Sunday, August 24, 2008

Last goodbyes

I just got back from closing ceremonies. It was great to be in the bird's nest one more time with my team-mates, what's left of the US delegation, and all the other athletes here in Beijing. It was like we could all come together for one last time before we go our separate ways.

As I walked out of the stadium towards the buses that took us back to the village, I realized the whole journey has been a crazy mix of emotions--right up until the last day. When I first made the training squad, way back in December 2006, I was so excited. I didn't think this dream could possibly be true. But at the same time, I knew that two people from the squad would be cut to form the final Olympic team, and I knew I had a lot of work to do to make sure I kept a spot. And then when I made the team in April, I was so happy and so sad at the same time. Then there's the highs and the lows of practice every day. The joys of really improving and the frustrations of staying in one spot.

Fast forward to training here in Beijing and in Korea, and we had some of our best swims and knew we were working really hard for our goals, but at the same time we were ready to get out there and compete instead of just practice. Our competition swims were just as packed with emotion. We had so much pride in our swims and were thrilled to have our best swims at exactly the right time. But I also wish that the results could have ended differently. The closing ceremonies were exciting and fun, but also sad--the 2008 Olympics, the event I and my team-mates have been dreaming about for so very long, had reached their end.

Now tonight as I write the end of my Olympic Experience, I'm realizing that every huge investment you make in your life is this crazy combination of emotions. And that's what makes them real and worth it. The highs wouldn't be quite as high without the lows, and vice versa.

Finally, I know that such investments require the support of a nation, even of a world--thank you!! I am forever grateful that I had this opportunity to represent the greatest nation at these games. I am likewise so thankful for your comments, your emails, your phone calls, and your cards; you don't even realize how much you have been part of my journey! Erick, Jennie, and David, words cannot possibly express how much your love means to me and how much it has been the reason for what I do. And finally, mom and dad, I love you so much and I am so proud to be everything you've taught me to be! Being an Olympian is such an honor, and I am so glad you could share this journey with me!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Free competition

Today was our last day of competition at the Olympics! We had such a wonderful swim today--I mean really incredible. It was everything I had hoped it would be: slow-motion, in the moment, hard enough to know I gave it my all but not so much that I worried if I would make it through, feeling the energy of the audience, and connected with my team-mates the whole time. If I picture my perfect swim, our swim today would be it!

I'm writing this after having just attended a dinner in my team's honor with my parents, husband, and sister, and having spent a little time out in the city of Beijing celebrating with my friends. I was wondering what this moment would feel like, the moment when I look back on today and on the Olympics as a whole. I wondered whether I would be happy, satisfied, and relieved or disappointed, sad, and upset. And the thing is, even though our place today was not what I had hoped it would be, I'm not feeling angry or disappointed. I am so proud of myself and my team, no matter the place we ended up. It sure would have been incredible to medal--I can't deny that. But at the same time, it was pretty incredible that we had our two best swims at the Olympics. And not only were they our best, but I think they were the best we could have done. I have no regrets about the competition. We worked hard every day and we really wanted it. Sometimes that's satisfying in itself, particularly when you're competing against the world's best!

So now all that's left is a little time in the village, closing ceremonies, and a little free time in Beijing with my family. This has been an incredible and indescribable experience...but it was everything I hoped it would be!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tech Competition and being an Olympian

I am so so so very proud of my team. If you haven't seen the swim yet, and don't want it spoiled, stop reading now! Their performance was incredible. It was as near perfect as I could have possibly imagined it to be. Not only was it their best swim ever, but it was fantastic! It was beyond fantastic!! I think every element was at it's best, and they had so much energy in their last section that it could have been the beginning. This is what we've been working for all have an amazing swim!

The unfortunate part of all of this is the scores. I think the only explanation is that we are at the Olympics! Every team had a good swim today, and our amazing swim happened to be 5th best--tied with Canada. Of course we had hoped for better, but really all we can control is the swim we have.

I was talking with my team-mates in the caf tonight, telling them how proud I am of them and that I hope they realize how amazing they are! Then Christina said something that really hit the nail on the head: the Olympics aren't really about this swim today, the swim tomorrow, or even all the competitions during the two weeks of the games. It's really about the practice, the preparation, and the perseverance we've had for our whole careers. The athletes competing at here didn't wake up on August 8, and think, "Today I'd like to go compete at the Olympics." All of us, myself included, have worked for many hours, many days, and many years to make it to this level. And that process is really what the Olympics are all about--witnessing the end product of that journey (or a stop along the way of an athlete's career!)

So on to tomorrow. We are fired up! We know what we have to do tomorrow, and it exactly what we did today: go out with the fight and determination we need to have the swim of our lives, and in doing so show the world the amazing product we've created. We are so proud of our free program, and we can't wait to show it to everyone tomorrow afternoon!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Last practice day!!

Today was our last full practice day of the 2008 Olympics! When I first made the training squad in December of 2006, this day seemed so far away. I can't believe it's here now, it seems so unreal!

In typical synchro fashion, we made the most of every last moment today. We had a pretty tough morning practice where the team perfected our technical elements and did a lot of swimming. We've decided we must be in pretty good shape though, since swimming small sections is just as hard as swimming the whole program! We also touched on free a little which was an amazing feeling. After focusing on tech for a few days, the free program feels so amazing and, well free!! We went to the cube in the afternoon and did a full rehearsal of tech, from the practice in the warm-up pool to the last stroke. And an amazing thing happened...during the tech run-through the music cut out after the second lap, but the team got right back up and started again. The second swim was still calm and connected, despite the music flaw. That proves that we are prepared for any situation, because the music stopping during the routine is one of the craziest things that can happen mentally to us.

Tonight we have a little time to relax and prepare for our first day of team competition tomorrow. I am so ready to start! But tomorrow I'll just be there to help everyone out, make sure my team-mates are hydrated, happy, and comfortable so they can have the best possible swim. The tech program is worth 50% of our final score, so ultimately tomorrow's performance is just as important as the free program the next day. I know as the team hits the water tomorrow your thoughts will be with all of us! Thank you so much!

P.S. There is a great article in the Washington Post about our free program...just reading it gives me chills and is so motivating for our free performance on Saturday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Duet finals

I am so proud of our duet! They had their final swim today and they were awesome. In spite of a little fluke at the beginning, they got back connected right away and performed like they were the best duet of the meet. Besides being halfway done with Olympic competition, Christina and Andrea can now focus only on the team events. I'm sure they are relieved and excited all at the same time.

We had another hard practice this morning, but as we can count the number of practices we have left on only one hand, we were anxious to make every moment count. When you're going for perfection, it seems that there is always something you can fix! But we know we are getting there when our repetitions are fewer and fewer and our coaches are more and more excited about the result.

Tonight we attended a party hosted by Speedo, our outfitting sponsor, that was absolutely wonderful. All of my family and friends could attend, and it was so nice to see everyone and just relax. For the duet, tonight was the first time they had a chance to see their families, so it was particularly special. There is something about being surrounded by those you love that gives you energy and excitement, which are two great feelings to take with us into our final day of practice tomorrow and into competition the next day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My family is here!

The best part of today, well besides watching our amazing duet swim their free program, was seeing my husband, my family, and friends for the first time in Beijing. I am so happy they are here! It's crazy to go from seeing Erick and Jennie every day or nearly every day to not seeing them for almost 2 weeks. Just knowing they are here for me is a tremendous feeling!

I just finished showing my family around the village, which I think they really enjoyed. How often does a person actually get to be in an Olympic Village! It really drove home the fact that this is an amazing place. On my way back from the "international zone" where I dropped them off to head back to their hotel (or a soccer game for my parents and siblings!) I had a chance to really take in this experience and enjoy it. We've been moving so fast, going from pool to pool and practice to practice that tonight was really nice just to enjoy being here with the people I love--my family, friends and team-mates!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

First competition day!

I just got back from the pool where our duet swam very well and placed 5th. Their spin and heron elements (for those synchro fans!!) were near flawless and the best we've seen all year! My team-mates and I are so proud of them as they are off to a great start for our team!

This morning we had practice at BNU again, which is so much better than having a crazy schedule of no music at the competition pool. Then we practiced for a short bit after the duet swam. Even though all of our attention is on the duet right now, we still have to keep our team routines sharp so they can jump back in on Thursday when their competition is over.

And the best news of the day, is that my parents, sister, and brother are due in today! I haven't been able to reach them yet, but I can't wait to see them tomorrow. They have tickets to the duet event, and so at the very least I'll be able to see them up in the stands! Erick arrives tomorrow as well, as do some of my friends. I can't tell you how excited I am that they are going to be here to watch me and my team compete. It really makes my swim that much more special! Plus we could use a few more American cheerers in the crowd. Thanks as always for your comments and emails...your support means more than I can even say in words!