July 7, 2008

Coming from behind to win

I don't play sports any more, and I rarely watch sports, but I do make time for the Olympics and the Tour de France, both of which have just started (the Olympics in the form of the Olympic Trials, that is).

I find myself inspired by athletes who overcome physical and mental pain, fatigue and distraction to achieve their goals, whether it's accomplishing their personal best, making the team, or winning the whole thing. Even though I no longer compete, I find that I can apply the lessons I learn from athletes to other aspects of my life, including public speaking.

Last week it was three guys from Oregon, who came from behind in the 800 meters to make the Olympic team, who got me cheering and my blood pumping.

In first place: Nick Symmonds from Willamette University and the Oregon Track Club. With 100 meters to go, he was still in sixth place and stuck in the inside lane. He found an opening, turned up his speed and raced out ahead of the pack to win, achieving a personal best time of 1:44.10 in the process.

"I had so many setbacks this year," he said. "It seemed like so many things were against me. I ripped my knee up, I had the flu in January, and I had a cold just last week. Every day I woke up, I was praying I could get through the day without something terrible happening."

In second place: Andrew Wheating from the University of Oregon, a gangly 6'5" sophomore who's only been running track for two years. At the 100 meter mark Wheating, too, was still at the back of the pack. As Symmonds burst through the crowd to take the lead, Wheating started to creep up behind him and shocked himself by taking second.

In third place: Christian Smith, also of the Oregon Track Club, who last year spent several months recovering from a burst appendix and then pneumonia, and was considered an unlikely candidate for the Olympic track team.

"Last year I only had one race," he said. "I went through so many miserable procedures that no one except my coach and girlfriend understand what I went through. I can remember walking down hospital hallways hunched over, barely able to walk."

Smith had to appeal the governing body to even enter the trials, as he was ranked 31st in an event where only 30 runners could compete. After a runner decided to skip the 800, Smith was entered.

As Symmonds and Wheating ended their race Smith, who was neck and neck with Khadevis Robinson, made a dramatic dive for the finish line, skidding in a heap with Robinson and taking third place.

Smith hadn't yet achieved the Olympic "A" standard for the 800 during the qualifying period of January 2007 through July 2008, meaning that he had to cross the line in at least 1:46.00 or he would not make the team. His dive put him over the line at 1:45.47.

The Eugene, Oregon crowd yelled louder and louder as one by one, their hometown runners crossed the line. After the months and years of mental and physical preparation, and having overcome physical struggles (Smith and Symmonds) and lack of experience (Wheating), all three will be going to the Olympics for the first time.

I'll ask you again, as I've asked in the past:

What are you waiting for?

What's holding you back?

What are you afraid of?

What are you dwelling on?

Watch the race:

Or watch it on YouTube. . .

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