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I'm looking for an idiomatic phrase that lies between "the thrill of victory" and "the agony of defeat", in the competition itself, enjoying it for its own sake -- something like "the joy in competing" (which gets a few thousand Google hits, but not loads.) Otherwise I could go with something like "competing for the sake of enjoyment".

Does anything else come to mind?

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    It looks like there's nothing standard that's a good fit, but your examples are perhaps good starting points to coin your own phrase that will be well-understood. There's the phrase "thrill of the chase" which captures the emotions exactly, but is very specific to certain situations. But "the thrill of competition/competing", although not an idiom, would sound pretty natural and be immediately understood. Sep 7, 2021 at 10:03
  • @tea-and-cake At fever pitch? Sep 7, 2021 at 11:11
  • @EdwinAshworth It's a vivid phrase but I only take it to mean "in a state of excitement", with no connotations of competition or the like: The supporters in the stadium were at fever pitch, etc. Sep 7, 2021 at 12:26
  • @tea-and-cake It was merely meant as an attempted witticism. Sep 7, 2021 at 14:55
  • @EdwinAshworth Oops! I knew that. Totally. Sep 8, 2021 at 14:08

4 Answers 4

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  • A race well run
  • A job well done
  • The thrill of the game
  • Hale fellows and well-met
  • Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all

might get you the kind of hits you want in about the right area.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_fellow_well_met

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  • I like "the thrill of the game" for my purposes. Or indeed doing something with "thrill", which is already there in the "thrill of victory", but it looks good here too. Hadn't occurred to me.
    – Ingrid
    Sep 13, 2021 at 8:36
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You could use the following or one of its variations (example)

It's not the winning but the taking part that counts.

Which is a generalised version of Pierre de Coubertin's original quote about the modern Olympic games.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.”

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(playing) for the love of the game

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  • @Ingrid this good because it is can be used in many contexts, not just competition or sport. Sep 7, 2021 at 13:04
  • Thanks. I thought of this, but I find it a bit too tightly sport related for my purposes. And then there's a film with the title :P
    – Ingrid
    Sep 13, 2021 at 8:35
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“It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.”

It's well-known and based on a line from "Alumnus Football” by Grantland Rice, which includes the stanza:

"Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game's end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes - not that you won or lost - but how you played the Game."

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