We want it all, and want it now.
After all, we live in a culture of instant results.
The world is getting faster and faster. We expect our media at our fingertips. We expect miracle supplements to work el magic. And we expect hacks and tricks to be able to sneak us past the hard work line-up.
But a little talked about aspect of elite swimming requires the opposite…
The ability to sit back, and be patient.
Point in case…
In 1980, Russia’s Vladimir Salnikov was the 1500m freestyle Olympic champion.
The gold was nice. And the world record was nice too—with his 14:58 he was the first man to ever break 15 minutes. And being able to slip under what was at that time an unbreakable barrier in front of a home crowd in Moscow was surely satisfying.
But there was something very noticeable missing from that Olympic performance…
The Western world. Most notably the American team.
In 1980 the Russians and the West were not exactly on speaking terms. Full blown frenemies, one might say. With the Cold War quietly raging, the Americans (and many other Western countries) boycotted the 1980 Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
For Salnikov, it was a hollow win.
He wanted to win the Olympics when the whole world was there.
So he continued training. Kept at it.
Continued plotting and planning for Olympic gold.
In 1984 the Soviets, and 14 other Eastern Bloc countries followed up the ’80 boycott with one of their own, refusing to send their athletes to the Los Angeles Olympics.
Again, Salnikov would not get his chance to compete against the best in the world.
So what did he do?
He continued training. Kept at it.
In the years between ’84 and ’88 the iron grip that Salnikov had on the mile began to loosen. At the 1986 world championships he placed outside of the medals. In 1987 at the European championships he didn’t even advance to the final.
If not for a last minute intervention by the Soviet sports ministry Salnikov would have been left off the team heading to Seoul entirely.
After going unbeaten in the event for nearly 10 years, and at age 28– well past what was considered at the time to be his prime—Salnikov was considered washed up.
But he kept at it. Kept going.
At the Seoul Olympics, Salnikov would hang with the field until the 700m mark, at which point he began to surge ahead.
With the crowd at his back, the “Monster of the Waves” (that was his nickname—how awesome and intimidating is that!) powered on, touching first in 15:00.40.
Finally, after 8 years of waiting and training, of being doubted, of being “washed up”…
Salnikov had finally won his gold medal with the whole world present.
That night when he walked into the cafeteria in the Olympic village all of the athletes stood up and gave him a standing ovation.
Athletes of every country, from every sport, they all rose to honor the incredible patience and grit of the legendary Russian swimmer.
Salnikov had the ability to not only stay at the top of the game in the most taxing race on the Olympic swimming program, but he had the patience to wait out the years of boycotts and doubt.
Will you have the ability to play the long game?
To see beyond the current struggle in order to gain a greater victory?