I don't think people ask if I was in the Olympics in order to taunt me or to throw salt in my wounds. Perhaps this is all they can think to say. Maybe it's just a matter of word association: peanut butter/jelly, shark/Jaws, skating/Olympics. Though I know millions love to watch the sport, maybe they really only do so every four years. I can't really hold this against anyone.
The truth is that if I had been in the Olympics, you would quite possibly recognize me. You might have a haircut like mine or have a long-standing crush on me. Furthermore, I'd probably still be wearing the sparkly costume I'd worn while competing there. Or, at the very least, I'd have on a T-shirt depicting the five Olympic rings. I might even be smugly tossing Wheaties into my mouth from a box bearing my likeness or sipping Coke from a can decorated with my silhouette. I'd be proud of this achievement to an annoying degree. I'd surely start most (if not all) of my sentences with, "When I was competing in the Olympics …"
In a nutshell, if I'd been in the Olympics, you'd sure as hell know it. And if I'd actually done well? That medal would still be looped around my neck.
If you're beginning to think I'm living too much in the past, you would most definitely be correct. Please understand that I gave my whole young life to this pursuit. I sacrificed all that is normal—other extracurricular activities, high-school parties, friends, and thousands of my parents' dollars that could have gone toward my education or even a car. All of this to be Olympic-less.
My sole comfort is that I am not alone in my shortcomings. I am acquainted with many other also-rans (also-skates?). In fact, we are the majority. For every American skater you see on TV, there are thousands ranked below her. And if you were to see these lesser skaters perform, you might mistakenly think that many of them are equally competent or at least in the same so-called ballpark as the vaunted Olympians. They (we), very simply, are not.
You may be wondering what I learned from my competitive experiences. I learned that Olympians are people, too: They're just better and stronger than the rest of us in almost every conceivable way. They do indeed "want it" more, and they don't care how much it hurts. They're muscular and fit as fiddles. They commit to the sport day after day, year after year, without any guarantee that all that hard work will pay off. On game day, they excel. They remain composed and even manage to smile. And maybe there's something even more, some elusive, magical X-factor … but I've obviously never figured it out.
The only thing I really took away from all my training is a pair of rather shapely calf muscles. These consolation prizes—just like gold, silver, or bronze—were hard-won and have turned out to be surprisingly long-lasting.
Are my calf muscles and I watching the Olympics? You better believe it. Just know that, even as I root my heart out for the stars and stripes, I'm also snacking on a bowl of slightly sour grapes.