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What rival means

Feb 17,2020
On April 12, 2017, Mao Asada, the three-time figure skating champion and one of Japan’s most prominent sports stars, held her retirement press conference. She remained active three years after her archrival Kim Yuna retired after the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. When she was asked about her Korean rival, she said they had motivated each other to push further. Kim said the same of Asada.

I wrote a column a few days later ahead of the presidential election in December that year. In it, I advised those running to learn from the reciprocally-benefiting rivalry between Kim and Asada rather than the destructive one between American skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Their rivalry on ice came to a tragic end after Kerrigan was attacked while training for the 1994 Winter Olympics by an assailant hired by Harding’s ex-husband.

In an interview after winning the Australian Open earlier this month, No. 2-ranking Novak Djokovic paid tribute to his biggest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Through the riveting Grand Slam race among the three, Djokovic was able to go further and overcome hurdles. The 32-year-old Serbian beat his Swiss and Spanish rivals in their latest tour, placing Djokovic at the top in the men’s ranking, followed by Nadal and Federer.

The “Big Three” have all passed their peak age as tennis players. Djokovic was born in 1987, Federer in 1981 and Nadal in 1986. The trio has been dominating the court over the last 17 years.

In a sports competition, only one can win. Through winning and losing against formidable competitors, athletes can become better, as the former Asian skating champions and the three top tennis players have shown. The English word “rival” comes from the Latin, rivus, meaning a stream. Neighbors of both sides of the stream share the water. One either has to go along the stream or cross it to move.

In two months, Koreans will pick the lawmakers for the 21st National Assembly. Fighting for candidacy is a preliminary contest over the stream. Once they pass the first stage, they move onto the real contest over 300 seats in the legislature. As they plan their winning strategies, they should look at the relationships of the Asian female skaters and the three top tennis players.

The author is head of the sports team at the JoongAng Ilbo.