I have won many rowing races in my life. And I have lost many races. My name is on the same trophy as some of the rowing greats of my generation. And I have also lost to a ham sandwich. A team I once raced had only seven men to fill an eight-man boat. So, as a joke, the team put a ham sandwich in the empty seat, which corresponded to mine. And we still lost.
It hurt losing to a ham sandwich. I bet Lance Armstrong never hurt that bad. I know he didn't. If he had, he'd be a different person.
One can get philosophical about losing. According to the existentialists, the very nature of the human condition includes loss, alienation, meaninglessness, angst and despair. Every person must struggle with this. At the risk of condensing 150 years of philosophical thought, the only real solution is to "deal with it".
Just the other day, I had the "deal with it" pep talk with my five-year-old son. Despondent at tackling his own teammate in a soccer game, life had lost meaning.
So I told him the great comeback story of Brad Lewis and the 1984 Olympics (and, yes, it's a rowing story). Lewis was completely down and out. He had lost the single scull trials and was kicked off the team. So he collected his thoughts, called a buddy and started training together in the double sculls. They went on not only to qualify for the Olympics, but to win the gold medal.
I showed my son a picture of Lewis in his boat, head between his shoulders, destitute in defeat. "You can be like this guy. He was completely down in the dumps, and he pulled himself back up to be the best in the world!" Or you can forget it and take up the violin. Up to you.
But you have to deal with it. Man up. Not by clamming up with some tough-guy demeanour, but by accepting your imperfections, the unfairness and cruelty of life, the fact that you may never be all that great at soccer. Or you could be, if you worked for it.
The problem with Armstrong is that he never learned to lose. And while his admission of doping is welcome, it is a disaster for sports because he is doing it for the wrong reasons - he just wants to race again. Let me make one thing clear; Lance Armstrong is a junkie, intoxicated by the thrill of easy victory. Like any junkie, he couldn't stop. He had to win the Tour de France seven times with this nonsense - and now he wants more!
Great sportspeople the world over understand the agony of defeat. Armstrong never did. He thought he was above it, better than us, that he didn't have to suffer the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". That is just insulting - to every man, woman, child and ham sandwich that has ever laid it all on the line for the world to see.
If Armstrong really wants our forgiveness, he can admit his mistakes to Oprah, throw away his million-dollar bike, and go feed the pigeons in the park like
O. J. Simpson. But he should never be allowed back in the winners' circle.
As far as I'm concerned, he needs to earn his way back to the losers' circle.
Stephen Monick is an attorney in Hong Kong and has won national rowing championships in Hong Kong and the US, and raced competitively around the world. He will be racing next week in the Head of the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin