The neat thing about the Olympics is its size. It’s so big its small. By encompassing everything from basketball to badminton, not to mention virtually every country in the world and a few non countries too, it is a massive spectacle. But, given that over 10,000 athletes compete in the games, it is so big, its net is cast so wide, that just about anyone can find a personal connection with the games. A reason to watch some prelim heat or something. In these moments the biggest show on earth becomes a rather small affair.
Tyson Gay has no idea who I am. He graduated from Lafayette High School in Lexington, KY in 2001. I graduated from West Jessamine High School in neighboring Nicholasville in 2004. He ran a 10.46 to set the state record in the 100m, I never set a record in anything. Nevertheless, he is my athlete. One day in March of 2001 we raced. It was the first meet of the year, basically a friendly, with no limit to how many people teams could place in each event. I was a gangly 9th grader who joined the track team to have something to do. Somehow our no. 1 sprinter was scratched at the last minute and coach stuck me in his place just to see what I could do as I had literally just joined the team.
The #1 sprinter in the state was in the lane beside me. Tyson Gay. He ran a 10.something. I ran a 13.something. Getting beat by 3 seconds in the 100m dash is an eternity (side note, I once lead a near Olympian in the 5k, unfortunately I lead the first 200m, he lead the last 4200 and beat me by 8 minutes- aka a long ass time in cross country). Anyhow, I was just one of the hundreds of people Tyson smoked on his way to greatness. And there is nothing more to the story than that. No, encouraging ‘nice try, kid’ that inspired me to greatness, but no snickering either. He just beat me, and everyone else, because that was what he did.
Over the last 11 years I have kept up with Tyson in press clippings and online stories. He has broken world records and battled an unfair amount of injuries. Each time he lines up though, I elbow my friends and tell them about the time he beat me. I was so crushed when injuries derailed his 2008 Olympic bid, and this year he has to contend with a rampant Jamaican side, but when I saw him in the Opening Ceremonies (alongside Anthony Davis- shout out to the state of Kentucky!), I became irrationally excited. For me, the Olympics boil down to Tyson’s running and a few swimming events involving a friend from Oxford. But, perhaps more than anything else, I get a kick out of saying I raced an Olympian. I lost, but that’s why he is an Olympian and I am a grad student.