As the Olympic Games come to a close and with the Paralympics still to come, we have already seen some tremendous highs and lows.

Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony in a breakthrough moment of representation, only to get bounced in the third round of the women’s tennis tournament. The tiny nation of Fiji triumphantly took gold in men’s rugby, but Spanish tennis player Paula Badosa left the court in a wheelchair, suffering from heatstroke. Japan cheered as 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya took home the first women’s street skateboarding gold, and COVID-19 has been spreading throughout Tokyo during the entire affair.

Japanese grammar has abundant structures to describe wins and losses, the highs and lows of an event like the Olympics. Let’s start on a low note: 敗北者 (haibokusha, the losers/the defeated).

Simply making it to the Olympics is an incredible accomplishment, but defeat is still a part of the competition. The key kanji in the concept are 負 (fu, defeat) and 敗 (hai, failure). The former is used in the essential 負ける (makeru, to lose), as well as in nouns such as 負傷 (fushō, injury), 負担 (futan, burden) and 負債 (fusai, debt). Meanwhile, 敗 is used in 失敗 (shippai, failure), 敗北 (haiboku, defeat) and in terms specific to sports such as 大敗 (taihai, crushing defeat) and 完敗 (kanpai, complete defeat).

When failure is on the horizon, you start to anticipate it. That’s where the structure 恐れがある (osore ga aru, in danger of) comes into play. It’s easy to use. Simply tack it on to the dictionary form of a verb: 私たちは負ける恐れがあった (Watashi-tachi wa makeru osore ga atta, We were in danger of losing). Or with these Olympics in particular, 東京の夏の暑い天気によって、選手が熱中症になる恐れがある (Tokyō no natsu no atsui tenki ni yotte, senshu ga necchūshō ni naru osore ga aru, due to the hot summer weather in Tokyo, players are in danger of heatstroke [lit., danger of becoming heatstroke]).

Defeat is rarely intentional. So one of the most useful grammar structures for talking about losing is the expression 〜てしまいました/〜てしまった (~te shimaimashita/~te shimatta). It means to do something by accident, and is often used in negative circumstances: 大阪なおみはみんなが思っていたより早く負けてしまった (Ōsaka Naomi wa minna ga omotte-ita yori hayaku makete-shimatta, Naomi Osaka ended up losing earlier than everyone was expecting).

There are usually underlying reasons for losing that you might want to talk about. While you can use the basic から (kara) or ので (node) to give a reason for defeats, the structure せいで (sei de) is often used to explain negative situations. In the case of extreme heat, 暑い天気のせいで選手が倒れてしまいました (atsui tenki no sei de senshu ga taorete-shimaimashita, a player ended up falling over due to the hot weather). Or for Osaka, オリンピックのプレッシャーのせいで負けたかもしれません (Orinpikku no puresshā no sei de maketa kamo shiremasen, she might have lost because of the Olympic pressure).

After defeat, it’s expected to be wistful. For times of regret, the grammar structure 〜ばよかった (~ba yokatta) comes in handy. This can be translated as “if only I had done~” or “would have been better if~.” For example, 練習すればよかった (renshū sureba yokatta, I should have practiced). With COVID-19 spreading throughout Tokyo during the Games, 日本がワクチンをもう少し早く打ち始めればよかった (Nihon ga wakuchin o mō sukoshi hayaku uchihajimereba yokatta, if Japan had only started vaccinating a little sooner).

But that’s enough talk about losing, on to 勝利 (shōri, victory).

The kanji for winning is 勝 (shō), found in 勝つ (katsu, to win), 勝る(masaru, to excel), 決勝 (kesshō, finals/deciding match) and 勝手 (katte, one’s own convenience/selfishly). It is also used in words about decisive victories such as 圧勝 (asshō, sweeping victory), 快勝 (kaishō, decisive victory) and 辛勝 (shinshō, narrow victory).

As with losing, there are various grammar structures that are useful in celebrating a 勝利. After a narrow victory, 幸いなことに (saiwaina koto ni, luckily/thankfully) can come in handy: アメリカにとって幸いなことに、シモン・バイルズがいなくても、体操で金メダルをとれた (Amerika ni totte saiwaina koto ni, Shimon Bairuzu ga inakute mo, taisō de kin medaru o toreta, fortunately for America, even without Simone Biles, they were able to take a gold medal in gymnastics).

The next useful piece of grammar comes in to assigning the necessary credit for one’s victory with おかげで (okage de, because of/thanks to). おかげで has the opposite usage of the previously discussed せいで, used mostly in positive contexts. For the U.S., Hmong American hero Sunisa Lee came to the rescue in gymnastics. So to extend on the previous sentence: アメリカにとって幸いなことに、シモン・バイルズがいなくても、スニサ・リーのおかげで体操で金メダルをとれてた (Amerika ni totte saiwaina koto ni, Shimon Bairuzu ga inakute mo, Sunisa Rī no okage de taisō de kin medaru o toreta, fortunately for America, even without Simone Biles, they were able to take a gold medal in gymnastics thanks to Sunisa Lee).

After a hard-earned win, emotions tend to come out. A frequently heard Japanese expression to emphasize emotions (in either good or bad situations) is なんという (nan to iu, how~/what a~) or なんて (nante), as in なんという美しさ (nan to iu utsukushisa, how beautiful). すべての努力を尽くした後の勝利というのはなんていい気持ちだ (Subete no doryoku o tsukushita ato no shōri to iu no wa nante ii kimochi da, Because we gave it our all, victory is such a good feeling).

Throughout all the highs and lows of an event like the Olympics in times as trying as these, it’s important to remain appreciative and thankful for the good things, if only for your own mental health. 幸いなことに, there’s grammar for that too! ~だけましだ (~dake mashi da, it’s better than/one should feel grateful for~) is used to express something that isn’t necessarily good or perfect, but it’s at least better than alternatives: 今年のオリンピックは大変だったけど、イベントがうまくいったと言えるだけましだ (Kotoshi no Orinpikku wa taihen datta kedo, ibento ga umaku itta to ieru dake mashi da, While the Olympics this year were a lot of trouble, at least we can say that the events went smoothly). We made it through, and now we can move on to our next 勝利, be it in sports, work or life.

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