The Hubris Games

For a swimming fan, these Olympics have been a lesson in humility. I've never witnessed a Games where big talk and presumption have been so uniformly punished.

One of the surest bets coming into these Olympics was the Australian men's 400 free relay. They had the two fastest 100 meter freestylers in the world in the world, James "The Missile" Magnusson and James "The Rocket" Roberts (both born on April 11, 1991, coincidentally). The Australian press dubbed the four members of the relay, "The Weapons of Mass Destruction." Magnusson boldly told the Australian press that he wasn't worried about any other swimmers and that he was the man to beat in the 100 free. The Aussies were practically chortling about how much their relay was going to win by.

Magnusson led off the relay with a time almost a full second from his best, the rest of the quartet performed similarly, and they ended up in fourth place, out of the medals.

Magnusson was subsequently beaten in the 100 free, an event in which he had been heavily favored.

Ryan Lochte famously said of these Games that "this is my time." He did win the 400 IM the first night, but then was beaten badly in the 400 free relay, and finished fourth in the 200 free, an event in which he was world champion last year. He was part of the victorious 800 free relay, and may yet pull off today's double (the 200 back and 200 IM, in about two hours as of this writing). But so far, his prediction -- and his sponsors' faith -- have come across a little premature.

Michael Phelps himself has seemed a little presumptuous, thinking he could train half-heartedly for three years before getting serious, and still emerge golden. But so far in individual events he has gotten a fourth and a second.

Tyler Clary gave that well publicized interview in which he criticized Phelps for the lack of dedication he had shown -- before the 2008 Games! (Tyler, there's this little thing called talent you fail to take into account.) Clary said he felt he deserved success more than Phelps. Clary finished off the podium in the 200 fly.

Laszlo Cseh's coaches said before the Games that he would threaten Phelps in the 200 fly. Cseh didn't make the finals of that event.

The Brazilians were arrogant enough to think they could not swim their fastest man and still make the finals of the 400 free relay. They got ninth in the heats, thus didn't qualify for finals.

The Russians didn't swim either of their two fastest men in the heats of the 800 free relay, an event in which they had been favored for bronze. They, too, ended up ninth in the heats.

Camille Lacourt, the fastest 100 backstroker in history (without a tech suit) up until a month ago, reportedly cut back on his training to spend more time on his modeling career, confident that he could still win. He ended up fourth in that event.

Even showing off in the early rounds was punished. Emily Seebohm set a textile world best in the heats of the 100 back, and was only a tenth slower in the semis. Her early bravado cost her in the finals, where she swam slower than either of her two preliminary swims, and got beaten.

Taewhan Park's coach Michael Bohl announced ahead of time that his protege was ready to set a world record. Park was thrown off his game by his initial (unfair) disqualification in the 400, and didn't come close to any records. Park certainly can't be blamed for either the DQ or his coach's predictions; maybe it was his coach that was being punished by the gods this time.

I'm not religious; I fall somewhere between atheist and agnostic. But if I did believe in God, I would surely see His hand at these Games.