Leading up to the four Olympic Games I competed in, I was often asked "Are you ready?" and I usually gave the answer I thought people wanted to hear; "YES, bring them on!" In truth however, the Games were barely on my mind. While the rest of the world was understandably brimming with hype and prepping for the big show, I–like many Olympic hopefuls–was hyper focused on beating the snot out of my fellow countrymen.
Competing at Olympic Trials for swimmers in the U.S., win or lose, is a gladiatorial right of passage. After spilling sweat and blood in solitary confinement over the course of roughly four years you're thrown in the ring and given a seconds long chance to prove your worth in front of thousands of live spectators and millions more watching on TV. Just being there means fortune has already smiled on you more than most but many very talented athletes go in and only a handful come out as members of the highly respected Team USA.
Unlike the barbaric contests of the distant past, If an athlete fails at trials they go home with their life but I can tell you from personal experience, when you lose that big, when you let that many people down, the bladed wheel of disappointment's chariot cuts your soul to the ground. If, however, you win–the mind numbing euphoria completely transcends anything you've ever experienced before.
Filled with breathtaking highs and nauseating lows for competitors and spectators alike, in whatever order fate delivers them, Trials is the biggest hurdle on the way to the Olympic stage. It ensures Team USA has the best of the best going in to what is arguably the greatest sporting event of all time.
There's no doubt Rio will be the highlight of the summer but before I settle in to the excitement of watching international athletes of all disciplines crush one another for precious metal bling and a spot on an Olympic podium, my eyes will be on Omaha.