For athletes, the harshest part about the Olympic setup is likely the four-year break between games. That's a long time to stew between gold medal attempts, especially if the last one didn't turn out as planned.
But in the case of Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, there is no stewing period. There's no time to sit back and think of the London games, just completed over the weekend. Because while so many Olympic competitors continued to soak up the atmosphere of the closing ceremonies, or headed home to begin the healing period after falling short of their dreams, Goodwin flew back to Austin and donned a football helmet within days of the Olympic long jump finals.
"Football is a huge stress reliever," Goodwin said. "The transition, it is just great to be able to come back and not have to worry about if I would've did this or that. My mind is totally on football now. I have other things to do."
One could hardly blame Goodwin for looking back with the occasional regret. In winning the long jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Goodwin unleashed a career-best 27-foot-4.25 leap, a full four inches past a 27-0 leap made earlier in the summer when Goodwin won his second NCAA outdoor title, to be paired with an indoor long jump title.
Just how good was that 27-4 jump? It would have been good enough for Goodwin to earn a medal at the 2008, 2004 or 2000 Olympic games. And, as Goodwin later found out, it would have been enough to earn him a gold medal, had he uncorked that effort in London. Instead, after qualifying for final 12 jumpers, Goodwin's longest jump appeared to be his first leap, one that wasn't counted because he scratched by stepping over the line. His next leap was his best recorded one, a jump of 25-7.25 that was impressive in that Goodwin gave himself what seemed to be a full foot before the line before taking off. His final attempt fell even shorter, ensuring Goodwin didn't get into the final eight medal contenders.
British long jumper Greg Rutherford finished with the gold medal, leaping 27-3.25, just under Goodwin's top jump from a month earlier.
"I feel like I could have executed it better," Goodwin said. "Obviously if I hadn't had a scratch I would've done a lot better. But it happens in the sport. It is not perfect all the time. Even some of the greatest have lost on that same stage or level. You just have to face those circumstances. They are cruel, but you have to move forward."
Yet Goodwin said that the experience, and the chance to represent his country, was mostly positive.
"There is is nothing like it," Goodwin said. "Words can't even explain how it is to represent your country, having the words USA written across your chest. It is more than just yourself; you are representing your country, representing what you stand for, representing your church, your family, your friends, your school. Just everything. All the people that didn't have the same opportunity that you had. To me it meant a lot to represent USA across my chest."
That opportunity was enough for Goodwin's Texas teammates, who gave him a royal reception upon his return.
"It was great," Goodwin said. "It was a real humbling experience out there in London, and then I come back here where they applaud when they see me. They all think it is so cool that I am an Olympian and they say 'I'm so cool. I got to stand next to an Olympian today.' There is nothing like it, and your teammates always have your back."
Count Texas coach Mack Brown among those glad that Goodwin is back in pads.
"We're so excited to have Marquise back," Brown said. "Here's a guy who won the last two USA titles and two NCAA Championships in the long jump. He's a guy who competed in the Olympics and had a chance to win a gold, he was our most valuable player in the bowl game last year and he's always on the honor roll. There can't be a better two-sport athlete in football and track and field in America than Marquise Goodwin."
Brown has always been bully on Goodwin's potential. Before the 2010 season, Brown said that Goodwin had the potential to approach 100 catches in a season, following on the heels of Quan Cosby (92 catches in 2008) and Jordan Shipley (116 catches in 2009). But the Texas passing game sputtered, with Goodwin catching 31 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown.
He joined the team late in fall camp in 2011 and didn't hit full stride until midseason. He was the Longhorns' top wide receiver in four of the team's final five games, emerging after Jaxon Shipley was injured against Kansas. Over those five contests, Goodwin caught 22 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 11 times for 87 yards.
Perhaps most importantly, he seems to fit Brown's calling for more explosive plays on offense. Goodwin produced at least one play of 20 or more yards in each of those five games, including two a 37-yard rush and a 47-yard touchdown reception in the Holiday Bowl victory over Cal.
With Goodwin coming back from the Olympics, Brown said the team would slowly integrate him back into the full swing of things. Goodwin didn't take part in the team's first scrimmage, but figures to play a bigger role as the team gets closer to the season opener against Wyoming. And it's worth noting that by now, Goodwin is used to making a transition from track to football.
"It is a different experience every year," Goodwin said. "I got something different going on every year with World Championships last year and the Olympics this year.
"It is different, but it is great to be back at football, great to see my teammates and coaches. I am just glad to be back out there."