Sunday night, millions of Americans sat on the edge of their seats and cheered Jason Lezak as he swam one of the best races in Olympic history and propelled the United States 4 X 100 freestyle relay team to a gold medal. In the process he kept Michael Phelps' quest for eight gold medals alive.
Lost in the Lezak/Phelps hysteria was the silver medal won by Katie Hoff. She was an underdog in the 400 meter freestyle. She looked like a child standing next to world record holder Frederica Pelligrini of Italy and defending Olympic champion Laure Manaudou of France. NBC had spent the better part of ten minutes exploring the Pellegrini/Manadou rivalry, which was not pretty. It seems Pelligrini had stolen Manadou’s boyfriend. Katie Hoff would swim the race of her life and lead for literally 399 meters. Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain would come out of nowhere and win the race by 7/100th of a second.
How small is 7/100th of a second? I retrieved an old stopwatch from the back of a closet and tried to start and stop it as fast as possible. My quickest time was 4/10th of a second. 7/100th of a second is faster than someone can sneeze. I called my daughter, who received a swim scholarship to college and swam competitively for 14 years, and asked her the question. She told me to look at the tips of my fingers. 7/100th of a second is about the length of a fingernail. Adlington touched out Katie Hoff by that measurement.
The average Olympic swimmer swims six miles a day, six days a week. Katie Hoff has been swimming since age six, so you do the math. I will be cheering for Hoff in her next race. Maybe she needs to grow her fingernails a little longer. Teammate Christine Magnuson can identify with Hoff as she lost the gold medal by 3/100th of a second which is probably less than the length of a fingernail. I have to say that both were gracious in defeat despite the obvious disappointment.
So how small is 7/100th of a second? It is the blink of an eye and a lifetime of sacrifice.