A Mathematician’s Apology

At least I got to skate here once...

I will get straight to the point – it is now mathematically impossible for me to make it to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. I would like to apologize to all those who gave their support and well-wishes, and who had invested their hope in me. I would also like to wish those who are still in the chase the very best of success for the road ahead, and especially to the remaining Australians, I would like to say that I am still, and will always be, behind them all the way. As it is in life, sport – especially elite sport – can be cruel. I tried my best, but came in a day late, and a dollar short. I would consider myself quite fortunate to have even made it this far, and I consider myself especially fortunate to have had such heartfelt support from all my friends, without whom I would have probably quit by now. Believe me, if speed skating performance was a function of the belief that people had placed in me, the number of times people have said “good luck”, or even the volume of some of the cheers, then I may well have set a world record by now.

In the end, it came down to a handful of races which took place during the weekend just gone. I had the daunting task of having to skate world cup qualifying times in the 500m, 1000m, and possibly the 1500m. Each involved taking a slice out of my previous personal bests of about four seconds per 500m. Impossible as that may seem, my pattern of breaking old personal records indicated that it was possible, albeit highly improbable. In the end, I set new personal bests in all three distances, but was not able to break them by as much as I had hoped. It is strange world I live in where I can topple a previous best time by over a second, yet still be unsatisfied with my performance. It is frustrating to know that in terms of physical parameters (strength, power, endurance, etc.) I am able to skate at the required speeds, but my deficiencies in technique – and speed skating is a highly technical sport – do not allow me to skate at anywhere near my potential.

Without world cup qualifying times, it is impossible to skate in the next two world cups which take place this coming weekend and the weekend after. It is impossible to make the games without skating an Olympic qualifying time (generally, a second and a half per 500m faster than world cup qualifying times) at a world cup. These two upcoming world cups are the last ones before the games, and they’re both at altitude on very fast ice.

I will likely still be in Vancouver during the time of the games, so I can still meet up with anyone who planned to come to meet me (Vancouver is a truly lovely city). I encourage people to watch the speed skating (and cheer for the aussies!) as it is a very exciting sport, regardless of whether or not I’m skating in it. I will also be there in support of the many friends I have made in speed skating who will, no doubt, be there, and from whom I have learned so much. At least now I can be satisfied that there is no “what if”. Short of a black swan, it is unlikely that I will continue skating at an elite level after this season. I will, instead, attempt to continue my education in the form of a PhD (if anyone will take me).

“When you lose in life, don’t lose the lesson” ~ The Dalai Lama

7 Comments on A Mathematician’s Apology

  1. Sorry to hear Dan, but you gave it your all and I’m still very proud of you (well, not that I wasn’t before). Good luck with PhD apps.

  2. You gave it your all!

    I believe you when you say it’s disappointing. But what an amazing year or so you’ve had.

  3. Something to bear in mind- as a matter of perspective- is to ask, how many can say they’ve trained as an elite athlete, and made it as far as you have? Not many I would guess!

    All the best with your further studies.

  4. Has Daniel Yeow and the Quest for World Peace considered running for a Victorian Senate seat in the 2010 Federal election? In particular, the senate terms of Messers Conroy and Fielding are due to expire and both thoroughly deserve to be replaced.

    • maybe that can be my backup-backup plan if I don’t get into a phd…

      If Fielding somehow gets another term, someone’s going to have to make sure *he* expires.

      Aren’t I too young for the senate? I thought “senate” and “senator” came from the latin “senex” which means “old man”… or are you trying to tell me something?

  5. ACM of the Murphy (smurfs) family // Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 9:09 // Reply

    My dear friend Yeoie…

    You gave 1000% and it has been a true honor to follow your steps, as you tried harder and harder to improve your own time. You already are a winner for coming so far in such a short time frame!

    I’m sure this experience will be of great use to your Ph.D. thesis!!!
    Yes, I’m already talking about your thesis because life is too short to talk about what you could, should or would have done. History is great subject, as long as we can learn from it… I’m sure you have learned a lot from such a rewarding experience and I look forward to hear what is going to be the next (exciting) chapter of your quest for world peace!


  6. Nice black swan reference (I just bought the book and am looking forward to reading it).

    In terms of one’s performance in sport, the lesson isn’t always about the sport itself or even sport in general. The same skills you applied toward speed skating (minus the kinesthetic memory) can undoubtedly be applied to other areas, including academia. I wish the best of luck to you in your quest for a PhD.

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