Alexander Karelin had lost.
He never realized before how lonely it could feel in the stadium filled with hundreds of spectators.
Yet this defeat that came to him so suddenly and terribly made him almost want to cry.
His string of victories had come to a crashing end. He had won three Olympic gold medals and had not been defeated in 13 years.
Rulon Gardner, his young rival, was surrounded by flashlights and people.
Yet here he was, the great Karelin, universally considered the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time, feeling utterly alone. What should have been another great moment in his life was now one of the worst. Someone who had never won a major title had defeated him utterly.
It was a match that no one thought he could lose.
He overheard the buoyant young American saying, "When did I think I could beat him? About 10 minutes ago. I kept saying, 'I think I can. I think I can.' But it wasn't until it was over that I knew I could."
Alexander had never conceded a point in 10 years. Today, he had lost 1-0.
He caught the confused look on the face of IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and quickly looked away.
Later that evening, wandering alone in the Olympic village, he ran into his friend Boris Spassky, a former world chess champion.
They spoke, and he tried to express his pain to his friend.
Finally, after much thought, his eyes looking into the distance, Boris said,
"Somehow you have to look beyond the sights. Somehow you have to hear between the words. Somehow you have to close the gap between your heart and your mind."
"I don't understand," said Alexander.
"You think that you have been defeated. That you will never again be the King. But look where you are. You are in the same universe. And just as it conspired to give you glory, so too it will continue to unroll its miracles. You will win again. All you have to do is trust, once again, in magic."
"What magic? Is this about superstition?"
"The magic of yourself in space and time. The magic of being here now. Trust in it. What seems hopeless will be transmuted. What seems lost will be found again."
"Am I a loser?" asked Alexander abruptly, the agony of the day breaking through him.
"If you have a little time, we can talk about what it means to win and lose. It is important that we do it."
"Yes, let's do it."
Since it was getting chilly, they wandered back to the Olympic village and settled on the cafeteria as a place to continue their discussion.
After they had filled up their trays, they found a secluded corner, away from the other athletes, some of whom were proudly wearing their medallions on their chest.
"I know how you feel because I have been in your situation," said Boris. When I was World Champion, the best player in the world, the world thought that I was a winner.
When I played Bobby Fischer at the World Championship at Reykjavik in 1972, I lost.
The world then decided that I was a loser."
Alexander frowned. "So, what are you?" he asked.
"I am what I am."
"First of all, winning and losing are not my identity. They are an expression of what I do. It is important to make this distinction. Then one can have some clarity.
"Winning and losing, ultimately, are not events but mindsets.
"Most people think that they are events. But when you look closely at something, you can see that many things decide whether an outcome will be favorable or not.
"There have been people who have been on a winning streak for years, and then the tide appears to turn and they appear to have lost the magic.
"Then there are others who appear to have never won at anything, but then suddenly appear to hit a winning streak."
"This is quite confusing," said Alexander. He would much rather be grunting over some barbells then wrestling with philosophy.
"It is confusing because life is not predictable. A person can become highly skilled at something and be winning at life when the rules unexpectedly change and their skills become obsolete. For example, when the computer revolution happened, highly skilled printing compositors found themselves out of work."
Alexander nodded. "All of a sudden, you are no longer the best at what you do."
"Similarly, internal physiological factors can result in a major loss. It is said that Napoleon lost at Waterloo because he had a bad case of exhaustion and diarrhea at the time. The most brilliant military strategist the world had ever known was outmaneuvered and decisively defeated by the Duke of Wellington. Napoleon then spent the rest of his days in exile on St Helena."
"What is one to make of all this?" asked Alexander in exasperation.
"It is for this reason that I say that we can only hope at all times to do our best, but what happens is sometimes outside our personal influence."
"An original countermove by our opponent throws away the value of everything we know," said Alexander bitterly, talking more to himself than responding to his friend.
"So," continued Boris, "we have to rely on three things: attitude, responsibility, and willingness to learn. If we do this, then we can create more favorable outcomes for ourselves."
"I'm not too sure about that," said Boris.
"It is as easy as falling off a log to be cynical, but hope and optimism take effort. A winner will focus on what can be done. And a loser will focus on what cannot be done and the reasons why. Attitude is essential. Before a competition, you must be convinced in your own mind that you will win. A loser will say that this is not realistic or sensible.
Yet realism and rationality are not what create victory. It is raw passion and the willingness to do your best."
"How can one have the right attitude after one has just lost?" asked Alexander.
"Your attitude determines your future. When you let a bitter experience cast its shadow over your future, you have lost before beginning. Instead refuse to accept setbacks as a
a prediction of your possibilities. 'I can do it,' is the attitude of a winner. Winners become losers when they let a loss defeat their attitude."
For the first time that evening, Alexander smiled. "When a winner loses their winning attitude that is when they're losing streak begins. I can't let my past condition my future. Only my will and my desire should be responsible for it. "
"Speaking of responsibility," continued Boris, "you have to be responsible for resuming your training tomorrow. Instead of wallowing in defeat, you can exult in your next victory over your opponents. The ability to respond positively is the next step of victory."
"What else?" asked Alexander.
"You have to always be willingness to learn. The only real difference between people is depth of knowledge. It is the distinction that separates the winners from the losers. The winners know what to do while losers are clueless. Yet knowledge is never static; there is always more to learn, more techniques to study, more skills to refine. The minute you stop willing to learn new things is when you start to lose."
A long silence followed.
Finally, Alexander spoke. "I believe I have understood you. To be a winner, we have to rely on three things: attitude, responsibility, and willingness to learn. If we do this, then we can create more favorable outcomes for ourselves."
As if raising his queen off the board to complete a checkmate, Boris asked, "Are you a winner or a loser, Alexander Karelin?"
"I am a winner!" said Alexander, unconsciously twisting the steel fork in his massive hand into a pretzel.
Saleem Rana is a psychotherapist in Denver, Colorado. If you're up to the challenge and want to create the kind of freedom and lifestyle you truly deserve - starting now - then get his free book from