When I retired from gymnastics three-years ago, I thought that attending a gymnastics competition was going to be a stress free experience from that point forward. What my "already retired athlete" mentors forgot to inform me of was that I would still feel every ounce of the competitive emotion from the sidelines when the pressure was on. I'm blaming fellow Olympic analyst Marnie McBean for the complete exhaustion I'm suffering from right now. Come on Marnie, you could have at least given me a warning!
As I found out this week at the Olympic test event and final Olympic qualifier in London, apparently that "stress free" existence was wishful thinking. Watching the Canadian teams vie for the final team spots here launched me on an emotional rollercoaster ride that I may never recover from.
I experienced one end of the emotional spectrum on Tuesday when the Canadian men, in an absolute heartbreaker, failed to qualify a full team of five to the Olympics. Needless to say, everyone in the Canadian camp was devastated. It was a huge blow to the program that sideswiped everyone.
It was crushing to observe Team Canada slowly fall apart during the competition. It was even more painful as they had to watch "CANADA" drop down the leader board as the day progressed. I couldn't help but feel sick to my stomach because many of the members of the men's team here were former teammates of mine. I know how much they've invested into this dream. All of these guys have spent nearly their entire lifetimes dedicated to this moment. Earning a berth to London 2012 was the goal they all were chasing. It wasn't supposed to end this way…
The harsh reality of the situation here is that they blew it.
They had a phenomenal opportunity in their grasp and they didn't deliver on the one day it counted. The team could make up a million excuses about why they came just 0.5 shy of that coveted spot in the top four, but when all was said and done - they simply messed up too many times and that left them in fifth. There's no other way around it, the reality of that result just simply sucks.
Personally, I know that I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks afterwards so I can only imagine the sentiment they were experiencing. As they spent the afternoon watching, waiting and hoping that they would squeak through. When the inevitable occurred, you could the air come out of the room. Not even an afternoon pint (or two…) could ease the heartache.
It was an extremely quiet night that followed in the Canadian men's camp as everyone tried to process what happened, why it happened and what happens now. The only certainty is that the team had been relegated to one individual spot at the Olympics. Who takes that spot is yet to be determined. It makes me sick to think about all the Olympic dreams that are going to go unfulfilled because of a bad day at the office. Sport can be so unforgiving sometimes. I'm sure many of the guys are thinking, "Can we have a do-over?". Sadly, gymnastics is not a sport where you get a second chance.
The very next day, after a restless sleep and a million-and-one questions floating through my mind (surely, team replayed each routine over and over in their mind all night too); the Canadian women took to the floor for their chance to shine.
The women's competition was a completely different experience as the Canadians came out with guns-a-blazin' and looked ready to attack every single performance. They started on floor exercise and it was as if each routine provided them (and all of us watching) with energy and momentum – and in gymnastics, momentum is a nearly unstoppable force. I found myself tweeting live updates and bouncing up and down in my chair as I did it. I was willing on each athlete on each routine and each element, and generally reacting like a teenage girl who just met Justin Bieber any time they landed their dismounts. I'm sure I was annoying everyone around me on press row and for that, I apologize.
Nothing gets me more excited in this world than seeing a team come together and achieve their potential. I love it when athletes dig deep and fight for every single tenth of a point. I love it when you see determination and aggressiveness in the eyes of a competitor. I love it when you can feel the intensity in the air. With the Canadian women, there was plenty of this to go around.
It was a special treat to sit back and watch the reactions of everyone in the program when they surpassed their top team score by nearly six points and secure their spot as a team to the Olympics.
The girls spent the afternoon thinking about the wonderful possibilities these next seven months will hold. They were giddy with excitement. They did their job and they knew it. They were one step closer to being an Olympian! Their faces beamed with satisfaction and you couldn't help but to soak it up and feel it too. It was an infectious sense of joy that was so refreshing after the devastation the previous days' events brought.
At the end of the day, when the last of four subdivisions concluded, the Canadian women placed second overall and earned five spots to this summer's upcoming Olympics Games. In addition, I feel that this experience opened their eyes up to their true potential. This team is capable of a top eight finish at London 2012 and I have a feeling they all believe it now. If they don't, they should. They are that good.
I'm really looking forward to coming back to the O2 Arena this summer. It's been awesome to get a sneak peek into the gymnastics venue and to feel a hint of the craziness that will ensue. After going through emotional experiences that covered the entire spectrum here in London, I am, as the English say, completely knackered. Some fish and chips and a run through Greenwich Park should help that a bit, but who knew that being on the sidelines would be such an adventure? Marnie McBean sure didn't…or at least if she did, she sure didn't tell me!