Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lincoln and London

I have loved sports my entire life.  But for a passable level of above-averageness playing soccer in high school - notwithstanding my mad floor hockey skills developed on countless Saturday afternoons with Messrs. Stout, Blatz, Kopidakis, Casagrande, et al. at Dad's "Play Group" - I have been decidedly unspectacular at every sport I have ever played.  Well, that is not entirely true.  Had I wrestled in the era of YouTube, I would be the "How Not To" video played in every wrestling room in this country - and every other country with Internet access - on the first day of wrestling practice each and every season.  I still have nightmares about Liam Ryan of Roselle Catholic.  And thanks to him I have never completely gotten the taste of my knee out of my mouth. 

What I love most about sports is that as live, unscripted competition it proves the truth of the axiom about hard work being its own reward.  For as anyone who has ever competed in anything knows, hard work is not in and of itself a guarantee of success.  We must take comfort - and solace perhaps - in the knowledge that our effort was the best that it could be even when the result is less than we had hoped it would be.

The Olympics begin in London later this month.  For the past couple of weeks the American teams in the disciplines of track and field, swimming and gymnastics have been filled by the athletes competing in their respective sport's Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, San Jose, California and Omaha, Nebraska.  Certain of the stories told and written at the Trials have been success stories.  For instance, at the Track and Field Trials in Eugene, five Colorado Buffaloes punched tickets to London including Emma Coburn and Shayala Kipp (who finished first and third respectively in the 3,000 Meter Steeplechase), Jenny Simpson (1,500 Meters), Kara Goucher (owner of the best first name of the bunch - Marathon) and Dathan Ritzenhein.  A few months ago, competing for a spot on the men's marathon team, Ritzenhein finished in just out of the money in 4th place.  In Eugene, he earned a spot in the 10,000 Meters.

But Eugene proved unkind to more than its fair share of competitors.  2008 Gold Medalist Bryan Clay failed to make the team in the Decathlon and after first being declared the winner of the third and final spot in the women's 100 Meters, Jeneba Tarnoh ultimately conceded her spot on the team by opting out of the "run-off" match race against her training partner Allyson Felix

In San Jose, the young ladies (political correctness prevents me from saying "little girls" aloud) who earned spots on the gymnastics team included not-quite-ready for driver's education stalwarts Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas - owner of the simply terrific nickname "The Flying Squirrel".  Names familiar to those of us - like me - who only pay even one eye's worth of attention to this sport during the Olympics - such as Nastia Liukin did not make the squad.  However, in defeat Liukin reminded those in attendance just what being a champion entails as well as what a remarkably gracious young woman she is.

Swimming produced a few epic battles between Michael Phelps and his pal/rival Ryan Lochte, which are likely to be replicated in the events that the two compete in against one another in London.  I shall defer to the swimming experts in the family (Simone and her mom/my sister Jill) but I do not think that the success of either came as a surprise.  Neither did the emergence of the next wave of American teenage swimming stars - led by 17 y/o Coloradan Missy Franklin, who shall represent the United States in four individual events.  I was saddened to see that the timeless wonder Dara Torres came up short in her bid to make her sixth Olympic team.  I was a teenager when the Summer Olympics were in Los Angeles in 1984.  So was Torres.  I watched them on TV.  She competed in them.  On Monday night, she fell short in her attempt to make the team in the 50 Freestyle.  She finished in 4th place, one tenth of a second behind the 2nd place finisher.  Torres, 45 years eternally young (I think it is the chlorine), took the defeat in stride and with her usual grace.  

Abraham Lincoln never represented the United States in the Olympics - although had rail splitting been afforded its place in the games alongside synchronized swimming and badminton he very well might have added "Olympic Medalist" to his already impressive C.V.  Nevertheless, Honest Abe very well might have been speaking of the men and women who have earned the right to represent the United States in this summer's Olympics AND the men and women who competed against them for the right to do so when he said, "I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end."

And in the end that is always enough.  Whether you end up on the medal platform or not.

-AK

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