Monday, September 1, 2008

The Thrill & Agony of the Olympics

As the Olympics shines the light on victory and defeat we bask in the glow and feel our hearts sink in empathy. The difference between athletic immortality and heartbreak is often measured in millimeters and milliseconds. So what did we learn in the Beijing Olympics of 8-8-08?

Essentially, every snapshot Olympic moment is the culmination of a story.

A funny-looking boy with big ears and ADD has to grow up without a father and find some way to channel his frenetic energy as his body continues to grow longer and in strange proportions.

A young girl of African-American, Native American, Norwegian and French descent, attended eight different schools in eight years and had to move in with foster families to complete her high school education while fulfilling the gift of speed she with which she had been blessed.

Michael Phelps achieved the unreachable: 8 Gold Medals in swimming.

Lolo Jones "felt the gold medal around her neck" in the 100 meter hurdles as she led the field only to nick the second to last hurdle and miss her Olympic dream for the second time.

We cheer and throw our arms skyward in celebration of Michael Phelps.

We swallow an empathetic lump of despair in commiseration with Lolo Jones.

As Rudyard Kipling says in his famous poem "If"
"If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same"

Michael Phelps was always Michael Phelps even before eclipsing Mark Spitz' record.

Lolo Jones was always Lolo Jones even before she felt the dream slip away.

What will truly inform their characters, the essence of who they are, is how they now react to Triumph and Disaster.

The pageantry and publicity have faded and they both will rest, regroup and then get back to work. For Michael Phelps, you can't top perfection. So he will dive back into the process and re-connect with the passion of the journey. For Lolo Jones, it's the realization that years of focus led to a moment of distraction. In her fated race, she kept her mind connected to her body until that millisecond where instead of thinking of each technical moment, she felt the gold around her neck and then her foot against that hurdle. She too will dive back into the process and find the true value of the journey, wherever it takes her.

We honor Michael Phelps and Lolo Jones. They are both champions. For they were the ones fighting the great fight, while we all watched.