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Thoughts about the US Olympic Trials

Moe Johnson Running with Moe

Thoughts about the US Olympic Trials

Sunday, July 7, 2024

This past week the Olympic Trials were held in several sports for the big event in Paris at the end of the month. Being a sports junkie, I enjoyed watching the athletes compete for the coveted three spots on the USA Olympic team. Being an athlete competing in the Olympics is a very special honor and only a very few are ever selected. The fact that the trials are at least three weeks before the Olympics means that those athletes that were chosen have to maintain that top performance level for the time between making the team and then performing in Paris.

Training for an event whether it is a district, regional, state or national contest has to be a designed program to ensure the athlete that they are at the top performance level the week of the contest. Reaching a peak performance level in the first contest of the season will often mean that at the end of the season when the championships are decided the athlete may experience a “burn out” and not be able to compete at the same level as they did in that first contest. The athlete will start the season with the program designed such that as the season progresses the times and level of competing should improve each week. This level of top ability is difficult to maintain for a long period. That is why it is important to build in a rest period to let the muscles and body recover after a hard training period reaching that peak performance. The rest period has to be designed to let the body recover but still not be too long that reaching the top athletic level is still within reach. That is the problem the athletes on the Olympic team face. The marathon runners had the trials several weeks ago and to maintain that level for the Olympics takes a special training program for the length of time between the trials and the actual Olympic marathon which is often one of the last events of the Games. Reaching that peak level of performance for the day of the event takes some real planning between qualifying for the team and the actual day of the event.

It was interesting in some of the events to see some athletes qualify for their second Olympic Games while others failed to repeat making the team again. A few of the really great athletes performed and won in such a fashion that left no doubt as to who is the best athlete in that event. When the times were listed for a runner in the several heats needed to reach the finals of the event showed the times to be very close to the same each race. And when the times for the finals were listed the difference between the top five athletes was often measured in hundredth of a second. Try to imagine how short a hundredth of a second is and then think that the athlete that came in fourth missed making the Olympic team by that time. The blink of an eye is measured between winning and losing. That is often what it is like when top athletes compete against one another. Reaching that peak performance for the one final race is what the athlete is competing for.

Watching the 5K and 10K races on track usually came down to a few runners in the lead pack. The desire to be first is the goal but for the trials the athlete will still make the team if they finish in third place. When they compete in the Olympics there is still a silver and bronze medal to be had but it does not compare at quite the same level as that gold first place medal. Settling for third and making the team is not the same as getting a gold medal in the actual Olympic Games.

Watching the performance of elite athletes is something to simply be amazed at the level they are able to achieve. Watching woman gymnast Biles’ head reach a height of 12 feet above the ground from the floor was unbelievable. Her head was above a basketball hoop by two feet. I did gymnastics in college and the double backflip on a trampoline was an amazing feat at the time. Now gymnasts are doing double somersaults with twists in the stunt from the floor. It is interesting to see the changes in apparatus from when I performed to today’s apparatus. The thought of doing giant swings on the horizontal bar with one hand was not even a thought of as a possibility. Watching the stunts of today’s gymnasts is almost unimaginable. And watching the long distance runners making it look so easy and realize the pace they are running is at times close to the four minute mile that was a barrier thought to be impossible decades ago when Roger Bannister broke through that time. Worth watching for me.

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