Speechless. Breathless. Heart is still pounding. It is 12:06 am and I still can’t believe it. Being a fanatic of the Olympics I always watch the most disputed Olympic events; gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, diving, track and field and finally… swimming. I’m not much the competitor either, I mean sure I take pride in my country, but I know there is no way the United States can take every event, because unfortunately we are not phenomenal at everything, as much as most of you would like to believe otherwise. I have a great appreciation for sports, and for other countries in sports but tonight, well tonight was not one of those nights.
Having been left a little let down by the gymnastics competition, with America placing second after China in the preliminaries, I kept the program on to watch live swimming. I fully acknowledge that most of the things that occurred to the American women in gymnastics were out of their hands, what with injuries plaguing them, and having been shaken up by all this for their first Olympics, but as a former gymnast myself, I know they can do better. They felt pressured and faltered a little but they are now the underdog, and as most greats in history, they are bound to make a comeback. Generally, I wasn’t too keen on watching the swimming, because Americans were not in some of the heats anyway, and its never been a particular interest of mine.
Something I heard suddenly caught my attention.On television, one of the broadcasters announced that one of the French swimmers, Alain Bernard, competing in the 4x100m freestyle relay, made a rather peculiar statement. Confident. Cocky. Conceited. Like most things French. When asked about whether the Americans were a big threat, Bernard responded, “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we are here for.” Now I’m not one to get heated over stupid commentary, but I have to say, being a home-grown, American girl-next-door…I was a little taken aback. My outrage only increased when I heard that prior to the relay, one of the French swimmers had even spit in the Americans' lane during warm ups! So the rest of the relays came and went. I was waiting for the 4x100m freestyle relay. To be honest, I watched the other relays, both male and female, and could not tell you what happened in them. I was gunning for that 4x100m freestyle.
Finally, the relay began. Americans started out doing really well, they were actually in the lead going into the first half of the 200m. Suddenly, somewhere in the 300m area we fell behind to none other than the French. Anyone would have been better than the French. It wasn’t any lead either. It was almost half a body length ahead of everyone in that race, which (for you non-swimmers)... is a lot, basically impossible to come back from. Like any American, I sat down (in my excitement, I had been standing) and took a deep breath watching as the French kept tearing away in the last 100m seemingly keeping their promise. I kept hoping for some sort of miracle, whether Bernard ran out breath, and slowed down, or maybe he’d get caught in the lane separators, I didn’t really care. This moment did not come. What happened was so, SO much better. The last American swimmer, Jason Lezak, suddenly went on an all out tear and was gaining on Bernard. In the replays, they even show Lezak, looking over at the Bernard under water, as he returned the favor. The 32 year-old American, swam a 46.06 anchor, the fastest in history. In the relay there was a total of about four or five meters left, and these two were neck in neck. Naturally, I stood again and started yelling various obscenities at the television, like a Giants fan in the last 3 minutes of the Superbowl yelling, “Run #$%^@4% Run!” my yells were more along the lines of “Swim! Faster,faster!”As if I could even have one 1/5 of the speed of this athlete in this sort of race. Matter of factly, my brother joked that what takes these athletes about four minutes to swim, he could swim in about half an hour.
So here I was, standing in front of my television, hands clenched with excitement, and suddenly the whole world got quiet. It’s the quiet you hear very few times in your life, for seconds that seem to stretch on forever. It’s the quiet you hear before greatness strikes. Before Kerri Strug landed that fateful vault on one leg in the 1996 Olympics.Before Aaron Boone hit that home run in the 2003 ALCS. Before the Red Sox won the World Series after the 86 year drought. Before Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10. Before the Giants won the Superbowl. It was that kind of quiet, which in the end is disrupted by cheers so loud they are deafening. That’s exactly what it was like. And then… history. The world erupted in cheers and the American swimmers rejoiced. I rejoiced for them. Americans everywhere felt proud of these men. It was one of the greatest relays in history. Not only did they beat the French in great fashion, to add insult to injury, they broke their world record while they were at it. French ended up in second and the Australians were in third.
The only things going through my mind were Bernard's famous words, and surprisingly, lyrics of a song by Nelly, an artist I don’t really follow, which go something like: “I am number one, two is NOT a winner and three nobody remembers… I am number one.” Talk about pride. I am so proud of those men. Not only for beating the French (though I must admit that’s kind of part of it), but for making history. That was one of the greatest comebacks in swimming I have ever witnessed. Even the broadcasters had counted them out after the 300m turn. When asked about the French commentary, Michael Phelps simply responded, “ We never say anything about those kind of comments, we just came here to take care of business, and that’s what we did.” He goes on to contend for a few other medals, in the hopes of breaking the record of the greatest swimmer in Olympic history. The only statement that truly needed to be made, was made by Lezak in that final stretch. The Americans hadn't won the 4x100m freestyle since 1996. Their team time was 3:08:24. The French time was 3:08:32. Americans took care of business in grand fashion. As they joined hands and took the podium to listen to the American anthem, my chest swelled with pride, but the little kid in me wanted to point to the French and say, not so cocky now are ya? Today the Americans were the bigger men, and they were rewarded greatly for it.
As an overjoyed Bob Costas said. “the French men bow down to the Americans.” Do they ever.