Unlike team sports where you can pass the ball if you are not playing well, or rebound or maybe block shots, or other sports where you can hand the ball off to your running back if you're not passing well, or if you're a lineman maybe you missed your block, but chances are nobody noticed, track and field, much like tennis, is an individual sport. We can't hide behind a teammate or personal opinion - was that jump worth a 10 or an 8.5? Was my leg straight or was my arm bent? - automatic 0.5 deduction! In my sport, we don't get style points. Nobody cares what you look like. You either do or you don't! No subjectivity here! Michael Johnson was about as unorthodox a runner as he could have been. Didn't matter.
I have missed making the finals at the World Championships by 1cm on more than one occasion. But there is no second guessing, no questioning those results. The Russian judge didn't score me lower than his own countrywoman. It's all on me to produce the goods day in and day out. You know the old saying, "Put up, or shut up!" Sometimes I wonder why I have chosen a profession such as mine. If I just had a regular desk job, no one would be comparing me to the best in the world every time out. Maybe I would be compared to others at my company, and I'm sure that presents its own challenges, but I can't imagine that that compares in intensity to stepping out in front of the world, rendering myself open to judgement and comparison, being vulnerable to criticism and critique, knowing that I am only as good as my last performance, and knowing that my very livelihood depends on whether or not I can master my mind and my body rain or shine.(This picture was taken at The Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia in 2006. I was competing with pneumonia, yes pneumonia that I had gotten in Moscow, Russia the week before. I had fouled a jump and I was asking myself what the heck is wrong with me and I guess the photographer liked the fact that I was talking to myself:)
How can I love a sport so much, when there is so much at stake- pride, confidence, joy, injury? I have been competing for a long time now, and no matter how many times when I am down, or nervous beyond compare, or hurt or tired, or embarrassed and I ask myself that question, "Why are you doing this to yourself?", the answer comes quickly.....because I know I can be better. I have jumped over 22ft on many occasions, I have competed in the Olympics 4 times, I have made the finals at the World Championships 3 times but yet, I know can be better. I JUST KNOW IT!
And so I get up every day, even when it's raining, even when it's cold, even when I'm exhausted and head back on out to the track to "put some more money in the bank" so that when the time comes in August, in Beijing, when I tell my body that it's time to "cash in that check", that I can command myself to excel, no matter what. Truth be told, for as much as the Olympics are about medals, and finishing in the top 8 in the Sydney 2000 Games is already a highlight of my career, it is so much more about being the best that you can be. And for me, I cannot ask for more than that.