Olympic Character

I was reading the other day about the remarkable American athlete, Ashton Eaton who recently broke the world record in the decathlon at the Olympic Trials. It’s a marvelous sport with a great tradition that has given rise to some real American icons – Rafer Johnson, Bruce Jenner, Dan O'Brien....  Eaton hopefully will be another. At the Trials, Eaton dominated, winning seven of the ten events, set two decathlon world records and established two personal bests. I can’t wait for the Summer Olympics and the new Wheaties box to follow.

During the competition it was becoming apparent to all that he would win the event. Keep in mind that the mob of other entrants aspired to make the Olympic team, too. They are all obviously competitive at the highest level. No one at that level likes losing, and the chance to take out a champion is enough motivation for others to do all they can to win even if they don’t have a chance of making team. Just to get your name in the stats would assuage the pride of most of these competitors who have focused everything in their life for just this moment.

That’s why what happened in the 1500 meter race was all the more remarkable. Eaton was on his way to a personal best but another young man, a Junior from Duke University, was winning by a wide margin as they neared the finish of this metric equivalent of the mile run. He was a specialist at the distance events, in fact a world record holder in the 1000 meters. This was the Olympic trials and Curtis Beach was way out in front, heading toward victory. Can you imagine the adrenaline?

But then he did an incredible thing. He slowed up. On purpose. He moved toward the outside and gave up the inner lane. He knew the significance of this day for Aston Eaton, and he new that Eaton could set the world record if he ran a 4:16 or better. Beach gave up certain victory to run alongside and cheer Eaton through those grueling last strides, and Eaton finished just under 4:15. Beach helped Eaton win the event to claim an even more dominating overall performance. I’m sure he felt a certain kind of pride for the accomplishment of this other American athlete, even though he was a competitor, perhaps even a rival. Curtis Beach could have gone on to win and have that victory for the rest of his life, bragging forever how he’d beaten a future Olympic champion. But he also had a chance to give a deeply meaningful gift. A very costly gift. He gave up his victory so that another young man could stand even taller, could head to the Summer Games in London with an even more impressive send-off.

What kind of character is that?

I love watching the Olympics. I’m a sap for the stories of sacrifice and dedication of athletes who go on to win fame and glory. I will likely never have the privilege of meeting Ashton Eaton. But I sure would love to meet Curtis Beach. That’s the kind of character I want to hang around with. I want folks like that in my life and on my team!

(Check out this raw fan video. It gets good starting at about the third minute for the last lap or so. Incredible…  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Lv8CmupgKs.)