Q is for qualify.
I found myself in a bit of a quandary trying to come up with something for the letter Q, other than my photos of Quokkas and (brown) Quails, and then we had the most amazing experience the other night, watching the Australian Swimming Championships and Olympic Qualifiers on television that took place in Adelaide.
The daughter of friends of ours swam in the championship (as she did last year), but this year – being the year of the Rio Olympics – there was so much more at stake. (I apologise in advance if I get any of the technical details or terms wrong, I know only what I’ve learnt from the sidelines.) There were two heats earlier in the day and the fastest swimmers from those two heats would go through to the final. The winner and second person in the final would qualify for the Olympics, given that they swam under the Australian Olympic Qualifying time (which is faster than the Olympic Qualifying time).
Our friends’ daughter went to the same Perth primary school as our kids and along with her parents and other friends of the family we watched her swim at school swimming carnivals (galas). All the parents watched their kids proudly do their best and maybe get a podium finish. We would jump up and down and shout encouragement. And then Tam would dive in for her race and finish about half a pool’s length ahead of most of her competitors. I remember more than one relay race where her team was trailing and she’d dive in for the last leg about a third of the length of the pool behind the leaders, and end up in front so her team won the relay. She swam all the different strokes like a champion. It was poetry in motion and a beautiful thing to watch. We shouted as hard for her as we did for our own kids, got goose bumps and teared up while her own nerve racked parents were quietly biting their nails. A few of us jokingly said (about 7 or 8 years ago) that we had to book our tickets for Rio for 2016 to go and watch her there.
As outsiders we really had no idea how much training went into performances like hers, and that times were important, even at that young age. In the years since, we still have no idea how much sheer hard work, dedication, focus and sacrifice is involved to build a talent like hers to the point where she swims at the Olympic Qualifying meet.
At 17 she went into her heat as the Australian Junior Champion and qualified for the final with the third fastest time. The two swimmers faster than her were both Olympic swimmers. (When I say faster we’re talking about milliseconds.) Spare a thought for the fact that her main event is 400 metres freestyle, which is gruelling. She stepped up for the final and looked to be the first off the block. She stayed with the Olympic swimmer who swam in the lane next to her.
For eight laps she didn’t let her get away but both of them pulled away from the rest of the field. It didn’t take long to become clear who the top two swimmers would be, and then we edged even closer to the TV to see if they would both make it within the Australian Olympic Qualifying time. By the last lap we were up and out of our seats, jumping and shouting for her. She finished in a close second position, about a second within the Australian Qualifying time. We were beside ourselves. Tam qualified for the 2016 Olympics. She’s going to Rio!
She turned around to look at her time, not yet realising that she’d made it within the qualifying time until the winner next to her told her she’d made it. The camera zoomed in on her proud parents and then came back to show an interview with her and the winner. They’d both qualified for the Australian Olympic team. Tam said it was still hard for her to comprehend. All of us back in Perth were out of our skins with excitement and pride not only because she’d qualified for the Olympics but also for the poise, maturity, humility and graciousness in which she always conducts herself. Go Tam, we are right behind you all the way.
Sorry, little Quokkas and Quails, you’ve got pushed to the back seat.