Speechless in Victory

When Novak Djokovic crashed to the ground after defeating Nadal and became the 2011 Wimbledon Champion, he lay on his back looking up at the sky. Crossing over from competitor to victor, he savoured the moment and the most telling gesture afterwards was the bit of the hallowed grass he plucked and stuffed into his mouth. The raised hands and the clenched fists to symbolise victory have become a cliche. So has the sinking to the knees and gazing up at the heavens. Tsonga has a nice little routine where he pirouettes and jumps as he beats his hands on his chest. In football, the ‘war dance’ after a goal has become a team’s signature. In cricket as in football, all the team members converge and engulf the bowler who has engineered the breakthrough. Nadal provided fodder for photographers when he ‘bit’ the cup in his victory. This year’s Ladies Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova held her trophy limply by her side, till a photographer gestured to her to raise it above her head. It seemed a little surprising that she showed nothing after winning the world’s most coveted title.

The interviews held immediately afterward are exercises in embarrassment. They offer no deep insights into victory or the state of mind of the victor, which is often blank. It’s as if the body reacts to extreme success the same way as it does to extreme trauma. Shock and a sense of resignation, not the giddiness of triumph as the phrase goes. When Sachin has knocked off another of his effortless century knocks that astounded the audience, he has little to add apart from saying ‘I played from over to over and kept the score ticking’. His most memorable quote came as a reaction to the number of press stories that prophesied his retirement – ‘When they throw stones, I turn them into milestones’. To an audience hungry for the mantra of success, there is no enlightenment, no path to tread, except for the metronome of practice and effort, and long hours of hard work. It seems a little unfair that even the gods have to toil, and don’t have it easy.

We put our greatest efforts towards achievement and we are feted for them. But the pinnacle we aspire to reach is a shadow we wrestle with. I wonder what Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing truly felt when they stood on the cold crest of the tallest mountain in the world. Or what Lance Armstrong felt when he won the Tour De France in the face of tremendous personal odds. Or Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he won the World Cup after all the brickbats prior to the commencement. Exhilaration? The end of the adrenalin rush? A realisation that they have entered another orbit? Or a sense of surprise that life does not seem any different even though it is supposed to. Perhaps victory is the perfect example of words being poor substitutes for conveying expression.