On my recent flight back to Boston from the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, the flight attendant and I struck up a brief conversation. She asked me what I did for a living and what was the purpose of my trip. Jokingly, I told her my name was Rodgers and that I run for a living.
"You run what for a living?" she queried.
"I run me," I explained with a straight face. "You know, run. I put one foot in front of the other as quick as I can. It's like walking except you try to do it a little quicker."
"You mean to tell me you actually get paid just to run?" she asked me in utter amazement.
"Yeah, isn't it a rip off?!" I answered back. "All I have to do is run about 20-miles-a-day, every day of the year, in 10 degree weather and then in 90 degree weather, support myself and my family, run in about 30 races a year in every corner of the world. I'm expected to win just about every one of those races and to set records in each, give clinics and speaking appearances, write for national running publications, sign autographs for hours after races, maintain a store and a business, and manage to stay injury free through all this. And, yes, I have to pretend I am like wine and get better with age."
"You should try out for the Olympics," she suggested as she walked away to prepare for our landing.
Try out for the Olympics?! She said it like it was as if I was going to "try out" for Little League. This is an excellent example of how uneducated the general public is as to what it takes to become an Olympian and what caliber athlete these people actually are.
Ever tell a person you are going to run the Boston Marathon and have them ask you, "Do you think you will win?" Sure, I'll win, if the first 1,000 runners fall into a manhole! After the race, someone may ask you how you did. You many have had your best race ever and have run a personal best, beat runners you never imagined beating before and excitingly tell them you placed 750th out of 10,000 runners.
"Oh, bad day, huh?" they ignorantly reply. "I see you training everyday, running all those miles. What happened in the race?" I do all I can to hold back.
Until they have tried it, most people don't realize and probably never will, exactly how astonishingly fast running a sub 5-minute mile for over 26 consecutive miles really is. I can't imagine even running 2 miles at the pace these world-class athletes are running a marathon . People who run this fast are the Mark McGwires of our sport. They must have everything going for them...the body chemistry, tremendous cardiovascular system, proper coaching, diet and rest, combined with determination and willingness to push themselves to the limit.
Which brings me to this concept of "trying out for the Olympics." Anyone ever ask you that? The best way to respond is by saying that every time you lace on a pair of racing shoes you are actually trying out for the Olympics.
In the United States, the odds of making the Olympic team are staggering, let alone winning a medal in the Games themselves. Let's take the marathon as an example. First, you must qualify to run in the Olympic Trials, held a few months before the actual Olympic Marathon. Of the hundreds of thousands of marathoners in the US, less than 300 runners, male and female, meet the qualifying standard.
Then, these 300 runners must run in the Olympic Trials Marathon. Only the top three finishers make up the US team. Theoretically, a runner could hold the world marathon record, have won every marathon they participated in in the last four years, then unfortunately have a tough day, finish fourth by a mere few seconds and not make the Team. You have to be one of the three best on that specific day. Weigh the odds of all this happening. No one, bar none, is a shoe in.
Now, look at the chances of winning a gold medal or even a silver or bronze. You have to be the best in the entire world and not just on paper but on that designated day. You must beat the best every other country has to offer.
When we look at the numbers, it gives us a more realistic understanding of what it actually takes to earn an Olympic spot. And, to think that these athletes have only one chance every four years. What can be said for those athletes who not only compete in the Olympic Games more than once, but also win medals each time?
With 2000 being an Olympic year, next year will be a critical one for anyone really trying to meet trial or qualifying standards. So, when the next person asks you if you intend to try out for the Olympics, just tell them that you are going to give it hell.
Upon leaving the airplane, the unassuming flight attendant wished me luck and said, "I'll be watching for you on TV."
"Right," I said. "It was nice meeting you."
She has a better chance of seeing me on "Unsolved Mysteries" than in the Olympics.