The Most Grueling Feats of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials
The day of reckoning has arrived.
You have trained for this for months, or even years. It was difficult at first, as training for any athletic activity should be, but you toughed it out through shin splints and bruised toes to get to this point. You know what it took to get here and how much it will take out of you.
Crossing the finish line with rubberized legs and lungs afire, elation sweeps over you as your body succumbs to the exhaustion. This has been a grueling race.
Now do it again. Within the hour.
This is essentially what some athletes have gone through at the trials, and what some of them might be doing at the Olympics as well.
Here are some of the most grueling accomplishments by Olympic athletes at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Dancing in the Rain
The decathlon is perhaps the most grueling event in all sports. Participants must run a gauntlet that includes the 100-meter dash, shot put, long jump, discus throw, pole vault, 110-meter hurdles, high jump, 1500 meters, javelin throw and 400 meters in a span of just two days.
Try doing most of that in the rain. And break a world record while you're at it.
Ashton Eaton did just that at the U.S. track & field Olympic trials in Oregon. He carved up the track, setting world records in the 100 meters and long jump. Eaton ultimately obliterated his competition, with runner-up Trey Hardee coming in 656 points behind him.
Teen sensation Missy Franklin was an Olympic hopeful in multiple events heading into the trials, more so than at any other swim meet she had ever participated in. That meant a tough schedule.
While she did wade through a host of preliminaries, semifinals and finals, her biggest challenge came on an evening where she would have to do something she had not done before in major competition: swim two races back to back.
Franklin had to swim the 200-meter freestyle semifinals just before she swam in the 100-meter backstroke final. She would go on to qualify for those events, but she may not compete in one of those because she is unsure about doing the double in London.
Coming out of Retirement
Gymnasts are underrated athletes. They are muscle and energy full of grace and daring in tiny packages.
Training for international meets is grueling enough for these elite athletes, but attempting a comeback after years of retirement is borderline ludicrous.
That did not stop Nastia Liukin from attempting such a feat. She retired soon after the 2008 Olympics but decided to give it another go. She began training this past October, giving her roughly nine months to get back into international shape and compete for an Olympic bid.
Sadly, the reigning Olympic all-around gold medalist could not make it all the way back from retirement. She made a valiant effort to make the team on the balance beam and uneven bars, but the latter event proved too much for her.
That does not diminish the feat she accomplished in even getting back to the trials, however.
While he may not have had quite the adventure you had in the introduction to this piece, Galen Rupp proved he is a rising star in distance running for Team USA.
Rupp qualified for both the 10,000- and 5,000-meter races at the Olympics almost within an hour of each other. Running heats in sprinting is one thing, but participating in multiple long-distance races is an entirely different animal.
Kudos are in order for the two-time qualifying Olympian. I can barely do one mile in 10 minutes, and he won the 5k in 13:22.80. Of course, there is a reason he is on the national squad and I am sitting here writing about it.
Swimming any distance at an Olympic level is tough, but how do you suppose you might feel if you swam three events in one day or less?
Even Ryan Lochte was staggered by such a feat, having swum the 200-meter backstroke, 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter butterly—his 14th, 15th and 16th races of the US Olympic swimming trials to that point—all within one hour.
Not only did he compete in them, but he moved on in each event.
Even the great Lochte may have bitten off more than he could chew, however. Rowdy Gaines called the triple "ostentatious," and it indeed may have been for Lochte, who seemed like he could barely move after completing the 100 fly.
Lochte told NBC's Andrea Kremer that he felt "pretty bad," and the experience led him to contemplate against swimming such a rigorous schedule in London. He failed to qualify in the 100 fly, so the decision was made for him.
Even so, having accomplished this feat was impressive, even for one of swimming's supermen.