Olympic gold medal swimmer Cameron van der Burgh cheated in order to win. During the breaststroke final, he used an illegal underwater move called a dolphin kick to boost himself off the pool wall while turning around.
Was he wrong? Sure. Everyone will agree on that. Unless everyone else is also wrong. Which, as it turns out, they are. Everyone cheats. He was just the swimmer that won, then blew the whistle.
There are no underwater videos reviewing the race. There’s no real-time evidence of the rules being broken. This is how van der Burgh was able to get away with it. Like everyone else. Except that he won. And after winning, he waited for the gold medal ruling to become official, and then he confessed. It was a statement about the state of the sport and the need for more scrutiny into the regulations.
Without cheating, you don’t stand a chance. Without cheating, your four years of training for the Olympics is worth very little. Without cheating, you’re not in the game.
The game then becomes not how to win, but how to avoid getting caught.
There’s only one gold medal. But if all we care about is making the top three Google results, we’re doomed to devalue our own efforts by making our work ever more average, ever more banal, ever more generic.
However, if we care deeply about what our audience needs, then gold medals seem to lose their value.
Your audience isn’t here because they have the need to applaud winners. They are here because watching a race is exciting.
Thanks to Henri Galvao for requesting this post and reminding me that my writing has value to others.