by Tito Morales
I did let up.
With Poseidon as my witness, I did back off…
For eight days now, I’ve been sitting in the stands of this mammoth temporary swimming facility watching the greatest swimmers in the United States notch some of the most astonishing swims in history.
I’ve gazed down and wondered if, perhaps, the pool was somehow mismeasured.
No human being can cover 100 meters of breaststroke in 59.30 seconds. Just the mere idea of it is preposterous. I know the length of an Olympic size pool. I’ve stroked across 50 meter pools many a times. It simply can’t be done.
Nor, too, can someone swim 200 meters on his back in 1:54.74, or 400 meters of individual medley in 4:08.41. It’s physically impossible — isn’t it?
I mean, wasn’t it not too long ago when someone by the name of Rick DeMont became the first swimmer in history to break the 4:00 barrier in the freestyle?
Anyway, I’ve spent a good amount of time straining to uncover the smoke and mirrors. To see when the jig would finally be up. To get a firsthand explanation as to how all these so-called talented athletes managed to pull the wool over tens of thousands of pairs of eyes — and in broad daylight, nonetheless.
So, when, on this last day of competition, I fast-talked my way into the warm-up pool hours before the commencement of the last two events, I figured I’d see for myself just how short these temporary pools really were.
Call it journalistic perogative.
There were all of four or five others logging laps with me. Three of them were as lean and buoyant as canoes. The last one moved more like a barge, which made me feel right at home.
As I labored across one length after another, I could tell right off that the pool certainly wasn’t 50 meters. It felt more like 70. Maybe even 75…
Somehow, though, I managed to tally about a mile. It seemed to take forever, and I was thankful when it was over.
And then I saw her. Katie Hoff. She and a teammate were swinging their arms and stretching their legs and preparing to hop in for a low key workout.
I had to at least say I was in the same pool as her, the young woman who just the other day swam the kind of 400 I.M. I used to dream about when I was still serious about the sport. So I started down for one last easy hundred and waited for her to dive in.
As I hung onto the far wall and watched her — well, I’m almost ashamed to admit this now, but that’s when I made up my mind to take her down.
I’ll admit it wasn’t a fair race. Our 2004 multi-event Olympian was in the earliest stages of her warm-up. And, besides, since she was three lanes away from me, I doubt Katie was even aware of my existence.
But when she flipped and started back down the pool, I did it. I pushed off.
Who among us could resist? Honestly, I encourage anyone who claims they would have behaved differently to step forward so the rest of us can pummel them with pullbuoys and kickboards.
It was a close race. Katie and I were matching stroke for stroke. And here I’d always been curious to know what it was really like to be Amanda Beard…
We passed the halfway mark, and I was having to increase my tempo in order to keep pace. Then we were up to 40 meters. And even though I was switching to a patented six beat kick, she was still inching ahead of me.
And that’s when I backed off.
With Poseidon as my witness, I did, in fact, back off…