Sports fans shouldn't get seduced by pursuit of perfection
Published 01/04/2015 | 02:30
According to a Chinese proverb I discovered while googling quotes on perfection, "gold cannot be pure and people cannot be perfect".
And even though sports teams are just groups of mortals, perfection remains the ambition of every team every year.
I was thinking about perfection in sport because this weekend Kentucky will try to complete the first undefeated season in American college basketball in 40 years.
They've obliterated all comers, but perfection now has become like an opponent.
Kentucky now seem like the hoops version of the 2007 New England Patriots, a beastly team that courted perfection and were destroyed at the last hurdle, seemingly by Fate itself.
When we talk about perfection in sports, we don't mean infinite greatness.
We're talking about unimpeachable but temporary excellence with shifting parameters.
Remember the Arsenal 'Invincibles'? They're vaunted for going unbeaten in the league, though their exits in the three cup contests are less remembered.
For individual athletes, perfection is all smoke.
How do you measure the perfect race, the perfect fight, the perfect swim?
Should Floyd Mayweather beat Manny Pacquiao in May and retire undefeated, his career will not be considered 'perfect', just incredible.
From the start, the GAA enshrined piecemeal perfection into intercounty games. Until the back door, every All-Ireland was a battle of undefeateds. Maybe it's no coincidence that the Kerry and Kilkenny teams (2009 and 2012) that best caught the popular imagination lost along the way.
Perfection works two ways, though. Like Ireland's record against New Zealand, for instance. Even mediocrity is better than that.