Who among us has never had a bad race? Who among us has never failed to do what we set out to do? Who among us has faltered while the entire world was watching in amazement that you didn’t WIN? OK…two out of three for most of us.
The World Championships in Montreal have been fun to watch (www.omegatiming.com), even if it’s just on computer. The other day, however, I watched in amazement as the splits came up for Michael Phelps’s heat of the men’s 400 freestyle. I thought for sure that Omega Timing had the lanes mixed up. I mean, when you’re simply watching numbers pop up on the computer screen, can you really believe that what you’re seeing is actually happening at that EXACT time?
As it turns out, the splits were correct. The overall time was correct, and Michael Phelps had failed to qualify for finals of the 400 free.
Since this was his first race of World Championships, the speculation began. Heck, even the Baltimore news was calling it a FLOP! I scrambled for news, to see how Michael would react, to see what his coach was going to say. After a few hours, Michael said something to the effect that he just didn’t feel good in the race. He almost seemed a bit confused stating that he felt good in warm-ups. It seemed like it was the first big-stage, poor performance for this fantastic swimmer. The question now was: How will the rest of the meet go, how will he react.
Within hours, Michael was leading off the 400 free relay in a very respectable time, and within a couple days he rebounded to win the 200 free in American Record time. How did he react? I’d say pretty good.
Now, why am I thanking Michael Phelps for swimming slower than he wanted to? Basically, it’s to show kids that these things happen. Now we really CAN say that once in a while, everyone has a bad swim. Up until now, that couldn’t be said for Michael. Every time I’ve seen him swim, he’s been amazing. It’s been harder to help kids get through those bad times when they have a role model who NEVER seems to faulter.
The most important lesson wasn’t that Michael didn’t have a great swim, but rather that he didn’t let it affect him in a bad way. That race was over; there was nothing he could do about it. He immediately redirected his thoughts and moved forward. He jumped on the next race, and even continued to throw in best times. Even last night (Wednesday), he threw in a lifetime best time in the 100 free in semi-finals, dipping below 49 for the first time (I could be wrong about that being his best time).
The longer you’re involved in this sport, the likelier you are to have a poor set, a poor practice, a poor meet, and, sometimes, even a poor season. What determines the type of athlete, or person, you are is how you handle those disappointments. Coming back from disappointment makes you a better person, and solidifies the fact that your career — and life, for that matter — is NEVER defined by one thing, but rather by a compilation of many things. Being stubborn enough to never give up, even when things start to go a bit wrong, will ultimately make you a better person.
Thanks, Mike, for showing us that you’re human in the water. But, more important, thanks for showing us WHY you’re so dominant in our sport by reacting like the incredible champion that you are.