Olympic trials are supposed to be a place where an athlete’s dreams come true.
But for anyone who doesn’t place in the qualifying spots, the feeling can be crushing. For some, placing third or fourth and narrowly missing the team might be no different than placing last.
It’s especially heartbreaking when it’s former Olympians who find themselves in that terrible position.
When Troy Dumais, a four-time Olympic diver, took his final dive at trials this year, I teared up. He wasn’t going to make the team in either of his events, ending his goal to become the first American male diver to compete in five Olympics.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation that brought him to tears, fell silent as he dove, then erupted in cheers once more after he hit the water.
They knew it was his last dive, and they wanted to give him the appropriate goodbye for someone who had been a longtime mentor and idol for so many young divers.
“It’s a dive I’ll always relive in my mind, standing on the board and seeing the people,” Dumais said in the media room after the session finished. “It was actually hard to do … but I enjoyed every moment of it.”
Watching Dumais’ dreams shatter was the hardest part of that meet. I know all too well what it’s like to give up something you love or have it pulled away from you because of an injury. Dumais was pushing through a damaged nerve, and it impacted his performance greatly.
It was heartbreaking to watch him cry up on the board, knowing as well as everyone else that he was done — that his diving career was over.
Although Dumais has had a successful diving career, many aren’t so lucky. First-or second-time trials qualifiers may place in the top eight, close enough to the Games to taste it.
These are the athletes who have to push down the disappointment and fake a smile to congratulate their fellow divers on the success, all while they’re trying not to break down in tears.
The tears will come after, when they’re safely alone or with their family and close friends. After that, they’ll pick themselves up and dust off their shoulders, vowing to work even harder.
After all, 2020 is only four years away.