Learning from losing – Book review: Chariots and Horses
Competitive sport can at times have an ugly side and Jason Dorland, in his autobiography Chariots and Horses, life lessons from an Olympic rower describes it vividly. It is the side of sport when the motivation to race as hard as possible comes from an absolute hatred of competitors and the belief that coming first is the only acceptable position.
Dorland describes how he was as a rower, “During my warm-up, I went through my usual routine of building intense hatred and anger toward my competitors – Don’t just win, Jase, kill them!”
Dorland is a Canadian Olympian and when he raced the sole focus was winning, anything less than that Dorland equated to failure. So when Dorland made the Canadian Olympic team and raced to sixth in the final of the men’s eight, he viewed that as absolute failure. This sense of failure stayed with him and stayed and stayed and stayed.
In the book Dorland gives a raw and open account of his experiences as an athlete, then his years of torment that ensued when he constantly relived what he perceived as absolute failure at finishing sixth, including nightmares which had him experiencing the Olympic final. These nightmares were still with him six years later and it seemed like Dorland just accepted them as part of his life.
This one race, the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games men’s eight final when Dorland missed out on gold, shaped Dorland’s future and shapes this book.
Most sporting biographies and autobiographies describe success and how the athlete got there. Dorland’s book describes failure and trying to climb out the other side. The journey for Dorland was far from easy and if he had not met world-class runner Robyn Meagher he may not have begun to face his internal conflict. Meagher focused on the process in her running and despite initial reservations Dorland began to listen to Meagher’s approach.
The book then describes Dorland as a coach and his switch in coaching style from a win-at-all-costs regime to one that did not even mention the word ‘win’.
Initially Dorland wrote down his story as a book solely for himself and he admits it took him a few years to write and then when he showed it to some of his family and friends to read they encouraged him to share it. “I had to remind myself when I was writing that I was the only one that was going to read it,” says Dorland, “so I was able to be honest and raw. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write it.”
Dorland says the book (published at the end of 2011) has already received a lot of positive feedback especially from coaches who see it as an important read.
This book can be purchased through the World Rowing Library.