Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When the Going Gets Tough...

...The Sprinter's Go Home.

So here's the thing...
I like to watch sports. Not mainstream professional sports. I watch stuff like marathons, triathalons, surfing, swimming, track & field, skating, volleyball, skiing, etc, etc, etc. It inspires me. It motivates me to keep going even though I'm so far from an elite athlete that it's laughable. I'm a distance runner. Everyone knows this about me. I've mentioned countless times that it's easier for me to run 5 or 7 miles than 2 miles. I'm in no way a competitive athlete, but I train hard for what I do. And even a recreational runner like me knows that you have ups and downs in any sport. As I've said to so many people you're not going to have a brilliant race every time you step off the line. Some days you have a tough a day and that hurts a little, but you just learn what you can from the experience and move forward.

I've thought about this a lot this last week as two stories have come out of the sporting world that have caught my attention. One from gymnastics & one from swimming. (Yes, I follow Olympic sports in non-Olympic years. I'm a dork. I know. Get over it.) As I've read negative press about two former champions, Shawn Johnson & Michael Phelps, my contempt for people kind of grows. People are idiots.

So here's the buzz on Johnson, this week was her first international meet since the Olympics in '08 and the press was less than kind painting her as overweight and rusty and suddenly doubts about her ability to bring home any medals in next summer's Olympics began to surface. She didn't medal in either of the events she competed in, however she did extraordinarily well for a girl that's been away from the sport for 3 years. She may be taller and heavier but she's in no way overweight. And frankly she shouldn't be dismissed. I mean the truth is, yes, she's a little rusty. But the mistakes she made during the meet are all things that are definitely fixable and I'm more than confident she's already been back to the gym and is working on them.

As for Phelps it seems the media has been particularly critical. Everyone is wondering if he's lost his fire and competitive drive. There have been comments about how he's distracted by his new girlfriend and he's undertrained and unfocused. I'm actually shocked this conversation is even going on. The man has 28 world championships, 14 Olympic gold medals. What does he have left to prove? And who does he have to prove it to? The truth is even if he never wins another medal and retires tomorrow from the sport, never stepping a toe in the water again, he'll still be considered one of the greatest swimmers of all time. He's proved that already. It's true he lost the 200M fly 3 times throughout this season a race he hadn't lost in 9 years. But let's face it ALL winning streaks eventually come to an end. And so far at the World Championships he's not won a single gold medal yet. But he's only contested 2 of his 7 events so far and everyone will concede that the 4x100M Freestyle Relay wasn't his fault. He went out and did his job, he turned in a fast split time. Some of the other guys didn't have their best swims, so team USA leaves with a bronze instead of a gold in that relay. As for the 200M Freestyle in which he took silver behind teammate Ryan Lochte (who by the way, I kind of have a crush on. He's a HOTTIE and let's face it having a swimmer's body doesn't hurt!) During Phelps's 18 month hiatus from swimming Lochte has worked extra hard to try and come out of Phelps' shadow. In 2010 he was called, "The best all around swimmer in the world" by pretty much everyone. No one remembers that Lochte took 2 bronze's behind Phelps in Beijing, that he won a gold in the backstroke and was part of 2 of Phelps' gold medal relay teams there. The story in Beijing was Phelps, but let's not forget that Lochte has spent years training with and competing against him and is a gifted swimmer in his own right. I think Phelps has had a greater affect on the sport of swimming than even he realizes. He's caused the competition to become better simply because he's so good. Everyone else is working harder to catch him. Not that his feat in Beijing was easy, but I can tell you that his competition is tougher now because of what he accomplished there.

But there are two things the public (and the press) need to remember 1. The Olympics are still a year away. Both of these athletes have taken hiatus's from their sports and are using this year to gauge where they are and what they need to do to be ready for London next summer. 2. You're talking about two people who are CHAMPIONS. I mean that in every sense of the word. They'll use their recent defeats as motivation. This will become building blocks, something else to stoke the fire and come back even stronger next time. Because that's what Champions do.

Shawn Johnson and Michael Phelps will both win more Olympic medals. Will they all be gold? Probably not. Will they ever dominate their sports like they did 3 & 4 years ago? Doubtful. But why does it matter? The truth is neither one of these athletes should have to prove anything to anyone. So what if neither one of them earns a single medal ever again? (They will. They're competitive like that and they won't be satisfied until they each walk away with more hardware.) But they don't have to win or even compete ever again to have my respect and admiration for the accomplishments they've already achieved. Because dominating a sport like gymnastics or swimming is much more like a marathon than a sprint. And when the going gets tough, the sprinters go home.