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The Olympic Trials have come and passed without getting to catch a single glimpse of the live action. The sad truth about these Trials lies not in the action on the track or the field -- there were so many feel-good stories to come out of the competitions that what little bad there was (Gay's lame leg in the 200m; Taylor's rapid turnaround from the 400m hurdles to the 400m) seems meant to be -- but elsewhere. You see, the community of Eugene was anticipating 75,000-100,000 visitors converging on the college town to witness these events. From grocery stores to pizza parlors to people attempting to rent out their houses, everyone... ESPECIALLY catering... overprepared for the Trials. Every day that I arrived at work saw new mountains of leftovers piled into the walk-in coolers awaiting pickup by Food for Lane County. At least the less fortunate of our community were able to eat especially well...

 

With the culmination of these Trials, A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America can now turn one eye toward the Summer Olympics as the other keeps a close watch on the other events around the world preceding the festivities in Beijing. Swimmers also had their Trials recently; tennis is entering its hardcourt season in the run-up to the U.S. Open; and the Tour de France -- being covered here daily by yours truly! -- rolls its way across Gallic lands in hopes of finding a new, clean champion untainted by suspicion...

 

So without any further adieu, I humby come to you all as FanNation's newest Hall of Famer with yet another edition of A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America...

 

 

The saddest news heading out of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, concerned Eric Shanteau. The 24-year-old Georgia native found out only a week before his quest for Olympic glory was to begin that he has testicular cancer. Putting off immediate surgery against his doctors' advice, Shanteau went to Nebraska fueled by his lifelong goal to become an Olympian. His sport? The 200-meter breaststroke... but there was a field of guys -- Brendan Hansen chief among them --who had held American and/or world records and won Olympic medals in the discipline and would prove a serious threat to Shanteau's attempt to make the U.S. Olympic team. Eric stood on the starting blocks on July 3, former world-record holder and favorite Hansen nearby. 12,000 fans packed the Omaha Quest Center as theShanteau punches his ticket for Beijing... starting gun sounded and the racers dove into the water. Scott Spann quickly took the lead in the race and held his position throughout the race. Hansen soon found himself sitting behind Shanteau as well... and the less-experienced young man, fighting against stiff competition as well as the time bomb raging within himself, held firm and touched the wall second behind Spann at 2:10.36 to end Hansen's dream of bettering his 2004 Olympic bronze in the 200m breaststroke.

 

Here's to hoping that Shanteau continues to find improvement in his racing, success in his Olympic quest and then, most importantly, survival from the testicular cancer which plagues his very existence. Athletes such as Saku Koivu and Lance Armstrong can provide inspiration and hope, but even as he fights valiantly Shanteau is growing to become that inspiration and hope himself. Hansen might have missed his chance to double in the 200m breaststroke and 200m individual medley (which he DID qualify in), but had Shanteau finished outside of the qualifying spots he might've missed his only chance to race for his country as an Olympian. Hopefully he can find long-term success as well so that one day he may tell his progeny of his time in Beijing. Congratulations and good luck... 

 

 

In that whole scheme of things, everything else seems to be of little importance. Just as Tyson Gay couldn't get it done when his qualifying chance came up, neither could Hansen. And you know what? This is how it should be... at the Olympics, these athletes are only going to get their one chance to advance to the next round. There are no injury timeouts in these heats; there are no restarts to give record-holders another shot at glory. There is the finality of the moment... and the Olympic Trials in both swimming and in track and field prepare the Olympic athletes for this reality than any other system possibly can. Athletes often find a singular focus which transcends everything except their sport of choice; flagging health requires a person to take greater inventory of the peripheral things beyond sport which hold a significance in their lives.

 

Perhaps that is how Koivu willed his Montreal team to a stirring upset victory over the top-seed Bruins in the 2002 NHL playoffs; perhaps that is how Lance Armstrong willed himself to seven Tour de France victories. When one realizes that there are far greater things in life than sport, that sport becomes intrinsically easier -- the pressures to achieve whittle away with the excitement of the moment. I'll not go too far into the Tour this week; you can go here to read my thoughts on the race, stage by stage... suffice it to say, though, that a sporting event too can be forced to take a greater inventory of what is important to itself.

 

This is why the Tour departed from Brest without its traditional opening prologue; this is why there are only two time trials in the race; and this is why there is little if any transferring between finish towns and start towns. A sporting event, just like the sportsmen and sportswomen who contest them, can reseek its roots and often is better for doing so. Beleaguered in recent years, one can only hope that this year's incarnation of the preeminent cycling race in the world succeeds in rekindling its storied past and learns from its more-recent debacles.

 

 

As this summer continues, remember that we can easily learn from sports and its figures lessons which transcend the mere athletic and which harbor instructive maxims by which we can better live our lives. Take sports, from wherever you find them on this planet, and use them as a springboard for better personal and societal growth. A community can bond together around an event -- nothing has taught me that more than these recently-finished Olympic Track and Field Trials have illustrated. Be a traditional sports fan in America... be A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America... just be sure to keep your eyes open for stories which speak louder than the scoreboard next time you watch...

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