Table Tennis - Men's Doubles Preview

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Tonight we return to the Peers Sports Centre to play the table tennis doubles, and to replay the singles match John and I didn’t quite manage to pull off last week. The line-up of participants has not yet been finalised, but one player who will certainly be making his debut in the Olympic challenge is Robert Simmons. He’s a director of the company I work for, and pretty much everything I produce for work passes under his nose before it goes out the door. I suppose I’d have to call him my boss.

I’m not reluctant to call him that because it isn’t the case (he is my boss), or because he adopts the ridiculous “Call me Rob!” position of the wannabe down-with-the-kids teacher everyone has had to suffer at least one of in their school years. We do call him Rob, but only because that’s his name, and not because he asked to borrow the latest Nirvana album as he had heard it really “spoke to people of our generation.”

I am reluctant to call him my boss here because I hate to cede anything to anyone in a sporting context, and I don’t want him to read this before we play and get the idea that he’s going to be able to boss me around on the table tennis table.

Before I played badminton with Gareth against John and Will last week (to aid my fitness rather than to tick anything off the Olympic list), there was some discussion about whether or not we should retain the same partnerships as we had established the week before. During that discussion, as Will pondered our relative strengths and weaknesses aloud, I told him that he should bear in mind that whatever was going on, I’d always want to beat him more than he’d want to beat me.

I didn’t say that because I dislike Will; on the contrary, I find it hard to imagine anyone taking exception to someone so affable. I said it because I’m too competitive about certain things. Like everything.

I grew up playing golf. I don’t know how many matches I have played in my life, nor can I remember their results, but I’d guess that I’ve probably won about as often as I’ve lost. I have beaten people whose talent was (and remains) far beyond my own, and people I should have been able to dispatch left-handed have beaten me. But I can count on the remaining functioning fingers of my right hand the number of times I’ve been beaten by someone because they wanted to beat me more than I wanted to beat them.

My friends joke about it quite often when we line up to play a bit of table football or go to the bowling alley. I play along, laugh at myself and pretend that really I’m just playing up to the characteristic they have attributed to me. But, if the truth be known, on the inside I’m as gutted as I was when Michael Thomas scored for Arsenal to deprive Liverpool of the league title in 1988/89 when their little plastic man on a stick kicks the little rubber ball past my little plastic man on a stick to win the game.

I don’t care about table football – it’s an irritating game that favours players with talents I don’t desire to acquire – but I really don’t like getting beaten. At anything.

In my calm moments, away from any arena that could be construed as competitive, I am well aware of all that this character trait says about me as a person. I am mildly concerned that if and when we have children, I will turn into the oft-lamented ‘competitive dad’ – a stereotype I despise almost as much as the aforementioned down-with-the-kids teacher. I know that very little in this world is truly worth getting competitive about and that no one will die because I couldn’t knock down more pins than you. But, when the game begins, that won’t matter anymore and I’ll still want to beat you more than you’ll want to beat me – even if you are my boss.

My mother, in her fervent desire to have her children share her love of all things French, would often wander around the house reaming off a passage of that beautiful language that she had been taught at school:

”Le plus important aux jeux Olympiques n’est pas d’y vaincre mais d’y prendre part, car l’essentiel dans la vie n’est pas tant de conquérir mais de bien lutter.” *

Which, roughly translated, means:

“The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win but to take part, because the main thing in life is not so much to conquer but to strive well.”

It would seem I have a lot to learn.

* This quote was obtained from the woman herself, with the spelling subsequently confirmed by SMS, so it should be pretty much on the money. That said, she does often refer to herself in that medium as my “nun” and has been signing off from text messages “wowo” instead of “xoxo” for a year and a half now.