Last night I watched as the Unites States men’s swim team was beaten by the French for the Gold medal in the 4x400m relay. Our boys captured silver, which to any of us arm-chair Dorito-eater’s, that’s pretty good. But if you watched the post-race camera, it centered on Ryan Lochte, America‘s new swim darling, and he looked like someone had just told him his 12-year-old Lab had died. (Don’t know if he owns one or not – I’m just sayin’.)
Now, let’s put this in perspective. Every swimmer on that team would now proudly wear a silver medal for his participation in that race. Second best in the world. I mean, truly in the world. Not the World Series (which bears no resemblance to any type of world championship), not the Super Bowl (ditto), but on the biggest stage of all.Not bad, eh?
Not bad – but not good enough.
See, when each of our athletes begin to prepare for the Games, they have one thing in mind. And it ain’t congratulating the guy standing on the highest podium. Why should it be? Is that what any athlete is aiming for? Runner-up? Doubt it.
I’ve done some youth sports coaching – in fact, a fair amount of it. Three years of baseball, three of basketball, and five of soccer. And the common theme for all the seasons was “have fun first”. And, of course, I meant it. What’s the sense of winning, if you aren’t having a good time?
But – and this is a really big but – winning is why we walk on the field. It’s why every football, baseball, soccer, volleyball, and track team (you can throw in any I’ve missed here) on every age level throws on the sweats and gits it. It’s why there are two-a-days, dawn workouts, and weekend training camps. It’s why we sweat and bleed.
Men – and women – want to win. It’s human nature.
It’s also why Mr. Lochte (and every else who’s serious about it) swims 70 kilometers a week. That’s a touch over 43 miles. Oh, and that’s in addition, at least in Ryan’s case, to doing a 90 minute dry-land strongman routine every day, including boxing, flipping a 650 pound tire, lifting metal logs, throwing kegs, and ending his workout dragging a 450 pound chain for 350 feet.
If I did all that and got second, I guess I’d be pretty pissed off too. Thinking of it like that, I understand completely why, despite the fact that our men and women are having the time of their lives, meeting people from around the world, taking in the sights of London, being treated like royalty, everyone there wants to do one thing.
That’s why Ryan Lochte had that look on his face last night. He had gone as fast as he could, has had his teammates, and , in his mind, they’d been beaten. He hadn’t won the silver medal. He had the gold taken away. That’s what will put him back in the water. That’s what puts us all back in the water.