>Good morning USSTAG fans… We’re more than half way through these World Championships here in Perth, and we now know five members of the 2012 USA Olympic Sailing Team. We’ll be putting out a more detailed report later today, with information on the winners, but this is a major hurdle in the journey for these young sailors. Each of them has goals beyond just making the Olympic Team. But the focus on those goals can sit for another few days. For now, Zach Railey, Paige Railey, Stu McNay, Graham Biehl and Farrah Hall can and should enjoy the fact that they have earned the right to represent the United States at the Olympic Games next year.
Over the next few months, there will be a lot of focus on our Olympians and Paralympians, and with good reason. The 22 athletes who win selection will be our country’s representatives at the Games next year. That’s a big deal, and those athletes have earned plenty of spotlight.
But I want to take a few moments of your time this morning to think about and write about those who do not win their trials. Their journey ends abruptly, either here in Perth, or in Miami in January (for the three Paralympic classes) or next May in Weymouth (for the women’s match racing.) Winning a Trials is a moment of elation, and the successful climb of another critical step. Losing a Trials is a harsh and abrupt end. There is an awful finality to it, especially when you think you have a legitimate chance to win. Everything in your life for the last several months or years, would have been focused on succeeding at the Trials. When it is over, and you lose, it is completely surreal.
I’m speaking from experience. I was part of a very successful Soling team with Ed Baird and Tom Burnham, for the 2000 Olympics. We were one of the top teams, ended up in the final match against Jeff Madrigali’s team, and we lost in the final race, overlapped at the finish. Everything in my life, for the prior five years, had been focused on succeeding in that moment. And we hadn’t gotten it done. I remember taking the spinnaker down after the end of the last race, and not really knowing what to do next. There was no next race to repack the kite for, there was no next event to pack up the boat for. All the things that had defined the “next” in my life for several years were now gone.
I’m sure this experience is a little different for everyone, so my experience is unlikely to be exactly like those of our current athletes. But there is no question that putting out a huge effort for Olympic selection, and falling just short, is a tough pill to swallow. When you put everything in your life into something, and that something does not work out the way you want it to, it stings hard.
So, over the next few months, while we justifiably focus on celebrating our Games representatives, I want to make sure we also remember the efforts and commitments of those who did not win. Whenever I’m watching a competition, the spotlight always moves quickly to capture the emotions of the winners. My attention always starts with those who do not win. That emotional reaction fascinates me… because I know exactly how it feels.
On behalf of every fan, friend and supporter of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, I offer heartfelt appreciation for every athlete who makes the attempt to represent the United States. You have my eternal respect.