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  • Carroll Devine

Olympian Focus

I am in awe of the athletes on the Olympic stage, those winning medals or not – because they represent not only tremendous talent but also commitment to the achievement of excellence. Truly this world could use more of that.

It's clear that all of the contenders in these contests were not ones who as children were happy with receiving awards for simply "showing up." Nor should any of us be.

As I watch the American women gymnasts on the balance beam and the uneven bars, flipping their bodies in the air, seemingly defying the laws of gravity and landing with balance, poise, and grace, my own body and spirit are uplifted with them.

I can’t comprehend the number of hours, weeks, or years these athletes have dedicated to perfecting their skills, the power of their will, or the extreme discipline required of them, yet I know the Olympian journey demands even more. It demands unwavering meditative focus, in their continual, rigorous training as well as in their performance. You can see it in their faces. Words fail to describe the magnificent look of focus and confidence of Simone Biles as she performs.

And speaking of faces, the one owned by the most successful Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, set the Internet afire with speculation about its look of grim determination as he was preparing for his 200-meter butterfly semifinal.

It happened that South African Chad le Clos, a rival in that contest, was captured by a TV camera, dancing a kind of jig in front of Phelps. Some Internet fans and reporters guessed that Phelps’ look was an ominous stare-down of le Clos, though Phelps denied it. In response to the absurd accusation, he told NBC that he’d been trying not to even look at le Clos and thinking of nothing.

“He does his thing, I do mine,” he said.

I have to believe Phelps. After all, I hardly think he would be squandering his precious pre-performance energy on “facing down” le Clos or anyone else. He was obviously in ‘the zone, focusing, in a kind of meditation.

And is not the ability to reach this kind of focused determination, with all distractions ignored, essential to Olympian achievement? In the end, these athletes' most important rivals are themselves, as they always seek to improve and break their own records.

Martha Karolyi, the legendary national team coordinator of U.S. women’s gymnastics, whose presence was strongly felt in Rio as the gymnasts performed, was quoted as saying, “I always tell the girls, we’re competing against ourselves. We want to come as close as possible to perfection.”

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