration? Better for us? Better for the Olympics? Better for the Olympic wrestling committee?

I'm not excusing it. It seemed bad form. Me, I imagine I would have sucked it up; given the judges the benefit of the doubt. And then, depending on how much, after I calmed down, I really was robbed or not robbed, either been proud of and thankful for my restraint and self-control, or a bit ashamed of letting myself get tooled around.


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Probably there were better ... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2008 4:50 PM | Posted by Martin: | Reply

Probably there were better ways to express those opinions for Ara. Like not attending the ceremony at all or similar. I saw the ceremony and he shook the gold medalists hand before putting his medal on the mat and leaving quietly.

I think it was great that he did something, because something has to change or it will be the end of the sport. Should he have waited until he got home in order to write "very angry letters" to IOK, chances are that he just never got around to it because he already put it behind him.

Also, what you also are saying here is: It is unfair that being an American will give you a harsher treatment in world media.

This is probably true, but, the world is full of other injustices based on nationalities. The kind of position in the world that USA holds along with its foreign policy explains why actions of Americans are more closely monitored and openly disapproved of. Again its "all about politics" and reputation.
There are also many people who approve and endorse what companies and people are doing in the states (compared to other countries), which is it's flip side.


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Kudos on the rewrite. Or s... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2008 6:15 PM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

Kudos on the rewrite. Or shall I say félicitations?

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So you think that leaving t... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2008 7:52 PM | Posted by Dr V: | Reply

So you think that leaving the medal and merching out of the room quietly after shaking opponents hand is not sportmanship?

ever think of robbing someone of a gold medal when they worked their whole life for that one grand moment is not sportsmanship.

he made his point, and he made his point in a grand gesture...there was no better way of voicing his protest in a respectful manner...he didnt run, he didnt throw the medal, instead he came back for the bronze medal match, shook his opponent's hand, got the medal, calmly walked to the center of the mat, put the medal down (not threw it) and walked out....

the referees should be ashamed
and dont twist the story by saying if this was americans

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A little update from Reuter... (Below threshold)

August 16, 2008 2:19 PM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

A little update from Reuters:

Sweden's greco-roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian was stripped of his 84kg-category bronze medal after he dropped it in disgust to protest a refereeing decision. Olympic organizers also threw him out of the Games for his medal ceremony protest.

This sort of expulsion occurred in another protest, by Americans, in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Tommy Smith and John Carlos, while on the medals stand, raised their hands in black power and unity. Of course, some of the most vehement criticism directed against them, including death threats, came from fellow Americans.

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I don't think the comment f... (Below threshold)

August 16, 2008 4:55 PM | Posted by Sam240: | Reply

I don't think the comment from the French freestyle relay team was too broad.

Phelps was not competing as an individual in that race; he was participating as part of the United States relay team. Thus, "the Americans" on the team were the enemy, so to speak.

In the context of team sports, collective nouns such as "the Americans" or "the French" refer to the members of the national team, not to the entire national population. There were four Americans on the relay team, so the context required "the Americans" rather than "Michael Phelps."

If someone on the American team had said, "We will bury the French," while talking about the upcoming relay event, everyone would have understood that the reference was merely about the French relay team. As claims of victory before the actual event are part of sports culture, I doubt whether anyone would have described Phelps as an "arrogant American" had he said that.

On the other hand, had he said, "I will bury the French," he would rightly be regarded as arrogant - but not because of any hatred of the French. He needed three other relay members in order to get the gold, and the use of the singular pronoun would be seen as a slur his own teammates.

Remember: context is important.

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Sam 240: I agree context... (Below threshold)

August 17, 2008 12:10 AM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

Sam 240: I agree context is important, actually it is most important. But I disagree that if the Americans had said "we woll bury the French" people would just dismiss it as pre-game bravado directed at the French swim team. Because the context is America post Iraq, etc. For example, if Russia had said to Spain, "we will bury you" then no harm done. If it said it to Georgia...

Martin: I'm hardly saying it's unfair that we get treated differently, after all, we _are_ different, and being on top means having to take some jabs with a little class. Ah ha-- that's my point about Abrahamian-- if everyone agrees he's the best, then he can get even more "points" by taking it all in stride-- yes, even if it means "losing" because everyone (who knows wrestling) knows he was robbed. (Those who don't know wrestling aren't going to know/remember who won, anyway.)

Look at it this way: throwing a tantrum didn't reverse the judges' decision; it didn't help his cause; and it turned off more people than it rallied. So, as a tactic, it was the wrong one. Let me emphasize my earlier point: how you behave before and after the game matters as much as the game. So that tantrum was part of the whole Olympic event. Even if he had won a gold, he'd be the guy who "won the gold by complaining." If he had done some other more noble gesture, he'd be "the guy who was robbed of the gold, but took it like a warrior."

Dave: that death threats against American athletes came from fellow Americans is not suprising at all, hence me "and that's just from Americans!" comment. Americans are very self hating. Reinforcing the rule of history: a civilization dies by suicide, not murder.

CC: interesting jump. My earlier post wasn't justifying riots, it was saying that psychiatry was a way of delaying riots from happening, but that without addressing the reasons why people might want to riot, you're only worsening the problem (because you're wasting time.) As for the wrestler, I'm not saying he should simply accept it; but there are subtle, cleaner ways of handling it--for example, let someone else do the screaming.

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Sportsmanship is on all fro... (Below threshold)

August 17, 2008 3:36 AM | Posted by ara: | Reply

Sportsmanship is on all fronts my friend. If the organization does not practice what they preach, then bless Ara Abrahamian for what he did.
1. He was honest with the judges and confronted them face to face.
2. He attended the ceremony
3. After shaking their hand, he gently placed the medal on the mat. He did not toss it as you have stated.
The bottom line is that it is easy for someone who works out their keyboard to pass judgment on everything and anything, and we can respect that because it is your sport.....
On the other hand, for a moment, try to switch your perspective to his and if you have passion and are honest to yourself, then you can respect what he did as a human.
The Olympic brand does not justify their actions. Ara got stripped of his medal and he had obviously taken that into consideration. If there is a rule that anticipates this kind of situation then let the athlete who dedicates his life to his art decide how he will accept or decline his prize.
Ara's action teaches us an important lesson...
Honesty is more precious than any medal.

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You will observe that n... (Below threshold)

August 18, 2008 3:59 AM | Posted by fragola: | Reply

You will observe that no one, anywhere, is writing that the French team were a bunch of arrogant losers who got, as they say, pwned. That's a double standard, yo.

No, it just shows that Americans (- wanton generalization, I know there are exceptions) pay no attention to non-English-language news. There's been quite a lot of criticism (not deep criticism, it's more of the "ugh whatever" sort) of the French remark here in France, in major newspapers and on major TV outlets, as well as in other European countries. I sure wish Americans (another wanton generalization) would knock it off with the largely-invented "DOUBLE STANDARD! Waaahhh mommy all those other countries don't like me! Well, okay, I don't read their news, or talk to their people, or visit them for more than two weeks, or speak their language... but I'm sure they don't like me!!!" nonsense. All it does is add proof of ignorance of the rest of the world.

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(Forgot to mention, since i... (Below threshold)

August 18, 2008 4:03 AM | Posted, in reply to fragola's comment, by fragola: | Reply

(Forgot to mention, since it's pertinent: I'm an American who's been living in France since 2000.)

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You have hit my anti-americ... (Below threshold)

August 18, 2008 10:00 AM | Posted by Diane Abus: | Reply

You have hit my anti-american button...

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I want to clarify one thing... (Below threshold)

August 19, 2008 12:03 AM | Posted by Dr D: | Reply

I want to clarify one thing first. Ara did not shake the hands of the gold medalist (the Italian wrestler); he shook the hand of the second bronze medalist. In wrestling there are always two bronze medals awarded. He shook neither the hand of the gold medalist nor the hand of the silver medalist (Hungary), perhaps sending the message that he doesn't accept any of their results. In his mind, the Olympics were halted at the semi-finals, when the judges stopped the game at the second match, and gave the victory to his opponent (the Italian wrestler). What should have happened according to many (and of course Ara), the third match should have had taken place, which would have determined the true victor. Had Ara won the semi-final, he would have gone against the Hungarian, and the Italian would have to compete for bronze.

Now let me explain why I think Ara did the right thing at the awards ceremony. For some background, he received the silver medal at 2004 Olympics, which according to some reports I have read were fixed (against him). I read in other blogs that the judge who ruled in that game was suspended for 2 years for taking bribes from the Russians (who won the gold). So you can see that in Ara's mind he was already robbed from gold once. When the judge ruled unfairly the second time, robbing him from a chance to win the gold, he raged. He is already 33 years old and in that sport there really isn't many more years he has left - this really was his last chance. Why did he not stop competing after the semi-finals? I think he wanted to make a statement that many would get to see. So he purposefully went on to win the bronze to get a spot at the ceremony - something that would get much more attention than a semi-final game. Then he made a scandalous statement that made the news, this way bringing the spotlight to the corruption that exists in Olympics. Think about this and answer honestly – Had he accepted the bronze and didn’t make a scene, would you have made a blog about a Swedish wrestler who lost at the semi-finals due to alleged corruption? Would you have gotten this many hits had he not acted the way he did?

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In reply to DrD's last poin... (Below threshold)

August 19, 2008 5:24 AM | Posted by nazari: | Reply

In reply to DrD's last point, yes, it is true that Ara's action attracted a lot of attention. However, i will say that only a small percentage of all who heard about the story bothered to go deeper to find out further details (such as how possibly corrupted the judging system is). The rest simply don't have the time as we do and therefore their impression is possibly that Ara is a bad sportsman and that Sweden produces sportmen who do not know how to behave in a sportmanlike manner. Of course this is an unfair and inaccurate perception, but that is the perception anyway. If Ara and the Swedes don't care what people perceive of them, then it does not matter. But if they do care, then obviously Ara made a mistake by his action, don't you think so?

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Hmm. That's not the best po... (Below threshold)

August 19, 2008 6:40 AM | Posted by Dr M: | Reply

Hmm. That's not the best post you made, Dr LastPsychiatrist. Nothing much to add to previous comments (especially Fragola's and Sam240's).
Oh, yes, a little something: you start with facts (what happened with a Swedish athlete in the Olympic Games) but after that you switch to unproved extrapolations, what WOULD HAVE happened, according to you, IF the athlete is American. How do you know what would have happened then? You don't KNOW, you BELIEVE (or you fear?). That reminds me those "GAD" patients worrying about all those problems that MIGHT happen.
In the real world this athlete was Swedish. Why do you want him to be American?
Please forgive me for my awkward English, as I'm... is it wise to say it?... French.
BTW : "You will observe that no one, anywhere, is writing that the French team were a bunch of arrogant losers who got, as they say, pwned." what do you mean by "pwned"?

Alone's response: "pwned" is a gaming term for "owned", which simply means "got taken out back and spanked" or some other colourful metaphor.

But I am not trying to say Americans are better than the French, this isn't nationalism. The point I am (not clearly) making is the last paragraph: that, when it comes to people without power vs. people without power, the powerless will choose any forum they can to get some justice. So, for example, "smashing" the Americans-- but at the Olympics. The problem with doing this is that while it temporarily feels good to the powerless, it confuses the powerful-- "dude, what the hell is wrong with the French?" And it thus reinforces, to the powerful, that the powerless are not worth giving justice to.

Here is an example no one wants to hear, but too bad. OJ Simpson was on trial for killing his wife. As far as my small sample survey indicates, everyone-- including blacks-- believe he was the actual murderer. (Hardly evidence, but listen to any black comic's riff on the case.) However, there was a strong enough sentiment that the police are corrupt, and so that trial was really a trial about the justice system-- unfair to blacks, which it categorically, undeniably is. This is an indisputable point. So the trial, and sentiment around it, was about showing the corruption of the justice system.

Unfortunately, that is not the forum to deal with this grievance. So the result was not that it "opened whites' eyes", it had the opposite effect, further polarizing the races, causing whites to hunker down, speaking secretly amongst themselves about how blacks will do anything to escape guilt, that they don't care about truth, etc. It had the exact opposite effect intended: rather than social justice, rather than righting a social wrong, it made it worse, much worse. Blacks and whites are more polarized than ever.

So, as a larger social problem, when people believe they have access to justice, they pursue it in the proper forum. When they don't (believe) they have access to justice, they pursue it in the WRONG forum, which almost never gets you justice, but does cause people to hunker down, reinforce stereotypes, etc.

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The damn French, it's alway... (Below threshold)

August 19, 2008 9:00 PM | Posted by Your Wandering Mind: | Reply

The damn French, it's always the damn French!

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Did you watch the match? ... (Below threshold)

August 20, 2008 11:19 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Did you watch the match? I'm American and if I were in his position I would have done the same thing. Screw that "nobler to the world" nonsense. At the end of the day it's about getting what you've worked your whole life to achieve.

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And then there's the Cuban ... (Below threshold)

August 23, 2008 10:35 PM | Posted by CC: | Reply

And then there's the Cuban tae kwan do guy:

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I have nothing to add here ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2008 1:02 PM | Posted by dude: | Reply

I have nothing to add here but my opinion.

He knew exactly what he was doing.

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