OMAHA, NE - JUNE 28: (L-R) David Walters, Jason Lezak and Ryan Lochte compete in preliminary heat 16 of the Men's 100 m Freestyle during Day Four of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 28, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
In your average, run-of-the-mill summer, those of us who have graduated and fortunate enough to have jobs don't have college football or college basketball or college hockey to take our minds from the never ending grind of work (until we get to go on our vacation to Block Island... yessss). But this isn't one of those average summers. We get the Olympics!
I've always been really into the Olympics. Maybe more than most people I know. But ever since I can remember, I thought it was wicked cool. Ever since I can remember happens to go back to 1996 when Atlanta hosted the games. I remember going to Hartford and seeing the torch relay. I may have just been 7 years old, but the whole pomp & circumstance of it was cool.
Now, of course everyone is going to be watching the major sports like soccer and basketball. There's a lot of fun in that. But that's not what's so awesome about the Olympics.
The really cool thing about the Summer Olympics is that it gives us an excuse to watch and somehow really care about things that we otherwise wouldn't give a fraction of a crap about. The Winter Olympics gives us such diversions as curling and the biathlon (a sport that mixes -- no joke -- cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.) The summer gives us all kinds of good stuff like handball and equestrian.
Then there's swimming. Swimming may not be obscure, but who do you know who says "hey, I'm going to run down to the local Y and watch some swimming"? But if you happen to be flipping through the 75 different NBC stations and see a swimming final, I dare you to lie and tell me you won't stop and watch it.
In the 2008 Olympics, everyone was caught up in Michael Phelps and his run to 8 medals, so of course a good chunk of America actually made a point to watch each of his finals. In just his second gold-medal event, while Phelps could only sit and watch, his attempt at history seemed just about over. What the world ended up watching was one of the most stunning comebacks in the history of sports.
The run up to the 4x100 freestyle relay somehow had the buildup of a Don-King-promoted heavyweight fight, complete with smack talk. Alain Bernard, anchor swimmer for the French team (no, not the one who sinks the fastest... the one who swims the final leg) decided it would be cool to taunt the Americans.
"The Americans? We’re going to smash them."
Au contraire, mon frère.
Fast forward. Final leg of the race, two lengths of the pool to go. Alain Bernard, supposedly the fastest man who would jump in the pool in that particular race, leaped into the pool with over half a body length on Lezak already -- like giving a head start to Usain Bolt. Before the two men even got wet, the announcer was saying that he "just didn't think the Americans can do it." Bernard pulled even further away through the first length of the pool. Surely, the race was over. Those announcers were already saying that the Americans should be able to "hang on" for the silver medal. Ah well. There are a million other events to get excited about.
The swimmers turn for the final stretch and the French had an entire body length on the Americans. An absolutely enormous lead with just 50 meters to go. Suddenly... no, it couldn't be, could it? Lezak started creeping up and creeping up. Halfway home and Lezak, still, surely, an impossible distance from catching Bernard, just keeps chipping away and chipping away. Just meters to go and Lezak pulls up stride for stride with Bernard! What?? Out of absolutely nowhere -- a few strokes later and "USA" flashes on the screen as the winner. I'm in the basement of my grandparents' house with my twin sister, my grandparents watching upstairs, and suddenly the whole house is yelling. Totally caught up in the moment. "They did it!" "How in the hell did they do that?!" "That was the craziest thing ever!" "I don't even believe that!"
It was the most thrilling moment I can personally remember watching in my relatively short time of watching the summer games. Four American dudes and four French dudes, swimming, on some random weeknight in August. Why in the world should I find that important enough to watch?
Just one moment. A moment in a sport that, by God, I just do not care the slightest bit about. But supporting your country, watching for that thrilling moment everyone will be talking about the next day that you don't want to miss out on... that was what Lezak's incredible comeback, and the Olympics, are all about.
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