Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Olympic Trials

Posted by John Montgomery on July 13, 2008

Does Wesley’s notion of going on to perfection include taking three-tenths of a second off my 50 meter freestyle personal best time?

The drama that went on in Omaha during this past two week period of Olympic swimming trials is ridiculous. Because of the inherent inequality present in the challenge of becoming an Olympic team swimmer – i.e. the competition only comes every four years, there are only two entries per event per country (even if the four best swimmers in that event all come from the same nation) – while in truth it is a marginal competition, world championships are twice a year – short course and long course, if you win, you are queen or king of the world. Money, endorsements, job opportunities – all are irrationally linked to making this team.

Our family has been there and our hearts go out to those who competed this year. Four years ago, our friend Peter missed the team by two one-hundredths of a second. Four years later, hours of grueling practice and intense visualizations later, several short course world records and medals later, it just wasn’t his day last Tuesday night. What was that phrase? …”the agony of defeat!”

Brendan will make the team swimming the 100 breaast. But he has been on the stage for seven years, chasing Kitajima from Japan for the number one spot in the 200. But they won’t have their final show down this time in Beijing. Last night, Brendan came in fourth. The two slots went to his training partners at Texas. Our friend Eric will swim.

I grieve Brendan’s loss and lost opportunity, but I cherish Eric’s victory. Eric and my oldest have competed in that event since they were 7 years old. When Tim was 16, he was junior national champion. For all practical purposes though, he retired after earning the title. That was ten years ago, Eric is still there. Of course, today we got the word that one week before the trials he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. What a slap in the face after 19 years of training for this brief and shining moment. He’s going to be okay, and I expect that he will both swim in the Olympics and beat the disease as well.

Eric is not the only one fighting cancer this year. Marin Morrison grew up impressing people early on here in Atlanta. Everybody expected her to go far in this sport. Then four years ago, she was identified with a brain tumor. After three resection surgeries, she was left paralysed on one side and given six months to live. A doctor from the Make a Wish people offered her a trip to China. She declined and indicated that she would earn her own way. She did! This summer Marin made the Paralympic team. She has had a bit of a set back as she had to do another surgery but she is building her strength and with God’s help she will swim in Beijing.

We know so many of these kids – my youngest, Matt, who now coaches never fails to tell his aspiring swimmers that he almost beat Michael Phelps once – that is when they were both nine!

Apparently this year is going to be Katie’s show. Brian won’t win, but he came in 7th. Aaron and Ryan who have been trading places on top for 15 months now, both now share the world record. That is cool.

Kids? It used to be about age and youth. Remember 14 year old Amanda clutching her Teddie Bear on the deck at Atlanta. She’s back! Youth – right…maybe it’s not so important this time. Dara Torres made her fifth team by winning the freestyle. She is a 41 year old mother with a kid. Gary Hall, Jr. is still in the mix. He won’t win this time around, but he made the top ten.

I hate it all. It’s raw intensity squared. But I will not miss a story or a minute of the coverage.

Does G-d care who wins? Or, is it simply that at least one person does win? Is it the glory that accrues to the individual competitor or the spirit of the games that is important?

Does G-d care which country earns the most medals? American hegemony is a fading story. Am I not just as glad that the Kenyans will once again win the marathon?

Is this about the testing of each individual, or perhaps the testing of us all – our human potential? So when we compete, do we do this on behalf of everybody? When we cheer for the winner of a close race, are we cheering for the human race?

Does Wesley’s notion of going on to perfection include taking three-tenths of a seconds off my 50 meter freestyle personal best time? I know, Wesley’s notion has to do with the perfection of love, but does “being all that you can be” not have something to do with love and respect and integrity and celebration of creation?

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