By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
KAZAN, Russian, July 14. WINNING at the international level is very, very hard. It was something that I never achieved: the closest I ever came to hearing "O Canada" on the podium was when I won a bronze medal at Commonwealth Games. As a country, Canada did not win very many medals on the international stage during my career on the national team. We have not won an Olympic gold in swimming since 1992, and no female swimmer has won an Olympic medal, of any color, since 1996. So when I see Katerine Savard win the 100 butterfly at World University Games--and win by quite an impressive margin at that--I am so proud I almost want to cry.
I did cry, when Ryan Cochrane won a bronze medal for Canada in Beijing. On the last day of competition, he snapped our eight-year Olympic medal drought. He was the antidote to what our media had labeled "a poisoned pool." While the other members of my medley relay team and I sat in the ready room before the final, we watched Ryan touch third, his name and the maple leaf lighting up the lane on the television screen. All four of us started crying, even though we had a race of our own to focus on.
Americans manage to make winning look easy: look at Michael Phelps. People were shocked when he "lost" the 200 butterfly to Chad Le Clos last summer in London. Look at a smaller country, like Canada, and we are thrilled when someone manages to get on the podium. But that was not, and has never been, the standard in the United States. Americans have a standard of excellence, of being the best, and channel a plethora of resources into helping their talented athletes reach the top of the podium. This creates a reciprocal process: winning leads to the expectation that you will win, which in turn helps swimmers win more.
There is nothing wrong with expecting your country to win: that is the best attitude a team can have. But when an athlete wearing your flag does win, I hope it never, ever gets old. I hope that every time the U.S. flag is raised at an international meet, Americans everywhere feel the same surge of emotional pride that I felt when Katerine Savard won Canada's first gold medal of the World University Games today. I hope that this is a sign that we are working towards our own cycle of excellence in Canada.
Just because Americans win a lot, does not mean it is not hard to do. Appreciate every win that will, without doubt, come for Team USA at World Championships, because a lot of chlorine, sweat and tears went into it, even if you are the likes of Michael Phelps.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o
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