Redcard Roberts: Gone in 60 seconds
August 24, 2010
When I was growing up, my parents limited my sisters and me to just one hour of television per week. Once, during a safety assembly at school, my third-grade teacher instructed my entire class to always tell her if an adult abused us. I turned my parents in, citing this rule as evidence that Child Protective Services ought to be called.
Despite my claims of deprivation, my mom and dad held steadfast to their rule. So, between "The Cosby Show," "Punky Brewster" and "Alf," my sisters and I had to choose wisely and make the most of our one hour of weekly boob-tube bliss.
Our 60-minute allotment started Saturday morning. My sisters would ration their time, always choosing two half-hour sitcoms, usually on different nights. Never much of a saver or strategist, I’d cash in my entire week’s worth of TV credit on Saturday afternoon and tune into ABC’s Wide World of Sports with my dad.
I was too young to have a full appreciation for athletic feats back then, but oh how I understood the heartbreak that came to life on a 20-inch black-and-white screen.
I would chant along to the program’s opening, "The thrill of victory . . . and the agony of defeat . . . the human drama of athletic competition . . . This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!"
I can’t remember at all what they showed to represent the "thrill of victory" but the video of Yugoslavian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj’s spectacular wipeout remains eminently memorable. For nearly 30 years, he was the "Agony of Defeat."
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Although, right now, Park City resident Jeff Kuehn might be contesting him for that title.
On Aug. 14, Jeff completed his 10th consecutive Leadville 100 mountain bike race. But, for the first time ever, he missed the "official finishers" cutoff time of 12 hours. He missed out on the iconic badge-of-honor belt buckle given to those who finish in 12 hours or less. And he missed out on fulfilling a dream he’s had for 10 years.
Jeff finished in 12 hours and one minute.
"I don’t recall ever having a more disappointing moment in all my athletic pursuits," Jeff told me. "After the race, I kept thinking about all the things I could have done to save a minute. I stopped a couple times to play with my kids and take pictures and rest. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I came up 60 seconds shy of a belt buckle."
More than a week since Jeff crossed the finish line one minute shy of his long-term goal – to round out his collection of coveted belt buckles at 10 – it clearly still smarts. "I still wake up pissed off," he told me.
With nine years of Leadville 100 race experience and a personal record of 8 hours and 55 minutes, Jeff hadn’t considered the agony of defeat as an option.
"I had nine Leadvilles under me, and I took that for granted," he said. "I didn’t train as much as I normally do. I thought I could just cash in on my experience. But the thing about this race is – if you don’t pay the price during training, you’ll pay dearly during the race."
For Jeff, part of this payment means another Leadville 100 next year. "I was hoping to retire from this race after this year. But there’s no way I’m not getting that 10th buckle."
Jeff’s resolve is the common thread among all athletes. Any athlete will tell you losing is always more hateful than winning is joyful. The agony of defeat simply outweighs the thrill of victory.
But for all the heartbreak that came with finishing 60 seconds shy of a decade-long goal, I remind Jeff that if he had shaved a minute off his time, he’d have something else in his Leadville trophy case: The last finisher under the 12-hour mark is given a small statuette of the hind end of mule. The trophy says, "Leadville Trail 100 Bike Race, LAST ASS UP THE PASS."
And according to Jeff, "Earning that might just be the only thing more agonizing than my finish."
Amy Roberts is the public relations director for Park City Medical Center. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. In her spare time, Amy can be found skiing, mountain biking, hiking, running, and playing soccer.