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Three cheers for the loser!

To encourage students to stick at difficult tasks even if they appear to fail (SEAL theme 3: Keep on learning (Motivation)).

by Laurence Chilcott

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To encourage students to stick at difficult tasks even if they appear to fail (SEAL theme 3: Keep on learning (Motivation)).

Preparation and materials

  • Display some pictures of athletes and sporting personalities. You could download these and have a running slide show on PowerPoint, or display images around the room.
  • Download pictures of Jim Peters and Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards to show at the appropriate points.


  1. Most sporting stars are remembered for their successes: runners for the fastest times and gold medals; footballers for goals scored and trophies awarded; rugby players for points scored and caps for their countries; tennis players for tournaments won. But today we think about two sportsmen who are remembered for their failures.
  2. Jim Peters was a marathon runner and a very good one, too. He was the first person to run a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes and he held four consecutive marathon world records. But he is best remembered for the race he lost. It was the marathon at the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver.

    That was a warm, humid day and many runners had given up through exhaustion. Jim, however, was running well and was some three miles ahead of his nearest rival as he approached the stadium. In those days there were no water stations along the route and he, along with other runners, had become dehydrated. Running through the shade of the tunnel leading to the stadium and then coming out into the heat and sunlight caused him to become disorientated and he collapsed just inside the stadium.

    Jim struggled to his feet and staggered on towards the finishing line. He fell several more times and it took him 15 minutes to cover just 200 yards. Finally he crossed the line, but unfortunately it was the finishing line for a different race. He fell again and was caught by the team masseur, who led him off the track. He was disqualified for not crossing the correct finishing line and never ran another marathon.

    Jim Peters might not have won, but his courage and determination were an inspiration to others and he will always be remembered for that final race.
  3. Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards came to fame in the 1988 Winter Olympics that were held in Calgary, Canada. He was the first competitor to represent Britain at ski jumping in the Olympic Games. Eddie was the British national ski jumping record holder, so was no novice. He was the only ski jumper to apply to represent Britain in the 1988 Winter Olympics. He qualified for the 70 metres and 90 metres ski jumping competitions.

    Few people thought Eddie had any chance of a medal and they were right – he came last in both events. Despite everything, he became one of the favourite personalities of the whole Games and was even mentioned in the closing speech, where it is unheard of to mention individuals.

    His determination and his sense of humour were what made Eddie famous. The worse his performance, the more popular he became. He was interviewed by radio and television stations all over the world and went from being a plasterer earning £5,000 a year to a celebrity earning around £10,000 an hour.
  4. Sometimes we think that winning is all that matters, and of course that is what we strive for in any race. But how we take part is important, too:

    –  we can be proud when we have done the best we can;
    –  losing can spur us on to greater efforts;
    –  to have taken part is in itself success. As Eddie once said, ‘Just getting to the Games was my gold medal. It didn’t matter where I came.’

    For further thought and discussion

    Discuss the Olympic creed: ‘The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well’ (Pierre de Coubertin).

    Celebrate the achievements of pupils who have overcome difficulties to gain success, and those whose efforts are ongoing and worthy of praise.

    Ask the pupils to research the runner Phidippides and the origin of the marathon.

Time for reflection

In any race, in anything you do, remember that how you do it is sometimes more important than how successful you are.

Think about the areas of your life that you find challenging.
Perhaps it’s in your academic work.
Or perhaps you struggle with sports.
Perhaps relationships are hard for you at the moment.
 How might you work to overcome these difficulties?

Think of things at which you are successful.
Why do you think you are successful?

Dear God,
give me the energy and the tenacity
to stick at the task in hand,
and the wisdom to ask for help when I need it.


As students enter, play the theme music, composed by Vangelis,
from the film Chariots of Fire (widely available to download).

When a knight won his spurs’ (Come and Praise, 50)

Publication date: July 2011   (Vol.13 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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