Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Magnetic Moments

Last Sunday was a bonanza day for me as a sports fan. On Sunday afternoon I watched the final round of the PGA, one of the four “Majors” in professional golf. Padraig Harrington (Ireland), Sergio Garcia (Spain) and Ben Curtis (United States) battled through the final nine holes in the equivalent of a three-horse stretch run. It was captivating to watch hole after hole and wonder who would falter and who would reach deep down and find that extra bit of brilliance to make the great shot and surge ahead. Garcia faltered, Curtis stayed steady but couldn’t surge, and Harrington, the unassuming but steely-eyed Irishman with the blue-collar work ethic, made one clutch shot after another to win by a length. It was inspiring on a number of levels, not least of which was because he won the last major, the British Open, and one couldn’t help but wonder if here is finally the man to step up and challenge Tiger Woods. Every great player needs a rival to bring out his true best: Nicklaus had Palmer, Borg had McEnroe, Affirmed had Alydar, the city of Houston has Dallas. Tiger needs someone to stay with him down the stretch.

One particularly intriguing thing about the competition was not knowing who would find that extra something that sets apart the great from the good. On Sunday evening that person was Jason Lezak, the 32-year old, third-time-Olympian anchor of the U.S. Men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay team. The French team was favored and had talked of how they would “smash” the Americans. Oh, please. But even Rowdy Gaines, the American swimming commentator and former Olympian, said before the race, “I’ve put this down on paper a million times and I just can’t see how the Americans win it.”

The race proceeded according to predictions until the final leg, when the French world record holder for the distance, Alain Bernard, hit the pool almost a body length ahead and held the lead through the first turn. Even with only 25 meters to go he had a relatively significant edge of several feet. But somehow, showing incredible grit and tenacity, Lezak caught him and won by an inch (8/100 of a second). Afterward, Lezak recalled thinking when he dove in, “This guy is pretty far ahead, almost a body length. I’m not going to give up. This is doable.” The swimming venue exploded at the race’s finish; no one could believe what had just happened. It was truly one of the most dramatic sporting events anyone had seen. Lezak had swum the fastest relay leg in history, and the American team had, ahem, smashed the world record as well as the French team’s psyche, who to their credit, once the shock wore off, were gracious in defeat.

I had to cheer quietly because my lovely bride was asleep beside me; we watched the tape the next morning. Later that day West Houston’s staff watched it on You Tube. It was simply one of those magnetic moments that makes you feel the exhilaration of witnessing surpassing excellence, courage and commitment.

“I’m not going to give up. This is doable.” Do you have a dream that requires that kind of determination and grit? We all need challenges to bring out our best.


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