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The other competition

Bidding to host the Olympics is as fiercely competitive as the Games themselves, it seems. The pitching, the persuading, the lobbying. To win can transform a city and its reputation.

But as Ruth Walker's story about Toronto's Olympic hopes shows (page 13), the soul-searching and self-assessment a city undergoes in making its bid may be as valuable as the prize.

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Baron Pierre de Coubertin might agree. The French aristocrat, who founded the modern Olympics, once said: "The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle."

Coubertin also admired the Aristotelian virtue of eutrapelia - the concept of vitality, versatility, and a sense of proportion. And proportion, when it comes to sports, is usually sitting way out in left field.

That's why, in this day of fierce loyalties and win-at-all-cost competition, it was refreshing - almost confusing - to see the unexpected at the French Open last month.

While Serena Williams was playing Jennifer Capriati in the quarter finals, the camera cut away a couple of times to Richard Williams, Serena's father, watching from the stands.

He was applauding enthusiastically, but not for Serena's shots. They were beautifully timed, perfectly placed hits by Capriati that had Serena scrambling in vain. The press and commentators were perplexed. Shouldn't he be pulling his cap down and looking stoic? Is he trying to wind his daughter up?

But maybe he was genuinely appreciating a fine piece of play - no matter who held the racquet. Maybe he just has a good sense of proportion.

Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor. Comments or questions? E-mail: Ideas@csps.com.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor