Jess Cutler’s Guide to Good Sportsmanship

I was going to write a post updating the world on my most recent adventures, really I was.  Then after some post-race negativity this past weekend, I decided that a post about feelings and sportsmanship is a little more fitting so feel free to tune back in when I start talking about more interesting stuff and posting pictures of myself being rad.

When I first started this blog I made a post about how I think we as racers (and especially as female racers [insert dogmatic feminist diatribe here]) should treat each other both in and out of competition.  I included an anecdote about the first race I ever won and how I was basically told that I didn’t deserve to win by another rider.

As a rider, I’m probably more sensitive than most which is why experiences like this affect me and stick with me but at the same time I use these negative experiences to grow as a person and to work on growing thicker skin.

Since this idea of good and gracious sportsmanship seems to still be lost on many people, I’ve made a beautiful MS Paint to illustrate my point.

Sportsmanship ChartI really don’t feel like these ideas are difficult ones to grasp yet time and time again I run into riders who make me and other women who occasionally win races feel like we didn’t deserve our wins or results.

We all have excuses.  I am full of them. But that doesn’t mean that I or anyone should publicly spout them off as a means of letting another person or the world know that you are more deserving of a win than the actual winner.  At the end of the day in a bike race and in life (look at me waxing philosophical!), it’s not always the objectively best woman who comes up the winner and that is a fact that we should all be able to accept and appreciate.  The brilliant and funny Kathryn Bertine really hits this nail on the head in her article about the ever-present idea of “that’s bike racing!”   I truly believe – and feel free to disagree, I love healthy debate – that we do more for the sport and for each other by supporting one another in competition through being fierce competitors and gracious winners and losers.

We could all take a lesson from the book of Rafael Nadal who is in my opinion the best tennis player of all time but who will always compliment his competitors before building himself up.

I won a race yesterday.  It was the WA CX Championships and it was held on a course that didn’t really suit my strengths.  It was incredibly flat, boggy, muddy, and had a lot of slick corners.  I went into the race with no expectations besides just wanting to give it my best shot and I was fortunate enough to pick good lines and ride a (figuratively) clean race and come up with a win.  After the race another rider – and one who I’ve always admired and looked up to which made it sting even more – more or less told me that if certain things hadn’t gone wrong for her, she would have won, not me.  I spent the rest of the night feeling like I didn’t deserve my win.

Negative experiences with other riders also make me really appreciate the kind, supportive, and gracious women that I have met and raced with over the years.

When I first started racing Cyclocross there was this amazing beacon of a local CX racer, Kristi Berg, who I admired from afar.  That year, 2009, Kristi won every Seattle Cat 1/2 CX race that she entered.  She won with authority, often by more than a minute.  When I got my forced upgrade from Cat 3 to Cat 2 I was terrified of having to race with such a talented and fast woman.

From my first day toeing the line with the local elite women, Kristi was an amazing and kind competitor.  Whenever I would compliment her for winning a race, she would throw a compliment right back my way.  Whenever I would bug her for advice, she would give it without hesitation.  Kristi showed me that cares about her own racing and results but through her words AND actions she showed me that she also truly cares about supporting all women in the sport.

The first time I ever beat Kristi in a race, despite the fact that I later found out from someone else that she was sick with the flu that day, the first thing she did was to congratulate me and the winner (I had been second).  When I won my first Cat 1/2 CX race she was one of the first people to congratulate me.  And this year, since she’s not racing, I can hear her cheering for me and every single other woman in the race from the pits.  Kristi embodies a good sportsman and she, her husband Chad, and possibly others have built a small team, the Cycle U / PopCap Elite CX Team, of riders who all seem to share this basic ethic of competition.  Every rider on the team, both male and female, are always the first to congratulate and compliment every other rider after a race.  They are kind and supportive of each other and their community and they deserve to be acknowledged for that fact.

I also want to acknowledge my friend Jenni Gaertner who rides for the Motofish Racing Team.  Jenni spent all last year absolutely kicking my ass but always being a kind and gracious winner.  This year, I’ve managed to come around her in a few races (my starts are really bad and hers are really good).  On two separate occasions, when I’ve come around her she’s shouted words of encouragement at me.  To encourage your rivals during a race is like next level good sportsmanship and it warmed my heart.

One thing I think I should close this feelings-fest with is that despite there being some bad sports(w0)men out there, for the most part I think we tend to be a very supportive and gracious community and that’s one of the reasons that I love racing bikes and the cycling community.  We have all, myself included, made errors in judgment in the way we approach other riders and we’ve all had a touch of “race brain” or post-race disappointment that have led us to say not so nice things.

The takeaway message here I think is embodied in this vignette from a classic film of my childhood.

Party on.

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About Jess Cutler

35 year old pro road and cyclocross racer. National Champion. Generally nice person.
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4 Responses to Jess Cutler’s Guide to Good Sportsmanship

  1. dan says:

    Team Apex could learn a lot about good sportsmanship from your example!

  2. Craig says:

    Jess,

    Good for you for calling others out. I know I have suffered from a touch of “race brain” or post-race disappointment before and put foot into mouth. Unfortunately social media (something I use a lot) which is meant to be about sharing is turning us as a society into a “Look at me” society. It’s less about others and more about ME, ME ME.
    Recently I was told “Race hard and be humble.” Good advice.

  3. Pingback: season wrap and a quick post script | Jessica Cutler

  4. Pingback: Small Fish in a Big Dutch Pond (an exercise in being humbled) | Jessica Cutler

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