This is a guest post by Missouri State and Olympic Trials swimmer Phillip Willett, also known as the dancing guy who totally owned the Dance Cam in Omaha. Connect with Phillip on Twitter at @Free_Willy01 and on SnapChat at @PhillyMyWilly.
The Olympic Trials is an experience like no-other. It is considered the birthplace for few, and the burial grounds for many. With ages ranging anywhere from 35 to as young as 14, just over 1,800 of America’s greatest athletes gather for a chance to hoist the red, white, and blue on their cap.
Michael Phelps before a swim. Photo: Michael Lyn
If you look to your left, you might find America’s age group phenoms, looking to put their stamp on Olympic history and land a spot on what is considered one of the hardest teams to make.
On the right, you see the legends of the sport, just trying to ward off the youngsters one last time to clinch that same Olympic berth. With so many different backgrounds, training methods, values and experiences, somehow all of these athletes end up in the same place, at the same time.
One quality makes all of these unique athletes seem undoubtedly the same.
That same quality, is what made Jay Litherland look as if he was shot out of a cannon on what is supposedly the hardest leg of a 400 Individual Medley. The same quality, is what allowed Michael Andrew to, against all odds, land a spot in the A final of the Men’s 100m Breaststroke. The same quality, that pushed Caeleb Dressel to end all doubts of his long course abilities, and land a spot in the Men’s 100m Freestyle.
Caeleb Dressel receiving a hug from Coach Steve Jungbluth after making the Olympic Team. Photo: Joe Auer
That quality is a belief. That same belief you had when you finished your first race. That same belief that you had when you won your first heat, and allowed you to break through that first plateau, was going to get you through the experience of a lifetime.
This is what makes the Olympic trials atmosphere so special. When you are surrounded with like-minded athletes who are all fighting for the same thing, no predictions can be made.
So what is it like to race in this atmosphere? After you get past the fact that you have been rubbing elbows in the warm-up pool with America’s finest, you begin to take in the fact that you are competing for a spot on the United States Olympic Team. You quickly realize that nothing else matters except for this one moment. All the times you ever said no to a friend, denied that slice of chocolate cake, chose to get some extra sleep instead of go out with friends for the past four years comes down to one very decisive, and nerve racking moment.
Everywhere you turn your eyes meet the Olympic team symbol, an American flag or the eyes of a spectator as they watch dreams become reality. As you enter the arena, your eyes scan the crowd for familiar faces. The lights are blinding, the deck is open, and you see nothing but blocks and flags.
Photo: Michael Lyn
The head official gives you the nod, if you hadn’t already, you now feel the nerves rocket through every vein in your body. You gather yourself behind your block. Muscle memory takes over, as you rip your ear buds out and begin to stretch, the moment becomes a genuine. It’s you, ten other people just like yourself, separated by only a couple tenths.
A Jumbotron pans slowly from lane to lane, you catch a glimpse of yourself but try not to let it affect your routine.
Photo: Joe Auer
Your senses become enlightened. You begin to smell, see, hear, breath and think like never before. An unbreakable focus towards a single goal- to stop the clock as fast as possible. Hands on hips, one foot on the block, the three-mile stare of sheer determination backed by a perfect posture, chest held high, armed with an undying will to succeed.
The whistle is blown; you give one last look towards the end of the pool.
You take your mark.
The silence is deadly.
Who will win?