There are not many things you can do in one-tenth of a second. You could blink, burp or make love to your girlfriend, but that's about it. For an Olympic athlete though, they have the opportunity in that time to either achieve greatness or fade into the shadows. For University of Calgary swimmer Mike Brown his fate sided toward the shadows at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing after losing out on a bronze medal by a fraction of a second in the 200-metre men's breaststroke final.
I would be pissed. If I had made a choice to commit the majority of my life to a sport, if I had invested my entire day to the pool, if I had family pulling for me and cheering me on, and lost the chance to win the first gold medal for Canada at those games, I would be pissed.
I would obsess about the little things: why didn't I cut my fingernails today? Why couldn't I be a millimetre taller?
Of course, I'm not a world-class swimmer-- I still own a pair of water wings.
Coming in fourth place tests the character of an athlete. A near miss at the podium would no doubt conjure up questions in the heads of the best athletes. Have I failed? Let down my family friends and coaches? When I get back home will I be greeted with praise or will people bite their lip and think, "Dude, one-tenth of a second?"
Sports are about living in the moment; in this case Brown gets to live with one-tenth of a second for the rest of his life.
Of course, if you let that define who you are, you're in trouble. The making of a world-class Olympic athlete is not purely physical. There's something stirring around in the goo of their brains, some mental condition that allows them to rebound from such a near miss. Composure and poise are just as important as physical capability and if Canada can be proud of one thing, it's that Brown possesses just that.
During the games in Beijing, Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian threw his bronze medal on the floor in the middle of the ceremony and stormed off in protest of the judge's decision. What a freakin' poor sport. There's no poise or composure in that.
Brown though, he kept his composure and embraced his experience at the Olympics, telling the Calgary Herald on Aug. 24, "[I] couldn't pull it through, but that doesn't mean there won't be other ones soon. That's the second fastest I've ever been in my life, I've dropped the Canadian record by 2.2 seconds. So I rewrote the record books again at the Olympic games, so I can't complain too much about that."
At 24-years-old, Brown has plenty more opportunities to crack the podium, and will be making a splash in Calgary this fall as he joins the men's swim team in his second year of eligibility. In the meantime, he's busy smashing Canadian world records and not sweating the small stuff-- like one-tenth of a second.