Going For The Gold

“8.2”, the judge shouted from the side of the pool.
My brother had gotten an 8.6, the judge had called it right. I hadn’t gotten my toes pointed down enough before they cut into the water, this had created a larger splash, which cost me points. The next jump had to be better or I risked not advancing.
It was the summer of 1984 and while the Olympics were being held in Los Angles some 2000 miles away two brothers were battling in a heavily contested pool jumping meet being held at a small roadside hotel in Rockaway Beach.
My father, always one with a flair for the dramatic, would play the part of the color commentator, “This is the elder Sheehan’s second Olympic qualifying run. He must get at least a 9.3 on this next jump to keep his dreams alive and continue on to the finals.”
I am not sure what the other guest at the pool thought, it didn’t really matter, we were awash in our Olympic pursuit. Don’t worry, I qualified.
We spent the days of that vacation on trail rides and going to Silver Dollar City but what stands out most in my memory is the pool jumping competitions and more importantly the late nights staying up with my dad to watch the replay of the days events from California.
Last Friday my family joined over 40 million people from all over the world who tuned into watch the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. I could only imagine how many kids were watching and wondered how many of them would make it their goal to one day compete and not just in a motel pool? How many years does it take to make an Olympic athlete? What separates those who make it from the ones that don’t? More importantly what happened to that twelve year old at Rockaway Beach?
As I am reflecting a commercial comes on. “I haven’t missed a morning workout in six years… I haven’t order a dessert in two years,” several athletes list their biggest sacrifices. Quickly I understood what happened to me but I knew at that very instance some kid in the middle of nowhere had just picked their dream. That is what makes the games magical.
Where else can you find 10,000 type A personalities from 205 countries, that have spent their entire lives preparing for one competition, that somehow manage to get along for two weeks in a foreign land. Often a lifetime of training comes down to fractions of a second. Moments after a bitter defeat there is a camera in their face asking them what went wrong and most times they manage to keep it all together. That is the drama that keeps me tuned in night after night.
Unfortunately neither of my kids caught the Olympic bug, but I am not counting myself out yet. This year there is a 72 year old athlete from Japan competing in Dressage….anybody happen to have a horse I can borrow.


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