By Monday morning, the pictures and the videos had gone viral. Ryan Held, 21 and a rising junior at N.C. State University, had won a gold medal in swimming, in the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay at the Rio Summer Olympics. Oh, that was accomplishment enough to warrant attention. But Held’s image was shown all over the world because he had an Olympian moment the way such moments are meant to be had.
He was pictured with his teammates, Nathan Adrian, Caeleb Dressel and Michael Phelps, standing on the medal stand and crying as he looked at his medal. It was an image to define all Olympic athletes, who give up much for their sport, for their quest to have such a moment.
“I’ve heard the National Anthem thousands of times before,” Held said, “but there was something different about this one. I just couldn’t hold back the tears.”
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This was the first Olympic medal for Held, an Illinois native. Phelps, a legend who won his 19th gold medal in this event, had given Held a little coaching on what to expect.
He had told Held, “It’s OK to sing, and it’s OK to cry.”
Swimming is a sport that requires grueling training, hours and hours in the pool that could be spent in more leisurely pursuits enjoyed by college students, such as ... just hanging out. But Held and others – including tens of thousands of others who’ll never see an Olympic games – make the sacrifice. There is something special about such people.