He touched the wall first, sprinting from behind to wash all the mots from the trash-talking and heavily favored French team. Everybody saw it. You saw it. Michael Phelps saw it and his joy was the image the media loved, but, athletically, Jason's performance was among the finest perfomances in the history of Olympic swimming, and definitely the finest in relays. His swim was a celebration of will.
I loved it most because I didn't know Jason was on this year's team until he took his turn. I hadn't been paying much attention to the Olympics. Phelps lead off and I watched, went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and listened to the progress. I was excited to hear the announcer call Jason's name, because he was one of my business writing students at UCSB, and we used to talk about swimming and basketball (my sport) and his plans. He was serious about improving and making nationals, talking possibilities, angles that would make him better. He was committed.
What impressed me most was that he thought about swimming long-term. He talked about the work he needed to do, his faults, the demands of the sport, his desire, all the realities of the swimming world. He was very good, tall, broad-shouldered, and slim, and he knew it, but he wasn't any kind of physical freak. Yet he excelled, and I remember being surprised to read that he'd won a gold in the relay in Sydney, and then medalled again in Athens. I figured he was done, had had a great career--it's a sport for the young, after all.
Not this year. Dana Torres couldn't be my daughter, and Jason--younger than her by several years--couldn't be my son. He demonstrated what work and commitment and long term devotion can do. He's an exceptional athlete, though more for his work ethic and determination than his simple physical ability. Congratulations, Jason. You definitely earned it.
Update: Jason helped Michael Phelps pick up his 8th with another superb relay anchor, plus he picked up his first individual Olympics medal (bronze) in the 100 m. freestyle.