Monday, June 18 2012
written prior to final selection and Olympic nomination, but posted today, June 22 2012.
We have just four more days before the Naming Date for the 2012 Olympic Team. During selection it’s against policy to write about what’s going on, what racing is like, how my body is holding up, how my heart is holding up, and what people’s chances are looking like. It’s not good form to make public all of the details of Olympic selection, because Olympic selection for a camp boat isn’t my story to tell. It is an intensely personal journey for every athlete involved in the process despite the efforts made by everyone to make the process as transparent as possible. In the end, lineups will be published and the Team will be announced publicly, but there will be a long private story behind all of that and the decisions that will make some people Olympians, and some people spectators. I can’t tell you that story.
But after all of the work I’ve put in to this blog over the past four years, I would be doing myself a disservice not to make some mention of what final Olympic selection was like for me: how I coped with the incredible stress; how I processed the information we gathered every day; what I’ll take away from these last few days when I think back on them years from now. This is, after all, what I have been preparing myself to do for the past four years and now that I’ve reached such a critical juncture in my journey I can’t let it just slip away. Whether or not I make the Team, making it through these final days of selection will be one of the most challenging things I ever do. I accept that, and I am committed to making the absolute most out of the time I have left to apply everything I have trained my body and mind to do over the last four years. If I do for some reason fail to make the Team, I will only ever be able to get over it if I know that I did absolutely everything I could to make my Team as fast as I could when I had the chance, and that I have no regrets about my performance. I am not taking for granted this incredible and rare opportunity that I have to be a part of something that is so much bigger than me, or my seat race, or one bad stroke, or an ice bath every single day of the week. I will not.
That having been said, this is my least favorite part of what we do. I absolutely hate camp selection. Yes, I enjoy the process of pushing myself and my teammates to be as fast as we can be. When we are successful, it is wonderful. When it’s over–the relief of the crew announcement is cathartic. But the process of waiting, and the stretches of days or weeks of unending stress and punishing three-hour water sessions are not fun. This is my fourth time going through 4X selection (first year was 2007–I didn’t make it, plus 2010-2012), and it has been consistently some of the most stressful, as well as physically and emotionally demanding time of my life.
The United States camp selection system runs different to any other rowing federation in the world, in that we wait until almost the last possible second to name our big boat lineups (4X, 4- and 8+). While almost all of our primary competitors have been set and racing in their lineups for weeks or months, we have yet to learn who will comprise the crew that will represent the US in London. It is frustrating at times, and drawing out selection for as much of the year as possible can be physically and mentally exhausting. But it is the way we have always done it, and I imagine it will continue on this way for quite some time.
We spend the year training incredibly hard, competing against one another on the erg and on the water in small boats in order to prepare for these final one or two weeks before the selection deadline, well after World Cup racing is over. The training seems endless. In the middle of a 6k erg test or the fourth 20k 1X row of the week it’s almost impossible to think about your seat race in camp selection in June or July–there are just too many kilometers ahead of you at that point. So you don’t think about it. But by the time the final days of the selection cycle arrive the anticipation has grown so great that it consumes you completely. When you sleep (if you sleep) the last thing you think about is seat racing. When you wake up: seat racing. As you’re eating breakfast. In the car. In the shower. You dread the pre- and post-practice meetings because they are opportunities for you to be cut. You don’t want to call or email anyone, because you don’t want to have to explain the latest melodrama in your personal overanalysis of the day’s racing (or worse: the day’s steady state). You blow everything out of proportion. Everything. You make assumptions. You jump to conclusions. Most are incorrect. You are exhausted, all the time. But you are afraid to be tired, because it might mean that you won’t be fast enough tomorrow. You torture yourself by imagining worst case scenarios. You visualize your seat race, and then realize that the only person you’re afraid to seat race is the one person that you definitely want in the boat with you. You try to ignore the fact that some of your friends are going to lose their seat races, and it might be to you. You try to ignore the fact that one of your friends might beat you in a seat race. You spend half of your time hoping for one thing, and the other half dreading another thing and in the end you realize you don’t have any control over any of it–only of the strokes you take.
Selection is a constant cycle of ups and downs that relentlessly gnaws at you every second of every day of the process until you make it, or you’re cut. Because of the way we focus our entire lives around our training for years at a time, when it comes time to make final selection decisions, it feels like life and death. The investment we make on every single piece that we run has to be all in–because you never know when you might get switched, or if you just had your last or only shot at making four years of work in to something. Or, if your chance ended here, or there, and now you have to find a way to reconcile with yourself the commitment you made to risk absolutely everything on one seat race. I’ve learned after going through this a few times that the best I can do is accept it. I accept that I am going to be anxious. I accept that I am going to lose my appetite. I accept that my sleep might not be as good as I will like. I accept that there will be times that I am going to doubt myself, and that I am going to wonder if I might fail. I accept that because those doubts and that anxiety is what gives me an opportunity to prove to myself that I can still perform under tremendous amounts of stress, and that I can be fast and strong even when I’m exhausted and my body starts to break down. Selection with no doubts wouldn’t be selection. Selection has to be a process of forcing yourself to say yes when everything else says no.
Last year after selection was over and I had made the Team, I cried. Like, seriously sobbed–inconsolably. For an entire day. I was physically and emotionally shattered by the experience and needed the time to reset. That was how my body coped with the stress. This year the stakes are much, much higher.
I am grateful for all of the experience I’ve gained through being a part of United States 4X selection over the past few years–it’s made me a tougher, smarter athlete. It’s made me more patient and compassionate. It has forced me to be adaptable, flexible, and to learn to improvise. It has also helped me to get to know and understand my coaches better–a task not to be taken lightly in our camp. With each year that I pass through the camp system I come back with more experience and a more focused set of expectations. The quad selection process is never exactly the same, but one thing never changes: my ass is on the line, in a big way.
This year, more than ever before (and I’ve said that every year the past three years) our group is loaded with talent and results have all been incredibly close over the past ten weeks. There is no reason that I should expect that I have an advantage physically or technically over anyone else in the selection pool. People are tough, fit, strong as hell, and very motivated to succeed. Everyone is able to bring a little bit of everything to the table, and to make the boat go fast. Ultimately it’s not just going to be four women who complement each other well with their combination of abilities, because there are lots of lineups between us that do that. It’s going to be the four who complement each other best. And the task of identifying that one best synergistic combination falls to our coaching staff, not to us. We just have to trust them, trust ourselves, and trust each other–and then take the strokes we can take.
Four days. Four brutal days of waiting, racing, and letting go.
Long Live the Dream,
11 thoughts on “Olympic Selection”
Megan, I was a part of this same process in the early ’90’s…while I know much of it has changed it is so much the same. I remember sitting on the curb between two parked cars in Princeton…sobbing because I had won an important race. The emotional toll is hard to articulate…and you said it well. For all of us. Race well. We are all with you. Go fast.
Very nice piece Megan – thanks.
Thanks for going deep and representing the U.S. Great blog. Take your teammates to the podium. Frank Emfbo
Megan – awesome post, thank you for sharing such a personal perspective. Congratulations on making the quad, good luck for the Games.
Brilliant description of selection – something I tried to articulate to people for a while, but I think I gave up at a certain point and I’d pretty much blocked it out at this point. Reading that piece brought a bunch of memories back.
Regardless, congrats and will see you in London. Don’t think the Games go long enough for us to celebrate our birthdays together this time though..
Congratulations on your selection to the team!
Megan: Congratulations! The Blackburn Family
Congratulations! Excited to watch the races on TV!
Congratulations, Megan, on selection to the US Olympic W4x!
Congratulations on making the quad! I’ve got tickets to the heats so I’ll be there, cheering on the US Rowing Team!
Thank you so much for your candor of this experience. I think you are amazing and I wish you the best of luck! I am pulling for you.
Comments are closed.