For those of you who are living under a rock, let me begin by announcing that the trials for the 2012 Olympics in London began yesterday. Now, I have always loved the Olympics; they are awe-inspiring, gripping, and fascinating to watch. As a non-athlete, I watched them in the past with a sense of unreality.
"How do these people exist? How can you possibly do a perfect cartwheel on a balance beam, when I can't even do one on solid ground? How do divers change their positions in mid-air like that? Are these people aliens?!"
Well, this year I hit a milestone. It marks the first time I will be watching the Olympics as an athlete myself. For the first time, I will watch runners tearing up the track and, instead of thinking, "Oh look, more circles to complete..." I will think, "HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THOSE PEOPLE MOVE!"
I plan to make another post (if not a couple more) on the Olympics when the games officially begin. But watching the trials last night lit something wonderful in me which I needed to share. I will do my best to put it into words.
I suddenly feel I kind of...understand. I have always loved the Olympics, but now I get it. I understand the amount of training and sheer force of will that allows these few athletes to trump any others. I understand what it means to run a 10k on a track, in the rain, in racing flats, in front of TV cameras, in under 30 minutes. I understand that even finishing last in that trial is an amazing feat. I understand that falling, as Rogers did, and still finishing 2nd is utterly astounding, even if her time didn't end up qualifying her for London. I understand the utter insanity of running for 3 hours (completing 28 miles) on a Monday to train for a 10k on a Friday that means nothing (as Flanagan did, running the race for "fun" [training] but choosing not to compete in London in anything short of the Marathon).
I understand the tears, the collapse, the hugging, the shaking limbs. As I posted as a status last night as I watched in awe, I am overcome with warmth and affection as I watch the runners congratulate each other on finishing. The camaraderie is overwhelming and joyous. Runners understand the pain, sweat, and hard
work that has gone into their preparation, and although running is individual, all the runners are connected through that effort. As Hastings said after she qualified for London, she received all kinds of support from the most random people during her training, but it was just what she needed.
Runners don't tear down their competitors. They cross the line, turn around, and cheer on the rest. This is not a sport where players connive behind their teammates' backs, or even insult their opponents. Running is a humbling sport, and perhaps the most grueling of the summer Olympics.
The men and women in the trials took my breath away. I have never watched the Olympics through this lens before, with a deeper connection. It's at once motivating and truly daunting. The athletes have honed their bodies into the perfect condition for their one sport. The sprinters boast powerful thighs; they're a little more compact and take off like bullets, shockingly fast. The long-distance runners tend to be leaner, longer, more whittled down. The divers have formed their bodies into the perfect combination of long swimmers' muscles and powerful quads and cores.
I am so excited for the Olympics this year, but in a more honest way than before. In a way that says I won't stop caring once they're over. As a fellow athlete - so much further down the totem than these fine specimens, but still existing somewhere in their world - I find I'm taking an interest that goes beyond summer entertainment.
I actually feel invested this year. It's a funny feeling; I feel a little silly caring so much. But I finally get what I've been missing, and looking forward to this year's Games is just one more step in my own journey to becoming the runner I want to be.