You want to know what you never hear anyone say? You never hear them say "You know that Alexandr Dityatin dude is my hero." Or, "Mikhail Voronin is the shiznit, man." Both men, former Soviet gymnasts, hold the record for the most silver medals in Olympic history, with six a piece.
There were no Wheaties box covers for Dityatin or Voronin. No major endorsement deals like Michael Phelps or Carl Lewis. They live obscurely on paper. In fact Dityatin works as an Airport Checkpoint Security guard in Russia. And Voronin died in 2004 at the age of 59.
Me, well I'd be the record holder if the Olympics included dating as a sport. Countless times I end up with the silver medal around my neck, with some other douche bag standing on the top of the medal stand looking down at me with a condescending shit-eating grin. At least that's how I picture it, anyway.
And you know what they say: If you finish in second place enough times, you start to believe you're really only good enough for second place. Okay, so nobody says that, but I just did. So now they have. Finishing second sucks. Just ask Iowa Hawkeyes wrestler Matt McDonough.
Last weekend, at the Big Ten Wrestling championships, McDonough, a three-time All-American
wrestler missed out on first place. It angered McDonough so much that he threw his silver medal in the garbage in Champaign, IL.
I'd never go as far as McDonough did. I'd keep the medal, and hang it up on my bathroom mirror so I'd be remembered every day that I still needed to earn the gold. In fact, I have a mental collection of all my dating silver medals hanging in my closet.
Back in my swimming days in high school, I had an arch-rival from the crosstown high school, J.D. Dirks, who ALWAYS beat me in my best event, the 100 yard backstroke. And I mean always. I worked my butt off to be the swimmer I was, and J.D. seemed to rely on natural talent alone. But no matter what, I'd always look up after the race and see his teammates congratulating him while I stared at the results board and read my name in second place.
And then it happened. The district swim meet of my senior year, the last meet before state, and it was the last time I'd swim directly against J.D. in the 100 yard backstroke. The first place finisher in the district meet was guaranteed a spot at the state meet. Knowing I had already qualified in another event earlier in the day, I had a "nothing to lose" attitude going into the race. I always actually swam much quicker than J.D., but I had an atrocious flip turn that cost me so much time.
So as I dove into the water to get ready to start, I told myself "Don't think. Just swim." And on my final turn in the race, I had a slight lead that turned into a huge lead off the final wall. I propelled to the finish in my fastest time ever (at that point, anyway), and looked up to see my name atop the results board.
I still have my district championship gold medal.
And someday, I'm going to be wearing the gold medal again.
Don't think, just swim.