Mark did it!
After a successful World Championships (you can read about it here), Mark decided to come straight home rather than attend the U.S. Nationals. As a lonely wife left at home to tend to a full time job and a wild 20-month old, I was thrilled. However, there was a little angst. You see, Mark's "paycheck" was dependent on him remaining in the top 6 in the country and top 16 in the world. He was the fastest American (by quite a bit) according to his WC time and ranked 9th in the world. Pretty good. But, not necessarily a done deal until the Nationals and World University Games races had been swum.
It was the first time that I actually watched swimming on the computer with Mark. He hated it. He was nervous (not even sure if it was justified) and at one point even looked at me and said, "This is horrible!" No kidding, dear husband. Welcome to my world. We watched the 100m breaststroke finals. Brendan Hansen swam a time faster than Mark's. Not a lot faster, but faster none the less, pushing Mark down to #2 in the country and #10 in the world. Mark was bummed. Should he have gone to Nationals and swam against Brendan head-to-head? Would it have changed anything? I guess it is not worth wondering... Mark was home with me on the sofa while Brendan and others were in California racing.
After talking with others who went straight from the WC's in China to Nationals, Mark feels as though he made the right decisions. These guys were exhausted, jet-lagged, and just plain ready to be home.
Nationals, and all of the associated time trials (a topic for another day), and World University Games wrapped up and Mark is still #2 and #10. Not exactly where he'd hoped he'd be this summer, but good enough for a paycheck and the opportunity to keep training and racing in anticipation for next summer. Phew...this average, everyday, Olympic swim wife is relieved.
A word on comebacks and some quick-to-be-critical commenters
On various websites, blogs, and chat rooms the "lack of high quality breaststrokers in the US" has been the topic of conversation as has been the "relief" that is being offered by a few comeback kids. My opinion? I love a good comeback. I do. I am a former athlete and a sports fan and appreciate both the hard work it must take to comeback and the stories that come from them. However, as the wife of a good, hardworking, dedicated, and aging everyday Olympian, I would like to remind everyone of the guys that have stayed in the water.
Now, it is not my intention to sound bitter or to disregard what an amazing feat a comeback is. I respect it. In fact, I am in awe and congratulate those that have the will to do so. But, sometimes I think a comeback story has a way of overshadowing those that have remained in "the game". What about the swimmers that face challenges, have off years, and sometimes get beat yet still find a way to stay dedicated to the dream? What about the guys that have continued to put it on the line year after year without hesitation or fear of failure? How about the guys that wake up early (sometimes whether they like it or not) in order to prove to the world and themselves that they've still got something? How about those guys that, while some might argue, are "lacking" have managed to be in the top ten in the world for a full decade? Are these swimmers doing themselves, their NGB's, and their family and friends an injustice? Not in my opinion. In fact, these guys inspire. They say, yes, it is hard. No, it is not glamorous. Yes, there are many other things I could be doing with my life. But, I love my sport. I love my country and the opportunity to represent it. And, yes, like everyone else, I love to win. So, despite the heartache and hardship, the highs are high and these guys wouldn't trade it for the world.
Comebacks aside, nay-sayers, listen up... if you think you could do it better, by all means, jump in and give it a go. A little competition will only make it more fun, more exhilarating, and more enjoyable (not to mention faster) for all. This is why average, everyday Olympians keep on keeping on. They want to compete against the best of the best. They want to race. They want a deep field with which to measure themselves.
Despite what is said, thought, or even argued, average, everyday Olympians just like the very special one that I know, still love what they do, want to continue to do it, and still believe that they've got something left to show you and themselves. These guys, in addition to comeback kids, and rising stars will make for an interesting summer next year. We cannot wait and feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
Consider this my soap box.