'Team,' as we know it, shouldn't apply to Shani, Chad

Updated: February 22, 2006, 2:43 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

TORINO, Italy -- Ever work in an office with some people with whom you didn't get along?

Ever work in a factory where there were some people you didn't want to invite out to a movie or a game?

Ever go to a school where you weren't friends with absolutely everyone in the classroom?

If you're like almost everyone else in the real world, you answered "yes" to all those questions. In our everyday lives, we come across associates, co-workers and classmates we don't like, or envy, or think get treated better than us. That's human nature. We all understand it.

So why don't we understand it when we see it happen in sports? Why are we so surprised when two highly competitive teammates, each fighting for the same thing, don't get along? Why do we think Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick should be best friends?

Because they wear the same uniform? Please. Teammates often don't get along, and these guys are teammates in the loosest sense of the word. They might wear the U.S. flag and compete for our country, but that doesn't mean they should get along any better than George Bush and John Kerry.

Yes, Hedrick and Davis have a problem between themselves. No matter how much Davis tries to say the feud was blown out of proportion, the truth became clear at the post-race press conference when Shani said, "It would have been nice after the 1,000 [meter final] if Chad shook my hand," and then walked out of the room. And in case we didn't get the point, Chad drove it home when he said he felt "betrayed'' by Davis.

The real problem, though, is our concept of Team USA. We are so used to following sports in which athletes dedicate themselves to a team goal, that we assume the same is true for the national teams here. That's simply not the case. With very few exceptions, the sports here are geared to the individual. Even in men's hockey, the national goal comes secondary to the NHL team goal -- as much as the gold medal means, no NHL player will do anything that might jeopardize his team's Stanley Cup chances.

Figure skaters, for crying out loud, not only skate without a country insignia, they each have individual coaches.

Some of the "teammates" in these individual sports get along very well. After training together and traveling through Europe and sharing rooms in cheap hotels, some are very good friends. Most root for their compatriots.

But cheerleading comes before and after the performance. Not during. When it comes down to medal time, they want to beat their teammates because, like all athletes, they want to win more than anything else. That's why they're as good as they are.

In the sports we usually follow, the individual and teams mesh -- at least when Terrell Owens isn't on the roster. You can do well as an individual, but to win, you need your teammates to block for you, set picks for you and chase down long fly balls for you. Ben Roethlisberger can call the plays, but he wouldn't have won the Super Bowl if Jerome Bettis had not delivered a block at the goal line. Freddy Garcia might or might not like Carl Everett, but to win a World Series ring, he needed Everett's help.

The better your teammates play, the better your chances are.

That's not the case here, where you're competing against your teammates just as much as against every other country's participants. If your teammate skates the race of his life, you could lose out on your one chance to win a medal.

Let's be real here. How would you feel if you trained most of your life toward a goal, sacrificing your personal and financial life to reach it, and then, when you're finally within reach of that medal, the guy in the office who kisses the boss' rear, gets the biggest raises and never shares his snacks, snatches it away from you?

Wanting to beat your Olympic teammates doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you normal.

It would be great if everyone was Joey Cheek, who openly roots for his teammates during a race and donates his winnings to charity. But it would also be great if that annoying guy in the next cubicle didn't insist on telling you what he watched on TV last night or how his fantasy league team is doing and didn't spend the entire afternoon making loud personal calls on the phone.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE