The British Open award ceremony — “prize-giving,” as it is called over there — is the shortest and sweetest in golf. The winner is introduced as “the champion golfer of the year,” words any golfer dreams of hearing, especially one from the British Isles.
And yet as wonderful as it was Sunday, the moment that gave you chills came when Mickelson, waiting to receive a runner-up award for the umpteenth time in his career, walked over to Clarke and whispered a few words in his ear. Two years ago, when Mickelson’s wife Amy had cancer diagnosed, one of the first calls he received was from Clarke. Amy is doing better now, her cancer in remission, but Mickelson clearly hadn’t forgotten Clarke’s gesture.
All of that said, Japan’s victory in the Women’s World Cup final wasn’t about redemption for one man but about finding a moment of joy and escape for a country still in mourning. This was a huge upset. For all the attempts by the American media to somehow cast the American women as a modern-day Miracle on Ice, the fact is they were the top-ranked team in the world entering the tournament and heavy favorites in the final, especially against a country it had never lost to (22-0-3).
The United States was supposed to win. It had the lead twice and it couldn’t hold on, perhaps because the Japanese were playing for more than a trophy. American star Abby Wambach, who was nothing less than brilliant throughout the tournament, had talked about wanting to hold the trophy. There was far more at stake than that for the Japanese.
There’s no doubt that deciding a world championship by penalty kicks is ludicrous. There’s also no excuse for it, especially in a final. Who cares how long it takes to decide the issue? No one has to play another important game for months once the championship has been decided.
That said, the Japanese are at least as deserving of their championship as the American women were in 1999, when they won on penalty kicks after playing to a 0-0 tie after 120 minutes of stultifying soccer with China. This game was filled with chances and actual goals, and Japan’s refusal to give up was inspiring.
For Japan, Sunday’s victory was far more important than the notion of launching a successful pro league or ESPN getting good ratings. It was about that moment when Saki Kumagai’s final penalty kick hit the back of the net and thousands upon thousands of Japanese completely forgot the past few months to celebrate and hug one another and share sheer joy — something not seen around Japan very often in 2011.
At its very best, sports gives us those moments when we feel absolute joy for deserving winners. They cry; we cry. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel the disappointment of the losers; it means we understand that sometimes winning is about more than a check or a future endorsement or a trophy.
Sunday was one of those days.
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