Aug 17, ATHENS – There are many sports in which victory is determined by who makes the fewest mistakes. Rebecca Giddens and Chris Ennis know that whitewater slalom is one of them. In preliminary rounds, the main objective to to avoid big mistakes and paddle good enough to move on.

Our two American competitors in today’s opening events of the Athens games both made mistakes. Giddens took two conservative runs, posting very good times, but acknowledged numerous errors. She said afterward that she was actually pleased with her mistakes, because they were small ones that did not seriously penalize her and that she can work on. Despite her mistakes she finished in fifth among the 19 Olympic athletes in today’s round.

Chris Ennis was not so lucky. Ennis paddled very aggressively and looked strong through more than half the very difficult course at the beautiful Helliniko complex. He actually made fewer mistakes than Giddens and many other competitors on the water today. But his two mistakes were fatal ones, competition-wise.

Ennis capsized in each of his two runs and could not recover. In the first run, his problem came just as he entered a gate and thus was incurred a 50 second penalty. Without these two major mistakes, he was plenty fast enough to have placed high enough to move on to tomorrow’s semi’s.

Even facing the incredible disappointment of seeing his Olympics cut short of his goal, Ennis was stoic and reflective. He endured the inevitable post-race questions from the media with great grace. In a private moment later, before leaving to join his large contingent of family and friends, he said, “This was disappointing , but it just might be the thing I needed to experience to keep me in the sport and determined to make the Olympics again.”

The size of your mistakes can matter as much as their number. Timing is critical. How you react to them is another measure of a champion.