Over the next couple weeks, in addition to other Olympics content, we'll be posting a series of columns from our co-founders about why we love the Olympics. In the wake of Missy Franklin's gutsy performance, Dustin weighs in.
It was late last night and my family had gone to bed. The only light in the family room was the glowing flash and flicker from the TV across from where I sat sprawled out in the sofa chair. We had just returned from a weekend trip to New York and the car ride had delivered my body the dull throbbing ache that I can only presume one would get from a flight to say – New Zealand. My eyes were heavy as I wound down to the sound of Bob Costas sending the Olympic coverage out to the pool for some highly anticipated swimming races.
I listened as they profiled the story of the young, yet very focused and mature, Missy Franklin. This American swimmer, who has grown up idolizing U.S. Olympic great Natalie Coughlin for her success in the 100m backstroke, was set to compete for gold in the 100m backstroke finals, along with a slate of phenomenal swimmers. In fact, the five top times ever recorded in the event were set by Franklin and her competitors in the final. What made last night’s competition so unique, however, was that Franklin was also swimming a semifinal race only a mere ten minutes before the 100m backstroke final. This would be the shortest rest time for any swimmer between events in Olympic history. It was only half of the 20 minutes Michael Phelps got between two races in Beijing, and that was considered an incredible feat.
As I watched her finish her semifinal (she qualified for the 8th and final spot in the finals for that event), I thought to myself I am so tired and I really ought to be going to bed. But then the cameras started following her, explaining that she only had ten minutes rest before having to jump in the pool again for the medal race. I suddenly became intrigued as I watched her shaking the water out of her ears and then jumping into a side pool for a few cool down laps that looked faster than my top swimming speed (which is not very fast, by the way). Fortunately, in my tired state, I had missed NBC’s spoiler of the upcoming race, so I was now sitting up on the edge of my seat.
Franklin finished her cool down and warm up routine and made her way back to the main pool for the race. The 100m backstroke is a grueling sprint. The whole race takes less than one minute. So it all came down to this – still breathing a bit heavy from the prior race, Franklin put on her goggles as she stood among a lineup of aquatic super stars, all of whom were rested and fresh. A lifetime of preparation. Ten minutes to rest. One minute to race for the gold.
As the race started and the swimmers exploded off the blocks, I could immediately tell how fatigued she was compared to the other swimmers. I felt bad for her. I thought this could be a disaster for her. Perhaps she had spread herself too thin trying to do both events. This event was her wheelhouse and it looked like the prior race might have worn her out, dashing her hopes for a medal at an event she was a favorite in. At the turn, the Australian powerhouse Seebohm was swimming at a new world record pace. It appeared that all might be lost for Franklin, who was in about 4th-6th place.
Then something magic happened. Franklin found a gear that could have only been developed in the long hours training in solitude, in countless little moments of pushing her body beyond her limits to get her ready for this one moment in her life where she would have to reach deep within herself and swim her best 50m. With every meter my excitement grew. I stood up. I stood on the foot rest of the couch chair. I waved my arms and yelled an inaudible “GO!,” so as not to wake up my four-month-old son.
Stroke by stroke Franklin caught and passed her legendary rivals. Finally with one final lunge she reached back and touched the wall. GOLD! The grandstand went crazy. The young kids back in her hometown of Denver, still mourning the movie theater shooting of a couple of weeks ago, were jumping up and down in jubilee.
She would later say about the race, “All of the things I’ve gone through passed through my mind — just the early-morning wakeups, the practices, the doubles, all the meets I’ve been to, all the friends that I’ve made. Just everything leading up to that point, and it was so unbelievably worth it.”
I watch these games because it is often the little moments in our own lives, perhaps even ten minutes or a minute, where we find ourselves needing to draw on a lifetime of preparation and skill in order to achieve greatness in the things we do. Every four/two years, the Olympics deliver real life reminders that anything is, indeed, possible. We just have to rise to the occasion at those moments when it feels like the challenges in our lives are coming at us with too little rest between “events.”
I watch these games because on any given night, a young woman like Missy Franklin can give everything she has and then some, and in less than 30 seconds, bring an exhausted nation to its feet and inspire us all.