From the Edge: Olympic Misses and Life Lessons

Photo Courtesy: Pam Rogers

By Pam Rogers 

Everyone knows that swimming is all about numbers. You’ve got to hit time standards, go faster, drop minutes, seconds, or tenths, and every single mistake can be game changing. Forty years ago, I missed the Olympic team by one one hundredth of a second. I had placed second in the prelims, and the Olympic swim team that year took 3 women in each event. In the finals, I was in first place at the wall at the 50 meter mark. Around the 97th meter, my dream was still in sight. At the touchpad, I finished fourth in a harried, lane line cluster, life altering touch, one one hundredth of a second too late. All these swimming numbers, and none in my favor.


Photo Courtesy: Pam Rogers

My roommate, Melissa Belote, qualified for the storied ’76 team. In fact, many of my friends made that team. In the locker room of the Long Beach Aquatic Center that evening, there was a frenetic buzz about uniforms, suits, coaches, and other information only suitable for those who were Montreal bound. I was beyond shocked with myself. I was so crushed I couldn’t speak, which is highly unusual for me. My coach, Ron Johnson from ASU, was already in the parking lot, sobbing, out of my sight. I returned to Arizona completely broken and aquatically lost.

It took many years for me to come to terms with not making it onto the mothership of all athletic events. Sure, I made the U.S. team for trips to Israel, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, and more, and I had a U.S. training camp trip to the US Olympic Training Center a few years after the trials. But, to this day, I still get a lump in my throat when I watch the 100 Meter Breaststroke at the Olympics.

As I reflect back, I realize that I did reconstruct this ridiculous misfortune into my life of amazing events, all because of swimming. I mean it, ALL because of swimming. In fact, my entire 40 years since the 1976 Trials has centered around life in pools, lakes, oceans, and bodies of water. Swimming and the people involved (in the best sport on earth) gave me the grit and determination to develop my career. I met my spouse on a pool deck. I have taught children and adults to swim in a twenty different pools. I coached for 15 years at Div. I universities. I have been inducted to two halls of fame. I have been a professional triathlete, a Special Olympic meet director, a swimming volunteer, a surfer, a USMS competitor, a scuba diver, and a slew more versions of a water person. I have never turned my back on swimming, and it has never let me down.

When people say, “You can turn adversity into success,” they are right. But, it’s incredibly hard to describe how much fortitude and “glass half full” perspective is necessary to overcome one of life’s greatest disappointments. So, for those of you who have narrowly missed your mark, “punching your ticket to Rio” (as I heard about 900 times during the Trials television broadcasts), just know that if you let it, swimming will be your greatest asset. There can be more national and international opportunities. Swimming will help you meet the most incredible and positive people, travel the world, have a drive and work ethic that only swimmers can have—what else could you expect after all the early mornings, training camps, and double workouts? Your fitness can remain with you, and you can share with others the most important aspect of swimming—respect for and love of water. Just hold tight to your swimming integrity and know that you are still among the elite, the fast, the confident, and you are still a member of the world’s greatest sport. Swim on.


Photo Courtesy: Pam Rogers


  1. avatar
    Corrina Weinkofsky

    You rock Pam Rogers! Proud to be a SunDevil with you ?

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      Thanks Corrina! You were a rock on the ASU team! Hope you are doing well, and go Devils!

  2. Veronica Stroup Holz

    I, too, missed the team and was an Olympic trial finalist in both 1968 and 1972. I was both my greatest failure and my greatest success. I have trouble watching trials and Olympics to this day, though I would not have changed anything, except to maybe have tried one more time!

  3. avatar
    Rich Ripley

    Love you Pam,
    Melissa Belote Ripley

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      Love you too Melissa! I’ll never forget our training, competing, and laughing. Hope you and Rich are doing well.

  4. avatar
    Carolyn Kramer

    You rock Pam.

  5. avatar
    Gail Amundrud

    Well said Pam! I’m so thankful that we got to swim together at ASU! Water babes for life!

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      Thanks Gail! You were and still are a water star! Can’t wait to see you again. xoxo

  6. Esme Smith Basson

    True grit! Life lessons from this incredibly demanding sport.

  7. avatar
    Mike Stewart

    Great article about the lessons of life and proper perspective. I would have sent you anyway.

  8. Ru Zhang

    Lizzy Lu

  9. avatar
    Mary Skaggs

    You are now, and always have been, an inspiration to everyone you know. Great words of well deserved wisdom!

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      Thanks Mary. I’ll never forget our fantastic Heritage days! xoxo

  10. avatar

    This is a really good essay about framing disappointment and looking for the good in every situation. It’s easy for those us who never got to swim at the Olympic Trials to say to someone how fortunate you are to have swum at that meet. But we will never know what it’s like to come so close to fulfilling your dream, only to come up short by 1/100th of a second. I can’t imagine the disappointment, the what ifs, the wondering what you could have done and what could have been. It takes a really strong and wonderful person to go through that and still love the sport and appreciate all it offered her. Again, what a well written, and honest essay. This is something to remember as we watch the upcoming Olympics with all their highs and lows.

  11. avatar

    What a wonderful heart expression. Thank you from everyone who has gotten in the water seeking to do their best.

    The ’76 Trials was my last competition. I have thought back on it as a culmination of 20 years of training, racing and having wonderful experiences with teammates, competitors, coaches and more. Memories for me of that last training cycle are primarily at Kino with Melissa and you, and then heading to Long Beach with Ron. I recall how heartbreaking that finish was for you and am happy to see in your essay that you have been able to continue to have joy in the water, even if tempered by Belmont memories. Bless you, Pam.

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      Thank you Dunc1952. I will always remember our Kino training and that Trials trip with you and Ron and our teammates. Bless you too, Docky! (sp)

  12. avatar

    You nailed it. Quoting a fellow swimming friend: “Anything good that has ever happened in my life has happened because of swimming”. How blessed we all are to have the opportunity to to be involved in this life defining sport of swimming.

  13. avatar
    Ed Hadley

    Never stop teaching Pam. You always say the right thing at that right time.
    Thanks COACH!

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      Thanks Ed. We had fun in Flag didn’t we?’ I’m glad to see you and your family are doing so well. xoxo

  14. avatar
    Vicki Uthe

    Beautiful essay. I’m a better person because of my swimming background and having known people like you. You have been an inspiration to me since we met in 1983, your first year at NAU. 1976. Hmmm. I probably watched those trials as a 6th grader swimming for Bob Gillet in Phoenix. You have lived and continue to live a remarkable life. xoxo

    • avatar
      pam rogers

      So glad you were at NAU Vick. And thank you, except for the part about how young you were. lol xo

  15. avatar

    It is sweet to read your essay Pam- I can feel every word including the lump in my throat and the joy also!
    Hi Melissa!

  16. avatar

    Hi, Pam. Beautiful sentiment. Swimming and coaching were a huge part of my life for so long, and the impact has been unending.

  17. avatar

    What a wonderful compliment you are to your sport and life as it should be led Missy, I’m so proud to know you, Lesley (aka Andy’s no.1 stalker) :))

  18. avatar
    Joyce Hintz

    Pam: What a beautiful story you shared of your life’s lesson’s.
    As a grandma, of three grandchildren swimmers, just beginning to
    compete, I will share your story, with them when they visit next week.
    You are one special woman!