This may be my only remotely sports-related post on this blog.
I have to admit, I've never been a sports fan. And I haven't watched any of the Olympics except for brief glances at the mens' swimming and gymnastics competitions. In particular, I've been following Michael Phelp's journey to the Olympic games, in part because he's from the Metro DC area (if you count Baltimore), and in part because I just have a thing for swimmers.
I've read about Phelps' wins in these Olympic games, but what really stood out to me was reading about a decision to sit-out a relay so that one of his team members could compete.
Michael Phelps ended his magnificent Olympics with a magnanimous gesture. He matched Mark Spitz's record of four individual gold medals in the pool, then gave up a coveted spot on the 400-meter medley relay team to Ian Crocker - whom Phelps had just beaten.
With five gold medals and two bronze overall, Phelps is content to win a historic eighth medal while sitting in the stands Saturday night.
His Olympics are over.
"We came into this meet as a team," Phelps said. "We'll leave here as a team."
…"It's tough to give up the relay. It really is," Phelps said. "But Ian is one of the greatest relay swimmers in the world. He wasn't feeling well during the 400 relay. Hopefully, he'll step up big in the medley relay."
…"I'm speechless," said Crocker, looking to redeem himself after his poor performance last Sunday. "It's a huge gift, but difficult to accept. It makes me want to just go out there and tear up the pool tomorrow."
Maybe I'm a big sap, but reading that moved me. See, from my perspective we currently live in a culture that prizes winning above all else, and celebrates people who may be winners in their chosen fields, but who are losers in the game of simply being thoughtful, mindful human beings. For Phelps to stop in the midst of a gold-medal winning streak to think about one, or any, of his teammates (who would have to be no slouches in the water themselves, in order to make the U.S. Olympic team), says more about him than any record he may have set in the water.
It's actually kind of funny. Phelps, a great swimmer by any standard, wasn't in the water at all when he showed the world what a real winner is made of, and how a real winner behaves abot others. And the best thing about his example out of the water is that, unlike his records in the water, it's something anyone can achieve who happens to want to.