June 2nd 2020

Gold medals

To win at all costs is most frequently associated with sports.

Former professional road race cyclist Lance Armstrong – regarded as a sports icon for his seven consecutive Tour de France wins prior to a doping scandal that led to him being stripped of his titles and banned for life – famously said: “I think it was this ruthless desire to win. Win at all costs, truly. It served me well on the bike, served me well during the disease (testicular cancer), but the level that it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw.”

Similarly, systematic doping in Russian sport has resulted in almost 50 Olympic and World Championship medals being stripped from Russian athletes and a ban from all major sporting events for four years.

Win (gold) at all costs, has cost them severely.

“If gold were more plentiful on earth it would be far less valuable and interesting, despite its unique physical attributes and beauty,” writes Peter L. Bernstein in his book The Power of Gold.

Bernstein goes on to quote King Ferdinand of Spain who coined immortal words in 1511 when he declared: “Get gold, humanely if possible, but at all hazards – get gold.”

It’s nothing new.

The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece – which dates thousands of years – is one of the most fascinating stories of ancient Greek mythology.

The myth has it that Athama, king of the city of Orchomenos, married the goddess Nephele, with whom he had two children, Phrixus and Helle; Athama then took a second wife who hated her stepchildren and plotted to kill them. She would have succeeded, but Nephele sent a winged ram whose fleece was pure gold to save her children from their stepmother.

Helle fell into the sea, but Phrixus held on and eventually reached Colchis, where he was welcomed by the king, Aeetes. Phrixus gave the golden fleece of the ram as a gift to the king, who then nailed it to a tree and hired a bloodthirsty dragon to guard it.

Back in northern Greece, a king named Pelias told Jason he could have the throne if he could fetch back the fleece of the golden ram. He never dreamt that Jason would succeed.

After a series of adventures, Jason did take the Golden Fleece, with the help of his Argonauts and Aeetes’s daughter Medea, who possessed magic powers, and who Jason swore to make his ‘rightful wife’ on their return to Greece.

There was no happy ending. Jason betrayed Medea and Medea killed their sons and his new bride-to-be, before flying off in a dragon-drawn chariot. Jason threw himself on his sword and died.

Like Lance Armstrong and the Russian athletes, he had lived (and died), quite literally by King Ferdinand’s words: “Get gold…at all hazards.”