Superstars Leave Battle Scars

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An interesting article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. Perhaps it felt especially poignant to me because I was preparing to compete in the Dry Creek Half Marathon that day (keep in mind, I use the term "compete" because the event was technically a "race," but I am more accurately considered a "participant" rather than a "competitor"—I had no illusions of winning). As I munched my decadent vanilla-almond-butter-in-a-whole-grain-tortilla-breakfast-wrap, I learned why Tiger Woods, despite a prolonged absence from the sport, will still leave battle scars on the rest of the PGA when the tour begins this Wednesday.

Jonah Leher, esteemed author specializing in psychology and neuroscience, made an excellent case for "The Superstar Effect," which essentially posits that many competitors are more likely to surrender the victory with barely a fight if they think a fellow competitor is far superior. This effect is particularly prominent in sports like chess (is that a sport?) or golf because the players don't have teams and compete in a relative spotlight, isolated both from their audiences and from other competitors.

While I certainly can't credit this "superstar effect" on my own running performance in the half marathon (13.1 miles in 1:58 made me happy but was more than 20 minutes behind the winning time), I'll claim a brilliant piece I heard on National Public Radio the other day. The gist of it was that extremely intelligent people cannot be great athletes because they are too aware of their surroundings, their competitors and the associated pressure of trying to win.

Yeah. That's exactly my problem: superintelligence.