Sunday night marked the first time in my adult life that I’ve watched the USA Swimming Olympic Trials on television without a drink in my hand or sorrow in my heart. About halfway through the broadcast, I noticed that I’d been wringing my hands in nervous excitement.
Each one of the competitors in the water wants to go to Rio with every fiber of their being. But only the top two finishers will make the team. The others will have to train for four more years before trying again — if they can hold out that long. Age and injury are a swimmer’s mortal enemies.
In the first event of the trials in Omaha, swimming-legend and Olympic-veteran Ryan Lochte came up short in 400-meter individual medley. He finished in third place, battling a pulled groin as well as the competition.
“I did everything I could,” Lochte said afterward. “And it just wasn’t enough.”
I know the feeling, on a smaller scale.
While watching the previous seven Summer Olympic Games — Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London — I battled an ongoing sense of loss despite the fact that my entire youth was defined by winning in the water.