Nick Symmonds, US Olympic 800m runner, in a video interview posted on Flotrack after the Olympic Trials, was asked how he would handle better the pressures and distractions of his second Olympic Team. Memorably, he said, "...a lot of that's just controlling the party."
The party is not just the social distractions - it's the media, the family, the ticket wranglers, and the people you haven't seen since you were three but who suddenly re-emerge as your closest personal friends. Symmonds, who is known so well for his outstanding running at Eugene's Hayward Field, has had less success away from its comfortable confines. Ducks like me everywhere hope for a podium performance today from the first Division III athlete to appear on the cover of Track and Field News. Last night, after her 200m win, Allyson Felix said that a key to her success this time was learning to say something that's very difficult for her: no.
I've been asked several questions this past week about these picks and predictions. When you see the development of a home-grown athlete - someone you went to school with - that boy down the block turns out to be Ashton Eaton - or your aunt's nephew's best friend emerges as a star - naturally you gain an interest in how that athlete fares, no matter how tangential the relationship. But event analyses and picks are just that - an attempt to analyze and predict, as objectively as possible, how the event will turn out. Your spirit may soar or break for someone you've taken to heart - but how realistic were their chances of medalling?
I enjoy writing this guide every four years because it gives nontrack-oriented US fans an insight into just how compelling a sport it is we have. And for me personally, it's a pre-Olympic track and field tuneup - it greatly enhances - yes! - my viewing pleasure as I've reminded myself beforehand who the major players are in each of the 47 events. This prognostication business is a tougher one than it may appear. Track and Field News has always said that the gold standard is picking 50% of the medalists - that's 1/3 half the time and 2/3 the other half. There is a truism among pickers that we pick worst the events we know best; I wasn't trying to prove the point with 0/3 in two distance events so far!
The final part of the challenge of this is that we can't know the party, much less control it. Life does happen, and not on an Olympics schedule. No matter how much we may analyze and scrutinize the strengths and weaknesses of each athlete relative to the others, we have no idea who just had a fight with his girlfriend, whose grandma just passed away (hurdler Felix Sanchex in Beijing), or who tweaked his hamstring in the last workout before London (heavily favored 1500m runner Asbel Kiprop).
Ultimately, we're all fans, and while I haven't picked Nick Symmonds for a medal, the fan in me hopes that he medals today: that he's been able to control the party far away from home as well as he does in Eugene - and that he puts that blazing last 100m of his to memorably good use.