If It's Not Live, It's Lifeless

Frozen live feeds online, endless waits for taped races in primetime... Is this any way to enjoy the Games?  It has nothing to do with the production. The shots are beautiful, the storytelling gripping, the talent as good as it gets. It's not their problem. They're doing everything they can. They're fighting a losing battle. Because watching the Games on Day One of these London Olympics was a supremely maddening experience.

This is the absolute summit of drama for the sport of swimming. If you were there, or if you watched it live on TV in Europe, it surely was. If you tried to consume the action on the east coast of the United States, it was brutal.

First, the live streaming on NBCOlympics.com... I was psyched. The taped replayed heats of the morning prelims were just finishing up on the actual NBC TV network. A strange sensation - turning off your 42-inch HD television, which is airing swimming that happened eight hours earlier, and opening up your 15-inch laptop, so you can watch the actual live events about to take place on your small computer screen, the only place it's available. And don't expect the passionate A-team call from Dan and Rowdy on your little laptop, here you'll only get the World Feed call, which further dials down the excitement.

Note: this was at 2:30pm on a Saturday afternoon. Not exactly a bad time to watch sports live on TV. The NFL seems to have had a bit of success airing its games around this time in the fall. And I seem to recall the British Open finishing up last weekend at about this time too. Same time zone as London. So, why the hell wasn't this being aired live on NBC?

Look, I understand why this tape delay needs to happen during the weekdays. No one's free to watch TV on a Tuesday afternoon at 3pm. The ratings would be torpedoed, their hands are tied. But NBC, could you please explain why you can't air the first weekend of Olympic action LIVE on Saturday and Sunday afternoon? It defies reason.

But back to the laptop. You suck it up, tell yourself to be thankful that at least they have this awesome endless live feed online, where you can see every last thing as it goes down. You watch Lochte smoke Phelps this way, you're getting into it. Then you start watching the semis of the women's 100 fly... And then, freeze frame. The dreaded spinning wheel. Nothing at all. Awhile later it flashes to the start of the men's 400 free final. You watch them dive in, the first 15 meters, and then... Nothing again. Back to the spinning wheel. You start texting your friends, see if it's just you and your iffy connection in the mountains. No, the friends back in New York City are having the same issues. So is your friend in Chicago. Everybody is freezing, and everybody is pissed.

For twenty minutes, you stare at your laptop, trying to channel your best Skywalker and use the Force to get this fucking thing streaming again. No luck. You make the defiant decision to turn it off and force yourself, for the next five hours, to avoid all contact with results. Don't check your phone, don't look at any other sites. Wait for primetime, where you can watch it proper, on the right sized screen, with the right level of pomp and Olympic circumstance.

This is the new plan, if you can't see it live on the computer, you'll wait and pretend it's live each night. You'll live in a self-imposed bubble every afternoon for the next eight days.

8pm rolls around and you're ready. The opening tease looks great, Costas sets the table with what's in store tonight, you figure it will be just like Beijing, where they send it right out to Dan and Rowdy and for the next ninety minutes you get to marinate in swimming nirvana. Bring it on! I'll even pretend I don't know what happened in that 400 IM, the one race I actually got to watch on the laptop.

Except that doesn't happen at all. First, we head out to beach volleyball for 45 minutes. Misty May and Kerri Walsh, back again for the three-peat, ok that's cool, I'll be getting back into their story as the week goes on. But, um, isn't it time for the swimming? That is the number one Olympic sport now, right? Sure is, and you know what that means, don't you? It means it has the Clooney time slot on Leno. That is, at the end, because they know you'll wait for it. It's the carrot now. And since it already happened, they can slice and dice it up any way they please. So watch some men's gymnastics for a few hours and sit tight, pal.

Around 9:30pm, finally the race we've been waiting for, Lochte / Phelps, kicking off the swimming with style. Thank God, what a way to start, it was worth the wait... Now, how about the rest? Nope, back to men's gymnastics. Then maybe another bite later, if you're good. A bad ass men's 400 free here, an epic women's 400 IM there, served piecemeal, and each time the buzz builds out at the Olympic pool, it's snatched away. Here's some more gymno while you wait. Now, I have nothing against men's gymnastics, what they do is superhuman, and I know I'm absurdly biased towards the swimming, but no matter what you're into, this is no way to watch it.

Your choices seem to be a constantly freezing, stripped down live feed on your computer or an endlessly drawn out drip-drip-drip of races over a four hour period. There was less than 25 minutes of actual swimming action that took place tonight in London, and this was one of the long nights. Three 400 meter finals, one 400 meter relay, two sets of 100 meter semifinals... Live, it took about 90 minutes, when you include all the processions and medal ceremonies and interviews.

In primetime, it took four hours to see it all. After you presumably knew what happened. After you tried to watch it live on a Saturday afternoon on your computer, after you turned off the taped replays of prelims that happened to be airing on your actual TV right before the live events appeared - and then froze - on your laptop.

This is madness. And it's no way to watch the world's greatest sporting event.

Coronations & Confirmations

Lochte confirms hype, China confirms superpower status, Phelps fades to 4th...  It was an unfamiliar sight, the great one cast over there in no man's land. Had he ever swum in lane eight before? Like, ever? Seriously, has Michael Phelps ever competed from lane eight in his life? Certainly never in a race that mattered. It showed. Tonight the man accustomed to inconceivable feats did something shocking yet again. He didn't medal.

In the very first race of these Games, Michael Phelps came in 4th in the 400 IM. It was the second time in his epic Olympic career that he did not finish an Olympic race on a podium. The only other time this has happened? A dozen years ago, when the teenage Phelps came 5th in the 200 fly in Sydney. Perhaps confirming that the 400 IM does indeed take four years of grueling uncompromising work. Somewhere among Team USA's contingent, Tyler Clary was smirking.

But why does the lead have to be about the fourth place finisher? Well, because the man has earned it. He could DQ in every race here in London and still command the most headlines. Ok, glad we have that out of the way, on to the champions.

It's time for Ryan Lochte's official coronation. Let's all admit that his tsunami of pre-Games hype became a little much. Before tonight, the guy had exactly one individual Olympic gold to his name. Yet, there he was, the poster boy of London, the new Phelps, albeit with 11 fewer Olympic gold medals. Tonight, Lochte added substance to all that style and spin. His 4:05.1 was the fastest non-textile time in history. He made it look easy. He was a 4:03 if pressed. A 4:03 if he didn't have a million more races lingering in the back of his mind.

Based on that 400 IM, these days ahead are going to be very special indeed. Right now it's looking like four individual gold, one relay gold, and whatever the Americans can muster in that 4 x 100 free relay. Which would be the second best showing in Olympic history, easily surpassing Spitz's seven gold run forty years ago in Munich. (Remember, back then the relays were really gimmie-golds for the Americans...) It would also get a slight nod over Phelps's six gold campaign in 2004 in Athens, if only because Lochte has to go through Phelps himself to get there.

Speaking of coronations, it's now time to acknowledge that China is officially a superpower in the pool. And despite the instant are-they-cheating xenophobia that ignites whenever a Chinese swimmer has an eye-popping swim, we have to assume they are now clean. Call me naive, but I think there's just too much at stake for China's Olympic team; they're now too aware of how they're perceived by the rest of the world.

So, let's bow to Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, the new king and queen of the men's 400 free and the women's 400 IM. They didn't just win tonight, they delivered stunning, back-breaking performances over the final laps of their races. In the 400 free, Sun flipped together with Korea's Park Tae-hwan at 300 meters, separated by just .01. He won going away by almost two seconds, in 3:40.1, missing Paul Biedermann's suit-assisted world mark by a fingernail. He will very likely win the mile by ten seconds later this week.

As for China's teenage medley queen, Ye Shiwen delivered perhaps the greatest final 100 meters of any IM in history, man or woman. At the end of the breaststroke leg, it appeared Elizabeth Beisel was headed for gold. Or at least she'd be in a dog fight to win it. Instead, Ye swallowed her up almost instantly, and then proceeded to pull away with astonishing acceleration. Her final 50 was faster than Lochte's. Seriously. She came home in 28.93; Lochte's last lap was 29.10.

For the night, Team USA came away with one gold (Lochte), one silver (Beisel), and one bronze (Peter vanderkaay). China's tally? Two gold (Sun and Ye) and one bronze (Li Xuanxu, behind Ye and Beisel in the 400 IM). The medal count pissing match is about to begin. It won't really be a race, as the U.S. is still far deeper across every event, yet China's time has clearly arrived.

One night down, seven to go. So much more to come. Stay tuned...

Beatles or Stones?

Team Phelps or Team Lochte? A cheeky Olympic analogy...  On one stage, the one who did it all. The incomparable, the untouchable, the one who changed the game and created a mania. On the other, the rock star who dares to do as much. A swaggering challenger with talent and ambition that compares.

Does this sound familiar? A bit like the two greatest British rock bands in history? (Scratch the 'Brit' and the 'rock' part, the two greatest bands in history...) Turns out the two greatest swimmers in history have quite a bit in common with that eternal contrast between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Phelps, of course, is the Beatles. Lochte, the Stones. Who do you like? It says a lot about you. And a lot about these two swimmers...

Take a look: Phelps and the Beatles, their respective careers were a decade long comet. A period when they both stretched the imagination to its impossible never-be-the-same edge. By their late 20's they were both ready to move on. At age 27, they were the greatest ever. Where do you go from there?

As for Lochte and the Stones, they're about the same age as their mighty rival, but they seem much younger. They seem not to care quite so much. They appear to want to do this forever. And why not? It's what they were born to do.

Phelps has repeated for years that he never wants to swim past 30. Incidentally, the same age as John Lennon when he announced his departure from the Beatles. Lochte has shrugged forever that he'll keep swimming for as long as he pleases. Which is about the same attitude that Keith Richards has always had...

At the conclusion of his London campaign, Phelps will almost certainly conclude his Olympic career with 23 Olympic medals. He has sixteen now, he's swimming seven events this week; the only one questionable for a medal is that complicated 4 x 100 free relay... The colors of those medals may vary, but safe to assume at least half will be gold. Meanwhile, Lochte is a full ten medals back. He's got six Olympic medals so far. He'll likely double that haul in London, leaving with a career dozen, halfway to Phelps. Is it ridiculous to start wondering if he can catch him?

Say Lochte continues his charge through his late 20's and comes into his own as Phelps fades out of the picture. A bit like, say the Stones hitting their early 70's peak with Exile, Sticky Fingers, and Some Girls... Is it that unrealistic to see Lochte winning another six medals in Rio four years from now? It might even be easier, with Phelps sitting on his couch cheering on his spades pal from afar. That would put him at 18 medals. Can you envision a 35-year-old Lochte in a 2020 nation-to-be-named-later, winning another handful? How about a 39-year-old Lochte limping out for a few more in 2024? Like another Stones tour, these things can become highly successful celebrated habits.

But to drag this cheeky analogy back to the past - right now, it's 1969 for Phelps and Lochte. The year when the Beatles were on their way out, the Stones on their way up. Icons sailing by in the midst of contrasting currents.

That will be this week in London... When the two greatest of all time square off for one last time head to head, both at the peak of their powers.

Let the Battle of the Bands begin.

The Prince Will See You Now

Big U.S. coaches lead small nations at the Games...  This morning my friend met the prince. Which prince you might ask? Does it matter? How many princes have you met? In this case, it was the crown prince of Brunei, an island nation of 400,000 in Southeast Asia. My friend is in London, at the Games to help coach their sole Olympic swimmer, a 16-year-old high school boarder at the Bolles School named Anderson Chee Wei Lim.

If that sounds odd to you, an American coach on the Olympic staff of a small foreign nation, it shouldn't. It's a long established symbiotic partnership, a win / win for both country and coach. He's not alone. Take a look at a few of the big time U.S. coaches currently in London as a part of various foreign delegations:

University of Michigan's Mike Bottom - coach of Serbia; Southern Methodist's women's coach Steve Collins - coach of Bulgaria; University of Florida's Anthony Nesty - coach of the Cayman Islands; The Bolles School's Sergio Lopez - coach of Singapore; and my friend, Christian Bahr, also of the Bolles School - there with Brunei. (NOTE: Fully aware that Nesty and Lopez are not American coaches, per se, but fair to call them U.S. coaches, as that is where they lead their home teams...)

Of course, some Go-USA'ers might grumble about such nation jumping, might claim that it's coaching the Olympic "enemy." Perhaps you remember this debate from last month, after the Wall Street Journal published that half-bright piece entitled Schools That Train the Enemy. I wrote about it back then, in a post called The NCAA is Un-American. This is the logical extension of that.

These coaches are leading these small nations because they coach their swimmers throughout the year. Nesty is coaching the Caymans because the two great Cayman swimming brothers, Brett and Shaune Fraser, were both All-Americans at the University of Florida. Lopez is there with Singapore because Singapore's incredible young flyer Joseph Schooling goes to Bolles. Steve Collins is coaching Bulgaria because world class Bulgarian freestyler Nina Rangelova will be a junior at SMU next year.

Then of course there's Mike Bottom, who's there with Serbia, aka there to help Mike Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the 100 fly. Remember, Cavic swam for Bottom both during his years at Cal Berkeley, and also back in 2008 when Bottom was coaching at the Race Club in the Florida Keys. Arguably the world's greatest sprint coach (actually, is there any argument at all?), Bottom led the Croatian team in both 2004 and 2008. In '04, Croatian and Cal Bear Duje Draganja won silver in the 50 free behind Gary Hall, Jr., also coached by Bottom. At those Games in Athens, while officially representing Croatia, Bottom coached 10 swimmers from 8 different nations.

Any Americans have a problem with this? If so, maybe take a look at Team USA's head coach in London, Gregg Troy. Want to know Coach Troy's Olympic debut? That would be back in 1992 - when he was the head coach of Thailand.

As Sports Illustrated editor, Terry McDonell, wrote this week in his magazine's Olympic Preview issue: "The best and the worst of nationalism run through the Olympics." When there's a spirit of inclusion and diversity and fair play, that would be the best of nationalism. When coaches are happy to cross Olympic borders and assist the homelands of their college and club swimmers. The worst? That would be those who make the Olympics a medal count us-against-them pissing match.

In his letter, McDonell called these London Olympics the "Revolutionary Games." The first revolutionary moment he mentions? That involves a little nation named Brunei. See, in London, the nations of Brunei, Qatar, and Saudia Arabia will welcome women athletes as members of their Olympic teams for the very first time in history. An overdue and symbolic gesture that reveals the growing openness and diversity that is slowly reaching far corners of the globe.

Equal opportunities for women and every race, color, and creed? What an American concept.

Sexy Beasts

Shirtless swimmers, the Olympic Village orgy, and the selling of the Games...  It should be a romance novel. On the cover, a bare chested shaved stud with the you-know-you-want-it stare. Open it up and find tales of wild breathless abandon inside an ultra-exclusive club, every member with a perfect body. Ok, it also sounds like a big budget porn... But best of all, those bodies are real, and the stories are true!

Call it Olympic foreplay. It happens every time, yet in the lead-up to London, the objectifying and the Village sex talk seems to be at a new level. Maybe that's because the Games are about to take place in the gossip capital of the world. It's an irresistible storyline, and it's also the oldest cliché in advertising - sex sells. So, strip down the swimmers and plaster them all over magazines. Then get a mouthy hot soccer goalie to dish in another magazine about all those inevitable hook-ups inside the Village walls. Paying attention yet? Who cares about the events, plenty of viewers just want to drool over six packs and dream about the hot action that just must be going on behind those well-guarded gates.

Have you seen a newsstand lately? There's Ryan Lochte beefcaking it up on the covers of Men's Health and Vogue. There's Michael Phelps shirtless in jeans on the cover of Details. And open up the latest issue of Rolling Stone, the one with Justin Bieber on the cover. There's Anthony Ervin - on the opening Table of Contents page, also shirtless in jeans, reclining on a couch, electric guitar to his side, rock posters overhead. "The Rebel Olympian" teases the headline in the bottom right.

Something for everyone, ladies: The unknowable icon with the treasure chest of gold; the approachable challenger with the sonnet-inspiring abs; or the brooding sprinter with the tats and the dark past. Take your pick; insert Olympic Village fantasy of your choice.

If you believe Team USA's soccer goalie Hope Solo, it's no fantasy. Apparently, the Village becomes a Roman orgy as soon as athletes are done competing. She caused a stir when she told ESPN The Magazine recently that Beijing resembled a free love festival with better bodies. "I've seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty," she dished.

Her comments went viral with the usual mix of raunchy delight and scolding judgement. "Sex Crazed Athletes Run Amok in Olympic Village!" shouted London's Daily Mail. "Just a Giant Booze-Filled Orgy for Super-Fit People" said Jezebel.com. (That one gets my vote.) Then, of course The Christian Post had to frown and raise the "Sex Morality Debate" when they weighed in.

Now, couple this talk with the magazine spreads of those swimmers. You can see how that might, um, interest certain viewers. Particularly when we hear reports that 150,000 condoms will be available to athletes in London's Village. For those keeping score at home, that would mean 15 safe-sex romps per athlete. Actually, since they'll be hooking up with each other, with no outsiders permitted, that would be 30 bouts of safe-sex per couple. (Partners will presumably be changing regularly, if you believe all this stuff...)

I have only one Village appearance to report on - back in 1996 in Atlanta. Here's what I can tell you: Following our races, we behaved poorly. At those Games, every member of the Canadian swim team was required to sign a pledge stating that we would not engage "in any sexual or deviant activity" during the course of our stay in Atlanta. This amusing and unenforceable little pledge made it's way to NBC's broadcast of the Opening Ceremony. You know how Bob Costas and his co-hosts will make those did-you-know observations for every country throughout the Parade of Nations? Well, back in 1996, that was the note for Team Canada: Did you know that the swimmers from Canada were all forced to sign a no-sex pledge during these Games?  (Cut to cute Canadian athlete waving in march, add coy reply. And up next, it's the delegation from the Cayman Islands...)

Yes, we did sign that. And no, the pledge was not honored. But I hardly remember the Atlanta Village being the out in the open fuck-fest that Solo described in Beijing. In fact, I have a friend who was on Team USA in '08 who called Beijing "The No Fun Games", in reference to the overbearing security and the difficulty in going out on the town. On the other hand, this same swimmer has stories from Sydney that would make Ms. Solo blush.

Believe what you will. The dirty facts are besides the point anyway. Like all good gossip, you want just enough truth to spin and exaggerate and spread - until the Olympic Village becomes "just a giant booze-filled orgy."

You buying that?

Living and Dying in Olympic Time

Track & Field used to be the premier sport of the Games. Now that honor belongs to swimming. Here's why... Back then, that was the Olympics. The track and the field. Faster, higher, stronger? That didn't refer to the pool or the parallel bars. That meant running faster, jumping higher, and throwing something heavy really far. The ancient Olympians (B.C. Greece version and turn of the century redux) defined the Games on land, in a stadium, with runners - mainly runners, but also jumpers and throwers.

Swimmers were a side show. Back in 1896, they were a demented death-wish curiosity more than anything else. The three swimming events (the men's 100, 500, and 1200 meters) were held in 55 degree high seas open water. The first Olympic swimming champion, Hungary's Alfred Hajos, was quoted as saying post-gold: "My will to live completely overcame my desire to win."

Phelpsian this was not. 40,000 Greeks reportedly watched from shore, but these were likely more of the car accident gawker variety than sports fans. Man still had a long ways to go when it came to conquering the water - and don't even ask about the women, they wouldn't be admitted to join the Games for another sixteen years, in 1912.

Enough history lesson. Fast forward a century and a decade. Those exploits on the track and the field? Nowadays their own athletes refer to their sport as "dying." Meanwhile, in the pool, the all-powerful TV network has appointed swimming the new face of the Olympics.

How did this happen? A bit like Hemingway described going broke: Slowly, and then all at once.

Over the last two decades, track & field has dug its own grave, due to a lack of Stars and Strategy, and too much Steroids. You could say they have an 'S' problem. In America, the management of track & field has long been a joke and the assumption of mass cheating is second only to cycling. These things tend to erode interest - especially in a sport that comes around only once every four years for the great majority of sports fans. That's the slowly part.

As for the all at once, you can credit that part to Michael Phelps. Yesterday on FoxSports.com, columnist Greg Couch laid the blame solely at Phelps's size 14 feet. He called Phelps the final nail in the coffin of track & field. He cites the Beijing schedule in 2008 as the only true evidence you need. Want to know why the general American public went so Phelps crazy back in 2008? Sure, it was because of his epic ride to eight gold medals - but more specifically, it was because you watched that ride live. Because the swimming finals were in the morning, China time. Because NBC's Dick Ebersol rigged it that way, after getting approval from the MP meal ticket.

As for track & field? NBC shrugged, feel free to watch it on tape. Yes, in Beijing Usain Bolt dropped jaws every bit as much as Phelps, but in terms of pure media darling-ness? Bolt was an also-ran.

As for the American track stars... Wait, who? Really, name one. You had to think, didn't you? And chances are, if you're reading this blog, you care about the Olympics a hell of a lot more than your average American sports fan. In case you're still thinking, Alyson Felix is a track star you might have heard of... She's got a chance to win the 200 meters in London. She has two individual Olympic silver medals to her name. Two silvers is plenty special and all, but that's the first name we throw out there? A sprinter with zero individual gold?

Or if you're on the God Squad, you may have heard of distance star Ryan Hall. The guy has run the fastest marathon in American history, and his only coach is the Big Man Upstairs. The New York Times devoted a huge feature on Hall this past Sunday. It's a fascinating story (in a totally demented way), yet the guy's best, and only, Olympic finish is a 10th place in Beijing.

Compelling faith-based story though he is, this should tell you all you need to know about the state of track & field in the U.S. Their A-list front page story is a runner with a minor shot at an Olympic medal. But hey, at least with all that devout faith, we can assume he's one American runner who's clean. (Unlike the fastest American sprinter and would-be rival of Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin... You might recall Gatlin won the 100 meters at the 2004 Games in Athens; or maybe you don't, since two years later he tested positive and served a four-year ban...)

Contrast that to swimming. To more than just Phelps. Have whatever opinion you may about USA Swimming as a guiding entity, but you can't deny that this is an organization with a clear-eyed expectation-of-greatness strategy. The results end the arguments. Swimming - guided by Phelps, buoyed by Lochte, bolstered by countless athletes more decorated than Alyson Felix - has ridden a rising tide that has all but swallowed up the ever-diminishing sport of track & field.

This is lovely news for us water-dwellers, but now's not the time to go Stanford smug. High tides roll back. The days of swimming being aired on tape - weeks after the fact on the 'Ocho - are not so long ago. They could come again.

Many will say this is a Phelps phenomena, and maybe they're right. We wouldn't be on top of the Olympic media podium without him. But it's so much more than that...

Isn't it?

Tyler the Truth Teller

Tyler Clary calls out Phelps: Makes fair points, assures destruction...  Someone was bound to say it sooner or later. May as well have been the guy with the front row seat. Did you see what Tyler Clary had to say about Michael Phelps yesterday? It came out in the not-exactly-national Press-Enterprise, billed as the source of news and information in Inland Southern California... Here's the column by Jim Alexander. It might be the source in the Valley, but safe to say in the swim universe, this site just expanded its reach. Because apparently Tyler Clary feels like playing with the piranha...

You can predict the outcry. It's already coming in. How dare he! cries the young swim fan... He's just jealous! cries the old swim mom... He's the new Mike Cavic! says the swim site... Thanks for the extra ratings boost! smiles the TV network... Let's face it, that 200 fly in London wasn't much of a story, was it? Phelps already proved he can win that one with his goggles filled with water in Beijing. This event was a gimmie gold for the great one. But now there's more, courtesy of the call-it-like-he-sees-it Mr. Clary.

(The story around the 200 fly in London was bound to go something like this: (Cue Gladiator soundtrack) This is the event where it all started, back in the year 2000, when a pubescent Michael Phelps stroked to a 5th place finish in Sydney... It was his one and only Olympic race that did not end on a podium... Actually, that's rather fine, I can hear Dan Hicks voicing it, but that's besides the point...)

Here's what Tyler Clary had to say of his time training with Phelps at Michigan:

“I saw a real lack of preparation (from) him. Basically, he was a swimmer that didn’t want to be there. They can talk about all of these goals and plans and preparation they have. I saw it. I know. It’s different. And I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time.”

Check the dates in question and you'll see that this is even more inflammatory than it sounds. It's royally fucking with the whole Michael Mythology. This isn't the same old refrain of Phelps-didn't-do-shit-after-Beijing. Phelps has been admitting as much ever since his party hearty Poker & More tour of '08 and '09. No, that's old news. We get that, and more power to him for that debauched and well earned victory lap. But Phelps had already left Michigan by then. Clary is talking about before Beijing.

Tyler Clary got to Ann Arbor in the fall of 2007 - when Phelps was reputably in full 8 Gold or Bust focus mode. Except Clary claims that wasn't really the case. He was a freshman back then, and not yet a superstar. He was a comer, no question; at the '08 men's NCAA's, Clary won consols in the 400 IM and the 500 free. He swam plenty fast (3:44.1 / 4:16.8), but he wasn't even in the big final in his individual events. He was a quiet freshman looking on at the king. And by his own eye-witness estimation, at the most pivotal legend making period of all, the king wasn't putting in the work.

I'll be honest - it's not the first time I've heard this. It might be the first eye-witness account to be picked up by a reporter in the weeks before an Olympics, but it's hardly the first eye-witness account to circulate through the swimming world. These stories are out there, being spread by former teammates without apology or secret. The media gospel of MP and the daily facts of training life appear to have a few discrepancies. Some fact-checking might be required.

But do those facts really matter? They don't change the number of gold medals he's won. They will never change the fact that what Phelps did in Beijing was the single greatest performance in Olympic history. Probably for all time. Hell, the charge that he didn't put in the work of others might make it even more impressive!

Nonetheless, the grumbling has been out there for a long time, well before Beijing. There is no disputing the fact that Phelps did indeed put in the work when he was a kid, all the way through his teenage years. That much we can swear to a jury. But since Athens? Yes, Athens, not Beijing... Those many years since Greece appear to be up for dispute.

Of course, this raises the question of the verboten T-word. Talent, that cruel bitch we wish we could discount, wish we could minimize and prove how it's all really fair in the end. It's not. It's no more fair than a six foot nothing no-ups gym rat willing to do whatever it takes to play forward for the Miami Heat. Sorry, kid, Lebron doesn't need to work as hard as you either, whatever he says about his off season routine.

Seeing Tyler Clary's comments, I found myself nodding in solidarity. I used to be you, young Tyler. A masochistic give-me-anything practice fiend whose best events were also the 200 fly and 400 IM. And like you, I used to be bitter as hell at those I deemed to have more talent and a lesser work ethic. (Nice guy though he was, I'll still probably never forgive former teammate Lars Frolander at SMU - an NCAA Swimmer of the Year and eventual Olympic champion in the 100 fly in Sydney. Never saw the guy swim more than 25 yards straight of butterfly; never saw him make more than four workouts a week. Alas...)

Tyler, here's some free advice from beyond the competitive grave: You will someday realize how foolish you sound with all that talk about being the "blue collar worker" and not the talented one. Tyler, you're more gifted than I ever was, more talented than all but a tiny few swimmers who ever lived. That is true regardless of how hard you might work. You're going to wind up on an Olympic podium in a few weeks. Your own talents are absolutely other worldly. I can assure you that countless others out there are working just as hard as you are, and they will never ever sniff an Olympic berth.

Ah, screw all that retired perspective, I'm with you. Watching a once-in-a-century talent day in and day out like that, a guy who just gets the water more than any human ever has... That will get to you. It sucks.

But when you step on the blocks for the 200 fly in London, you can't do a damn thing about it.

The Negativity of Miss Muffat

The incredible back half of France's Camille Muffat... The negative split, such a connoisseur's pleasure. To come home faster than you went out, so simple, so full of intention. You can explain it to any Dry Lander and they'll get it. But not really. It takes a swimmer to truly appreciate it.

If you're into such things, you've probably already heard about the recent exploits of France's negative splitting monster, Camille Muffat. They are swims of beauty, a swimmer's version a circus trick. Swimmers love to share those silly eye-popper splits, the absurd last laps or final 100's that stretch the imagination and make us giddy in that unabashed swimmer geek way... Remember Paul Biedermann's last 50's at the World Champs in Rome back in '09? Remember the way Janet Evans finished her 400 free back in '88 in Seoul? If not, check it out HERE.

Camille Muffat doesn't remember that. She wasn't born until a year later, in October 1989. But what she's doing these days is making Janet's swims look like quaint golden oldies. Check out her summer's greatest hits:

- Back in June at the Canet round of the Mare Nostrum tour, Camille takes out her 400 free in a leisurely 2:04.4. Then she decides to start trying. Last 200: 1:58.5. Final time: 4:02.97. That would have made the U.S. Team, just a tenth back from Allison Schmitt's winning time of 4:02.8. Of contrast: Schmitt swam her race almost exactly the opposite in Omaha, going out in an aggressive 1:58.3 and limping home in 2:04.5. Amazing, yes, but it gets better...

- At the Paris Open last week, Muffat unleashed her negative splitting genius over 800 meters. Here's how she swam the 800 in Paris: First 400 - 4:18. Second 400 - 4:04. Her final time of 8:23.60 would have been 3rd at U.S. Trials, but it's clear the total time was just for play. Her back half of 4:04, that would have placed her 3rd at U.S. Trials too. Without the benefit of the dive, after warming up for eight laps, then flipping and storming home faster than any woman in history over the second half of 800 meters.

Rather impressive. An effort that you'd think would leave a girl gutted on deck, limping her way over to a long well earned warm down... Instead, Muffat hopped out, waited for the men to swim their cute 50 fly in between, then got back on the blocks five minutes later and ripped a 1:56.2 in the 200 free. More U.S. Trials comparisons: That time would have been good enough for second in the women's 200 free in Omaha, half a second faster than Missy Franklin. (1:56.2 is pretty great, especially with zero time to recover, but it's not much for Muffat; she's already been 1:54.6 in season this year...)

We'll see in a few weeks if Muffat can translate these crazy swims into complete efforts in London. Short of a sudden bout of meningitis, there doesn't seem much doubt that she will. With these performances under her belt in recent months, she has to be the clear favorite to win three individual gold medals in London, in the 200, the 400, the 800. Incidentally, something only accomplished once in Olympic history by the great Debbie Meyer back in 1968...

Which presents a fine opportunity for would-be gamblers... Because despite these insane swims, Muffat probably won't go off as the pre-race betting favorite in any event in London. In the 200, she'll have to beat Schmitt, who currently has the fastest time in the world, and Italy's Federica Pellegrini, the world record holder and defending Olympic champ. Meanwhile, in the 400 and 800, Muffat will face hometown queen Rebecca Adlington, the Brit who won both distance events four years ago in Beijing.

Don't be distracted by past performance in years gone by... Place your bets, gamblers, here's a sure thing: the 22-year-old from Nice is going to win the 200, 400, and 800 freestyles at the London Games.

There's nothing negative about those recent splits. Only promise of the gold to come...

So, You're an Olympian, Now What?

Three weeks of pride and madness before the Games...  The chosen ones have moved on. After touching the wall and confirming a dream come true, it's been a double rainbow of bliss ever since. They're in the midst of coming down from that high right about now. Time to sober up and get straight. The Olympics are just three weeks away.

What happens after you make the Team? It goes something like this:

Realize that you've made it, outpouring of unrestrained joy. Climb from water, find a microphone and a television camera shoved in your face before you've caught your breath. Try to say something halfway eloquent. Walk ten steps and find more microphones and more cameras waiting. Keep trying to say the right things. Then a strangely serious man or woman will approach with the air of a CIA spook. No worries, that's just the drug tester. Sign his clipboard, confirm that you'll report to testing when told. Buzz kicks in again, stronger this time. It's sinking in. You find your coach, your teammates waiting in the warm down pool. Hugs, tears, high fives, assorted 'fuck yeahs!'

Then there will be a medal ceremony, more interviews, autographs from throngs of young swim fans... There will be your official Outfitting. This takes longer than you might think. Olympians are given an Olympic amount of SWAG. Talk about a misnomer - this term stands for 'Stuff We All Get'. For these purposes, maybe we should change it to SOG. ('Stuff Olympians Get') In any case, there's a lot of it. It takes about three hours to get measured and outfitted for all the things you'll soon be getting as an Official Member of the Team. (Still makes you giddy to hear, doesn't it? Yes, the buzz is still pumping...)

After the meet ends, there will be a brief respite, a chance to go home for a few days, enjoy the comforts of your own bed before boarding the crazy train bound for London. It won't be relaxing, don't kid yourself. It's going to be another whirlwind of hugs and back slaps. Then you'll kiss your family and friends goodbye, and head to... Knoxville, TN. At least that's where Team USA is headed right about now. First stop on the Traveling Camp of No Distractions.

All up to date? Good, because now comes the hard part. Time to set Trials aside.

Three weeks, that's not enough time to do much. Physically, what's done is done. It's not like you're going to get in better shape over the next few weeks. Too late for those skin-deep, muscle-bound concerns. You either did the work, or you didn't. Chances are, if you've gotten this far, you've done all the work and then some. But below the surface, or to be more specific, below the skull? There is still plenty of time in there. In fact, three weeks is an eternity.

"I can't do a damn thing about their bodies," said the Olympic coach. "There's not enough time. But I might be able to help their brains a bit."

That's the coach's job at this point. This is the time when great coaches go Zen and guide those fragile yet enormous egos onto Olympic podiums. This is also the time when less-than-great coaches lucky enough to coach monster talent tend to screw up their swimmers something fierce. This happens every time, at every Games. I don't need to name names. Think back...

Before the U.S. Trials, one top coach emailed me and made a very wise observation. He pointed out that you will never see more over-coaching at any meet than at the Olympic Trials. It's when coaches are as nervous as their athletes and they just try to do too much. They won't stop talking, won't stop tinkering with strokes, won't stop trying to get everything exactly precisely perfect. Too much of that and your athletes feel it. They feel restricted, start second-guessing themselves. We know where that leads.

I'd go one step further with this coach's assessment: You'll never see more over-coaching than in the period between the Trials and the Olympics. Most countries have had months to adjust to that heady making-the-Team high. In the U.S., for myriad reasons (some good, some questionable), the Trials are pressed right up against the windshield of the Games. This leaves zero room for error.

These are high stakes and heavy highs we're talking about. The sort of things that crack fragile minds in a million pieces... Sure, there's pressure at the Super Bowl, the Finals, the World Series, whatever big time annual sporting circus you want to name. But these events come around every year. There's always next year. Not four years later. In every other case, you have a whole game, a crew of teammates, days or hours over a course or a court... Enough room to make mistakes and overcome. That's not the case with Olympic swimming, where four years of life can come down to twenty-one seconds on stage.

This makes for some fabulous theater for those watching from the sidelines. It can also make these Olympians one stiff breeze from a straight jacket in the weeks leading up to it.

Sometimes the real drama is off stage in those times in between, at tucked away training camps, when newly minted Olympians come down off the Trials high.

How Sweet the Sound

The Comeback of Anthony Ervin It was a long shot. The sort of thing that almost always ends badly, no matter the lessons learned spin in the aftermath of defeat. The hunger returns, the training resumes, the dreams of glory are back. Then they learn, the hard way, that it’s been too long. You’re not so young anymore. You’re no longer fast enough.

Except not this time.

This time, after a decade away, Anthony Ervin stepped on the blocks in the men’s 50 free and blistered onto the Olympic Team at age 31. A dozen years removed from the last time he was on this stage, back in 2000. Ervin is faster now than he was back then, when he was a 19-year-old wunderkind tying Gary Hall, Jr. for gold in Sydney.

The years in between? An unguided tour through Dante’s Inferno. Followed by a pass through Purgatory. And now, back to Paradise…

Before I continue, this program note: There is absolutely no objectivity here. For parts of those lost years, Ervin worked for my school, Imagine Swimming. Even at his most lost – and that was evident to all who knew him then – he was always great with the kids. They identified with him in that natural instinctual way of children. Kids have a hound dog’s sense for smelling a fake. In Ervin, they smelled some truth. Also some danger, which kids like too.

As his comeback flashed promise with big in-season swims this winter, a mutual friend approached my partner Lars and I with an idea: Why doesn’t Imagine sponsor him? Unlike all the others, this comeback of his really seemed to be shaping up. Brilliant idea, thought Lars and I. We got on the phone with Tony and hashed out an agreement.

Perhaps it’s unprofessional of me to be writing about a guy we quite literally bet on. Talk about bias. So be it. His story is just too good. A true Hero’s Quest. Joseph Campbell would have loved it.

As sports fans, we love domination, sure. There’s nothing like watching sheer outsized superhuman greatness. Phelps and Lochte, those are our versions of Lebron and Durant. It’s impossible to relate, and so we worship.

But there’s nothing we love more than the comeback story. The all-too-human damaged star that somehow finds his way back. Guys like Andre Agassi and Josh Hamilton… and Anthony Ervin. They have superhuman athletic gifts too, but they’ve also succumbed to many dark impulses. When they come out the other side, they’re the ones embraced in a way those icons never are.

Throughout the weekend, Tony’s many friends and fans were sharing all-time Tony stories. There are many. One involves a wedding dress, running make-up, and an angry mob… Really. But the Tony story that I’ve always remembered most is one of those quiet, confused moments.

After he left New York and Imagine and headed back to Berkeley, Tony would reappear unannounced on deck from time to time. Once, I think it was back in early 2009 or so, he appeared on a pool deck in TriBeCa looking his most un-Olympian.

“Are you lost?” I asked him, not so nicely.

“Casey, you have no idea,” he said.

He didn’t smile, showed no spark at all. Then, a few Imagine kids started to show up and the old Ervin energy reappeared for them right on cue.

That magnetic energy was on full display this week in Omaha. If you knew him in those lost years, the contrast was striking. Like the breath of life was breathed back into a body after years of gasping and wandering without oxygen.

In his ultra-eloquent post-race interviews, between Old Testament references and big word droppings, he’s been careful to thank the many who’ve seen him through this journey. When he was on his descent, touring the various levels of the Inferno, Ervin seemed alone, even among friends. Now he’s well aware that he’s never been alone at all.

As the gospel goes – “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see..."

Amazing grace, indeed.

New York City Splash

Lia Neal: Olympian, New Yorker, Young Ambassador... Forget the stars for a moment. Take a look over at lane eight. You'll find a young Olympian from somewhere different - the greatest city on earth. About time Gotham got on the map. Lia Neal, lives in Brooklyn, trains in Manhattan, is now an Olympian.

Are you familiar with her story? You can be forgiven if not. Last night in Omaha was one of the all time great nights of swimming. Every superstar delivered. Lochte, Phelps, Franklin, Soni, Coughlin, every last A-lister was in action Saturday night, and every one of them made the Team. Nights like that, it's easy to miss something special happening over in those end lanes...

A brief history of 17-year-old Lia Neal: She's been a record-setting phenom forever. She broke National Age Group records in the sprints at age 10 and 12. Four years ago, she made Trials at age 12. The New York Times ran a feature on her at 13. They wrote about more than her precocious talent. See, Lia Neal could also be the poster child for the Make a Splash campaign. She's a biracial barrier breaker. Her dad is African-American and her mom is Asian. (As my wife and I affectionately refer to our daughter - she's a "halfsie.")

Last night she became just the second African-American woman to make a U.S. Olympic swim team. (Maritza Correia was the first, back in 2004...) I'd like to add that she's also the second halfise to make the Team in 2012. Nathan Adrian is also half Asian. Must be something to those Chinese moms with the sprinters!

This diversity will generate plenty of press, and rightly so. It's the best possible thing that could happen to this sport. Swimming needs more color. And I mean that in more than just the literal black and white sense. We need more melting in the pot. That also extends to where these Olympians come from. Cities, not just roots.

The procession of California, Florida, and Texas gets a little old sometimes. Swimmers come from the other 47 states too. But how many come from New York City? Has there ever been another U.S. Olympic swimmer born and bred from NYC? Not to my knowledge. At least not since World War II.

New Yorkers have pride in excess. Actually, we have pretty much everything in excess. The best and the brightest come here. You either make it, or your spirits are broken and you limp away to more relaxed pastures. (As Sinatra crooned: "If I can make it here...") But for all that we-can-do-anything ambition, Gotham has never produced many great swimmers. This is understandable, I suppose. It's a tough place to be an athlete. Temptation is ubiquitous. Distractions are endless. Not an easy town for a teenager to wake before dawn and take the subway over to morning workout.

But Lia Neal just did it. From way out in lane eight, she charged onto the Olympic team with a tough 4th place finish in the 100 free. There won't be small town parades in her honor; her local paper won't put her on the front page; her school probably won't treat her like an OMG deity. Those sorts of reactions are nice, but they're for smaller towns. That is, everywhere else. Back home, there is sure to be plenty of praise for Lia. But it will be New York style. No bullshit, totally genuine props, followed by the impatient and hard to impress 'what's next?'

For Lia Neal, that could mean relay gold in London. She's an Olympian from New York City.

Strike up the Sinatra. She won't be the last.

The Big O and the Traveling Swim Circus

Big ratings, packed houses - and packed pools in Omaha...  The cabbie knew all about it. So did the late night Motel 6 desk clerk on the outskirts of town. So does everyone else in this Gateway to the West. They're a city on the move; indeed Forbes magazine ranked it America's number one Fastest Recovering City. This is a town that's aware of its growing stature and eager to get the respect it's long deserved. The sport of swimming can relate.

For the last five days, Omaha has rolled out the red carpet for swimming - and swimming has returned the favor, delivering big time TV ratings and packed houses at the beautiful Century Link arena each night.

After spending the first three nights of U.S. Trials watching the action live on NBC from my couch, I boarded the 8pm Thursday flight from La Guardia to Omaha. (Bad planning on my part, as that departure time meant missing all of Night Four...) I got caught up on the results with a flurry of texts upon landing, then got caught up on everything else from our cabbie and the desk clerk.

In the morning I caught up with some friends from USA Swimming during prelims. They had that restrained but giddy excitement of a championship team at halftime, refusing to claim victory just yet, but ready with the evidence. First, NBC's ratings... They've been killing it.

On the first two nights, the live broadcast scored a 4.7 rating and an 8 share. They won both nights. On the third night, ratings crept higher still, as NBC scored a 5.0 and a 9 share. Then on Thursday night, they dipped slightly (Thursday always brings the heavy TV competition), but produced a still strong 4.3 and another 8 share.

A note on these always esoteric ratings: The first number, the rating, refers to the percentage of TV households watching a given program. The second number, the share, refers to the percentage of TVs in use that are tuned to a given program. The current estimate is that there are 115.9 million TV households in the U.S. Therefore, when these ratings are converted to number of viewers, this means that around five and a half million Americans have been watching swimming every night this week. Watching swimming that is not the Olympics. That has never happened before, not even close.

To experience it live is something to behold. They've been averaging around 14,000 tickets a night. Sold out or damn close every finals session. Even the prelims are reportedly sold out this Saturday morning. Watching swimming in a sold out frenzied arena filled with all the slick loud production of an NBA finals game is something the sport has just never experienced. It's disorienting in the best of ways.

I've spent three decades going to swim meets, seen them large and small from damn near every angle. There's never been a meet like this. Sure, the Olympics - by definition - take it to the next level, but that's something else entirely, a closed society of competition available only to a minuscule silver of the world's best athletes. The Trials on the other hand are open to many. Too many some are saying.

There's the catch: the times. They're slow. Slower than they should be, and the reason is pretty clear to most coaches. There are too many swimmers here. Around 1,850. Only 52 make the Team. Only around 200 have even a remote shot at making the Team. This means that 90% of the athletes at this meet are really Trials tourists.

These tourists create packed warmup pools, endless heats of prelims, and less than optimal conditions for the true contenders to be at their best. If you swim your prelim heat of the 400 IM in the late afternoon, after a dozen heats of swimmers going slower than their seed time, then have little time to lunch and nap before finals, well that doesn't exactly set you up for an all time effort at night.

"They need to be real careful that the marketing side of things doesn't overtake the athletes as the top priority," said one top coach.

From one angle, you can see that happening, and these grumbles are valid. But from another, you need to ask yourself - would the scale of this event be possible without those eighteen hundred athletes / tourists? They're the ones making this the event it is. It's their friends and families who fly to Omaha and pack the stands, who tune in back home and drive the TV ratings.

Some would disagree, and claim that U.S. Trials could be just as big - both in ticket sales and ratings - with harder qualifying standards and many less swimmers in the meet. (Like it used to be, a generation ago - when it was staged in 1,000-seat natatoriums and aired on TV a week later...) Maybe the one-two fame punch of Phelps / Lochte has lifted the sport to that level - where events can be driven by fans not of the friends and family variety. Maybe we're getting close, but we're not there yet. It's a tricky balance.

However, for swimmers and coaches grousing about these packed conditions in Omaha, there might be something else worth remembering: Conditions are never ideal at the Olympics either. Insane security, mind boggling logistics, impatient international media - these are things that can affect performance too. Time to get used to being out of your comfort zone.

Because these are Trials. The final test to see if you have what it takes, no matter what stands in your way.

Rumblings of Relay Doom

Four years ago, an epic in Beijing... Is an encore even possible in the men's 4 x 100? It's too soon. Yeah, I know. They haven't even swum the final yet. But I'm not the only one reading the writing on the wall. It's written in Australian. Similar language, easy to read...

Maybe in the finals of the men's 100 free, things will break wide open. Maybe Nathan Adrian and Jimmy Feigen will both go 47-mid. Maybe miracle man Jason Lezak will find his way back on the Team and Olympic lightning will strike twice.

Maybe, maybe, maybe... When you come across that many unknowns in business, you don't make the bet.

Because right now, here's how things look: The American men will be fighting for the bronze in the men's 4 x 100 free relay in London. As it stands now, the Aussies are in another league. The French look better too. And the Russians are to be reckoned with.

Right now, the top American sprinter is over a second slower than his Aussie counterpart, James Magnussen, in 2012. Nathan Adrian's top-seed time in the semi-finals would make him the 4th best Aussie, 1/100th behind Matt Targett and two tenths ahead of Eamon Sullivan's best this year.

Of course, the Americans have something they do not. That is: the two best swimmers in history. (Yes, Ryan Lochte has surpassed Mark Spitz as the 2nd best ever behind Phelps...) Neither will be racing in that 100 free final, but both will without question be on that relay in London. Phelps will almost certainly lead off in 47-something. Can Lochte do the same? His 48.9 in semis wasn't exactly an eye-opener, but then we know he's still in tune-up mode, focused on filling his Olympic scorecard with a Phelpsian laundry list of events.

Which means we're really only talking about two spots available. Places 3rd through 6th will be relegated to prelims only, despite the inevitable grumbles.

So, like the now champion Miami Heat, the question comes down to the Other Guys. Like Lebron and D-wade, Phelps and Lochte must carry the load. That goes without saying. But they won't win without a lot of help. It just doesn't look like it will be there.

Yes, we've heard this before. Do you remember Rowdy Gaines's pre-race call before that relay in Beijing? It went something like this: "Dan, I've done this race on paper so many times and I just don't see how the Americans can win. The French just look like the better team." The sad settling for silver went right up until the last lap, with Lezak still way back. With forty meters to go, Hicks says: "The United States trying to hang on for silver..."

And then...

Then, the greatest finish to any race in Olympic history. Watch it again on YouTube. It holds up. Still gives you chills. Wherever you're from, I imagine it will be giving swim fans chills for the next century. It's swimming's version of the Shot Heard Round the World.

These things don't happen twice. Especially when the odds are even longer four years later. The French were very very good in Beijing, the deserved favorite. In London, the Aussies will be better.

But as they say at the track: That's why they run the race.

Just don't bet on it.

Shelf Life of a Rivalry

The "story" of Hansen vs. Kitajima...  The king was there looking on. He was sitting smiling in the cheap seats, wearing a mesh hat with a sequined #1 emblazoned on the front. Rest assured, he was neither impressed nor threatened. Kosuke Kitajima was there, most likely, to support his training partner at USC. The one who finished second tonight - Eric Shanteau. The guy who won the race was a vanquished rival, a proud memory. All apologies for pissing on an admirable comeback and a nice London storyline, but the so-called rivalry between Brendan Hansen and Kosuke Kitajima ended long ago.

NBC does not want to hear this, and neither does Hansen. But it's true.


1. Kosuke Kitajima is the greatest breaststroker who's ever lived. In a few weeks in London, he will likely complete swimming's version of the Triple Double. That is, double breaststroke gold at three straight Olympics.

2. Brenden Hansen is one of the best breaststrokers ever. A former world record holder with four Olympic medals - a silver and bronze individually and a couple of medley relay golds. He's in the conversation with the great ones, but he's a big notch below his one-time nemesis.

3. From 2004 - 2007, these two had an incredible rivalry. Kitajima took him at the Games in Athens; Hansen claimed the world titles a year later in Montreal. Hansen got the best of him again in 2007, in the 100 breast at the Worlds in Melbourne.

4. In 2008, Kitajima ended this rivalry for good. He defended both breaststroke Olympic titles. Hansen finished 4th in the 100, and did not make the Team in the 200.

Which brings us to a curious statement made by Hansen in his post-race interview with NBC's Andrea Kremer... When asked what Kitajima should think about this race in Omaha, Hansen replied rather defiantly: "Now he knows how hard it is to make the U.S. Olympic team."

Ok... Fair enough. It's beyond dispute that Team USA is the single hardest Olympic team to make on the planet, in any sport. Most of the time. Except, for example, in the case of the men's breaststroke events, where it's actually harder to make the Japanese team these days.

Take a look at the current world rankings. The top two ranked men in the world are both Japanese right now. Kitajima is back ranked number one, as is his custom in Olympic years. Who's next? Ryo Tateishi, with a time of 59.60. Eight one-hundredths faster than Hansen's winning time tonight, and half a second faster than the time Shanteau needed to grab the second spot on the US team. Put another way: If Hansen was Japanese, his comeback would not have resulted in a return to the Games.

This is not meant to criticize a rare successful comeback. Lord knows, there are plenty of unsuccessful comebacks to poke fun at these days... (21st place, Ed Moses? Really?) No, Hansen deserves a bow of respect for what he's done. He's back in the medal hunt after walking away and drying off completely for a few years. Plenty of retired egos think that's easy. The bodies scattered by the side of the comeback trail this year prove that it's anything but.

Still, in the rush to sell every developing Story of these coming Games, let's be honest. By definition, a rivalry means a competition between perceived equals. There's no equality here. Kitajima ended that discussion four years ago.

That is, until Brendan Hansen proves all the haters wrong - and wins that long deferred gold on July 29th in London.

Kingdom of Troy

One coach, four of six Olympians on Day One...  How'd your crew swim today? A few best times maybe, did they handle the Trials pressure? If it could have been better, maybe you should take some notes from this man...

On night one of the U.S. Trials, Gregg Troy's Gators owned Omaha. There were six Olympic spots available. Coach Troy produced four of them. A rather impressive .666 batting average. Even the devil bows in respect.

To recap:

- Ryan Lochte controls the 400 IM from the first stroke of butterfly. I have never watched a more sound defeat of Michael Phelps. It's never happened, ever really. And that's with huge props to Phelps tonight. The guy swam a 4:07, and he'll be the first to admit that he did it on one year of training. 2009, '10, and most of '11 were really a wash for him. It's a testament to his other-worldly abilities that the guy can go that time with the work he's put in over the last four years. But Lochte has earned every step of his ascendance. He really swam a 4:05 tonight. Under the flags, he looked like Usain Bolt finishing the 100 meters in Beijing, without the showboating. Lochte just shut it down. Phelps' world record is under watch in London.

- In the men's 400 free, Peter Vanderkaay had to have a disastrous swim not to make the Team. He was the top seed by three seconds. In the end, he had to fight for it. To his side in lane three, Charlie Houchin gave him everything he could handle over 350 meters, but over in lane five, Vanderkaay's Florida training partner Conor Dwyer was just biding his time. As they turned for home, Dwyer flipped in third, yet it was clear he was already on the Team. Watch enough races and last lap momentum becomes clear as can be. In the end, it was a couple of Coach Troy's boys - PVK and Dwyer. The times were less than impressive, but who cares, sometimes it's all about the race.

- The women's 400 IM was pretty easy to handicap. Forget about the small little yards pool, where lots of good swimmers can look great with big walls. Elizabeth Beisel isn't like that. This year at the women's NCAA's she placed a distant third in her signature event. No matter. She's the defending world champion in the big pool where it matters, and tonight she showed why. With a backbreaking backstroke leg, Beisel ended the race at the halfway mark. Cal's Caitlin Leverenz, who'd beaten her by a second and a half at NCAA's, grabbed the second Olympic berth. Chalk up spot number four for Coach Troy.

How does this happen? How does one coach guide two-thirds of Olympians onto the Team in these two events - the 400 IM and the 400 Free? First thing you should remember - it's impossible to fake these particular races. There are plenty of races that can be faked with sheer talent, as much as I hate that awful T-word... But the 400s? Those are truth in eight beautiful brutal laps.

Coach Troy believes in that Truth. That's why his swimmers swim like such shit in-season. Did you watch Lochte at those Grand Prix meets this spring? His sponsors did, and they were worried. He looked like a tired, beaten dog. And he was. This spring, Elizabeth Beisel wasn't anywhere close to the best swimmer in the NCAA. Now she's making a case for the best swimmer on earth, in the sport's ultimate all-around event. Weeks ago, I heard talk that Vanderkaay was cooked, that he wouldn't even make the Team. Heard talk that Dwyer's best days were behind him, that he was a short course guy, and what a shame that his best events happened to match up with Lochte's.

Now those four are Olympians. Why is that? Because their coach doesn't take his eye off the prize. This isn't just some clichéd sports talk. It takes true balls not to care about all those steps in between. Steps where plenty of folks are watching and judging and wondering why your athletes are swimming so damn slow... What kind of confidence does that require? To keep the course, and know your crew will peak when it's truly time?

I'm biased, this was my Coach too, back in the day. I had a lot of them, more than a few were also Olympic coaches with plenty of champions to their credit, but only one deserves the capital C.

Seven more days in Omaha... Who's taking notes?

The Week Before

Dealing with doubt and dread on Trials Eve... It's quiet. Almost too quiet, right coaches? When you're laying there late at night, sleep a lost notion, rehearsing events you can't control... Have you prepared them perfectly?

And how about you, swimmers? Have you mastered the Power of Intention? Have you put in the work, day in, day out, and put yourself in that Zen zone of No Regrets? Or do you hear that haunting voice at your back? The voice of doubt that creeps in and won't let go...

This is the bad time. The time of dread and demons. Six days until the reckoning for every American swimmer with an Olympic dream. No matter how well prepared and mentally mighty you may be, the week before is brutal. Your taper is drawing to a close, the training is done, you just want to board that plane and get it on. But first, some dark nights of the soul.

I remember the soundtrack to my own dark nights, sixteen years ago. I can't remember what I was listening to sixteen hours ago, but I can remember with dark clarity listening to a brooding Lou Reed album called "Set the Twilight Reeling" in the days before the '96 Canadian Trials. With song titles like "Finish Line" and "Hang On to Your Emotions", it suited my self-important, self-imposed pressurized state. Embarrassing to recall how much it felt like a matter of death and life. Trials would be either an execution or an elevation. There was no in between.

Some perspective would help. Like the kind found by Eric Shanteau, who truly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders four years ago, in the lead up to the 2008 Trials. In addition to all the usual Will-I-Make-It? baggage carried by every competitor, Shanteau was also carrying around a cruel, and still secret, diagnosis of testicular cancer. Somehow the guy performed like a Jedi in Omaha and made the Team in the 200 breast. Take that Big C. When he disclosed his diagnosis days after the Trials, he instantly became a Story. Up there on the press podiums with Phelps and Coughlin, getting calls from Lance, well wishes flooding his Inbox from strangers across the country.

ESPN.com recently caught up with him and discussed his last four cancer-free years. In the story, Shanteau shared the void he felt after the Games, when all the attention vanished and he was left alone with a body that was "obviously capable of growing cancerous tumors." Then his outlook changed. As he returned to the water, he started thrashing his best times, appearing on international podiums, elevating his game to gold medal contention.

Compared to cancer, all pressure is relative. Safe to say Shanteau is sleeping soundly this week.

But what about Ryan Lochte? Are all those sex symbol, Vogue cover, better-than-Phelps expectations getting to him? His week in Omaha is not exactly an open road to Games glory. In more than one of his prime events, he's going to have to be sharp as hell just to get his hand on the wall first or second. If Phelps swims the 400 IM (which now appears to be likely), making the Team in this event might be harder than winning gold in London. With all respect to Hungary's Lazlo Cseh, the three best 400 IM'ers on earth right now are Americans. Meaning, the U.S. entry in London could be Tyler Clary and Michael Phelps. That would be a hell of a start to the week for the now face of the sport. I don't see that happening, the smart money has Lochte touching the wall first, but that scenario is less than a long shot.

What about the 200 free? Of course he'll be on the relay, but is a top two finish a lock? And to really raise the doomsday scenario, what about the 200 back? Sure, Lochte is the defending Olympic champ and remains the favorite for gold, but Clary is looming, and so is young Ryan Murphy of Bolles. It's worth noting that Murphy beat Lochte head-to-head in Gainesville this month. While little can be read into Lochte's untapered swims, word is that he took that race much more seriously than most, competing in Speedo's full Fastskin "system."

How's he sleeping this week? Is the voice of doubt starting to whisper? Unlikely. If Lochte's public persona is to be believed, and it certainly seems genuine, he seems like the last guy to battle any demons of dread.

Maybe that's because he's always grasped what Shanteau had to learn in the hardest way possible: That this is all just a sport and a pastime. Something that's supposed to be fun. And what's more fun than chasing a dream?

Good luck in Omaha, everyone.

The Character Clause

Codes of Conduct and Olympians Behaving Badly... It was a hot spring night by the beach. A couple of newly minted American Olympic swimmers were blowing off some steam. Scratch that cliché - they were getting shit faced. They were pounding Coors Light cans in the parking lot, before they intended to charge into a divey bar called Pete's and pound many more. They were a few feet from the sand in Neptune Beach, Florida, and about twenty-five minutes away from the Bolles School in Jacksonville, where they'd trained for the previous year to become members of Team USA.

With a few ounces left in the last can, some cops took notice. Interrupted their staggering entry into the bar. One Olympian bolted, the other stood his ground; their non-Olympian friends swayed nearby. The one who stayed was less than respectful to the curious cops. The dreaded Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am? may have been uttered... This never ends well. In this case it resulted in an arrest. And then it got worse.

The swimmer's bitter long time rival learned of this incident soon after. The rival had placed fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials a few weeks earlier. The arrested swimmer in question placed 2nd. The swimmer who had placed third immediately retired after the race. Meaning that the bitter 4th place rival was now an alternate on the U.S. Team. And he intended on getting back to the Games by any means necessary. He was determined to remove his rival and take his spot.

In this case, that meant raising the Character Clause - that shades of grey code of conduct that Olympians from every nation are frequently forced to sign after making the Team. Basically, it means: Don't bring shame on yourself or your nation. Or we reserve the right to throw you off the Team.

This shockingly spiteful scenario went all the way to court. The drunken swimmer outside the bar was allowed to stay a member of Team USA. The bitter rival retired shortly thereafter. Here are their names: Drunken Olympian - Greg Burgess, winner of the Olympic silver medal in the 200 IM at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Bitter rival - Ron Karnaugh, former American record-holder in the 200 IM.

At the time, I was roommates with Burgess. I had a front row seat to this ridiculous debacle.

I share this story now, after all these years, because yet again the Character Clause has reared its judgey head in the lead up to another Games. In this case, surrounding the gun-toting, bar-fighting, journalist-threatening Aussie macho tool Nick D'Arcy. You might remember him from a previous post - The Price of Momentary Madness. In that story, I described the time D'Arcy assaulted fellow swimmer Simon Cowley, messed him up in a brutal life-shattering way, and then spent the next three years apologizing, declaring bankruptcy, and trying to get back on the Aussie team.

Well, D'Arcy's back now, and he's back in trouble. This time for posting pics of himself, along with fellow Olympian Kendrick Monk, toting an assortment of assault weapons in a California gun shop. Take a LOOK. That's D'Arcy on the left, looking like a pretty boy wanna-be gangster. Clearly, there's no comparing actual assault with an ill-advised photo op. Yet the Australian Olympic Committee frowned on it enough to declare that both D'Arcy and Monk must leave the Olympic Village immediately after they finish competing in London.

To steal a line from Gary Hall, Jr., Nick D'Arcy is as sharp as a marble. It's almost comical what a horrendous example he is for the Aussie Olympic team. I say 'almost' because there's nothing actually comical about the damage he inflicted on Cowley. But what's funny (in a depressing sort of way) is that he truly doesn't get it. When questioned recently by a journalist about the Cowley saga at a meet in Irvine, CA, D'Arcy replied with a sneer: "Careful." As in: "Watch what you're saying punk, or I'll fuck you up." ie: the exact same response that got him in all the trouble in the first place.

Now, there's no comparing this clueless sad sack with the momentarily lapse of drunkenness by Greg Burgess. It's worth noting that Burgess went on to become a proud and decorated member of the U.S. Marine Corps. No telling what D'Arcy will go on to do, but whatever the over / under is, I'm betting the under. These two have almost nothing in common.

However, they do have something vital in common: They are both world class swimmers capable of standing on an Olympic podium. Burgess raced to silver in the 200 IM back in Barcelona; the smart money is on D'Arcy to win silver too, behind Phelps in the 200 fly in London. So, the question is: Does a lapse in character forfeit you from competing at the Games? Where is that line drawn? With the law, or with something more essential, more Olympian?

This is part of what gives the Games its aura - Olympians are hoisted up on a pedestal high above that of other professional athletes. The expectation of admirable character among Olympic athletes is part of what sells the Games. (Never mind how disingenuous it is in countless cases...)

It's what makes Michael Phelps taking a hit from a bong a story. That's no more a story than a college freshman having his first shot of tequila. It's amusing that the moralists try to make it anything more.

But where to draw the line? Drinking outside bars, smoking pot, posing with unloaded guns - that, sad to say, describes a large swath of American men. Guys who don't get suspended from their jobs because of the ways they might misbehave in their off-hours...

Lumping Greg Burgess and Michael Phelps into a category with Nick D'Arcy is unfair. And that's the point. The "character clause" that hovers over Olympians is utterly arbitrary. It's a false ever-shifting sense of enforced morality based on something that the Games never were. (NOTE: This is entirely separate from cheating. There are Drugs, as in the kind used to gain an unfair, immoral edge, and then there are drugs - the kinds used to, well, mess you up in let-loose ways...)

World class athletes misbehave. Probably more than the rest of us, given their resources and get-out-of-jail-free cards.

But how does that relate to what they do in the water?

The NCAA is Un-American

And that's a good thing. The issue of foreign Olympians training at U.S. colleges...  That headline is not meant to inflame. It's just a fact. In many quarters, calling someone "un-American" is akin to hate speech. In this case, in reference to an athletic institution based in the United States, it's simply the way it is. See, for decades now, the NCAA has been the principle development system of the world's greatest Olympic athletes. Many of those athletes carry American passports and go for gold under the Stars & Stripes; many more do not.

This upsets some folks. Well meaning Americans who seem to be believe that it's the duty of American universities to prepare only American athletes for the Olympics. Never mind the fact that the USOC does not give a single penny to these colleges to fund that perceived duty. So, apparently it's just supposed to come from some vague altruistic notions of nationalism?

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal got in on the debate - with a grossly jingoistic piece entitled Schools That Train the Enemy. (Nice to see Rupert Murdoch's always classy fingerprints on his illustrious paper...) The language in the piece makes the skin crawl. In addition to the "enemy" in the headline, there's a sidebar called "Rating the Traitors" (an honor won by Auburn), and words like "damage" and "threat" sprinkled throughout the piece. Fair and balanced, indeed.

Clearly I take exception. And unlike the Journal, I'll make no pretense of any objectivity. My bias is huge. I was the "enemy." I received all the spoils and expertise of NCAA swimming, and then I went off and competed for Canada at the Olympics. My business partner found his way from Germany to Cal Berkeley, where he was the captain of the Golden Bears his senior year, and was a member of their U.S. Open record-breaking 4 x 100 free relay back in 2000. Suppose he's the enemy too. A couple of damaging threats who now own a school that teaches thousands of mostly American children how to swim...

For the two of us, and a great many of our friends, the NCAA was un-American in the best possible way.

But I guess all that big picture context is besides the point. The question remains - should American coaches at American colleges be preparing top foreign athletes to compete against Americans at the Olympics? Is there an inherent conflict of interest there?

First, some facts and figures: In 2008, USA Swimming did a study on the number of foreign swimmers competing at the top level of the NCAA. At the 2008 men's and women's Division I NCAA champs, they found that 48 different countries were represented. The Olympic Games could not top that level of international participation until 1936 - when 49 countries competed at the Berlin Games. This means that our current NCAA Swimming championships are a bigger international event than the first eight Olympics.

Hans Chrunak, the former head coach of the Swedish national team from 1991 to 2000, was once asked who was the biggest sponsor of Swedish swimming. Chrunak thought for a moment, then replied matter-of-factly: "That would be the NCAA." An unlikely reply perhaps. One would expect an apparel company, or perhaps a petroleum company like Phillips 66. But no, for the Swedes, their biggest benefactor was the NCAA. When Chrunak made that statement a few years back, there were 51 Swedish swimmers competing in the NCAA. Now, not every one of those 51 were receiving full scholarships, and not all went on to make the Swedish Olympic Team, but consider the resources and the finances that the NCAA was devoting to these 51 Swedes. Even if each one was receiving a partial scholarship worth $10,000 a year, that's still a half million dollar investment each year in Sweden's swimming program.

One can see how that might rub certain Go U-S-A'ers the wrong way. Should those scholarships and those dollars have been spent on American kids? Well, if those Americans were better qualified, yes. If not, then absolutely not. (How do you feel about affirmative action? What's your stance on isolationism? How do you define your patriotism? This particular issue can quickly slip and slide onto bigger pastures...)

The greatest coaches in the U.S. are often divided on this delicate question. On one hand, you have Texas' Eddie Reese and Stanford's (now retired) Skip Kenney. These two elder statesmen are widely regarded as coaches who've seldom been interested in international swimmers at their schools. That's not to say it was a hard and fast rule for these men. I can rattle off a number of Canadian swimmers who competed for the Cardinal. And Israeli breaststroker Imri Ganiel (1:00.9 in the 100) just recently signed at Texas. Just two examples, plenty more, yet these two perennial powers have mostly been stocked with US swimmers through the years.

Contrast that with the longtime leaders of Auburn and Florida. As the head coach of Auburn from 1990 to 2007, David Marsh took the Tigers to prominence by focusing more on top foreign swimmers than anyone else. Sprint kings Freddy Bousquet and Cesar Cielo, to name the two most obvious. Meanwhile, Florida head coach Gregg Troy quite literally made his coaching name by developing international talent. At the Bolles School, where he coached for twenty years, he guided world beating talents like Surinam's Anthony Nesty and Spain's Martin Zubero, Olympic champions in 1988 and 1992, respectively. Add these guys to the Journal's "enemy" list too... (More bias, I was one of Coach Troy's "international" swimmers at Bolles. At the 1996 Games, we had 18 different countries represented in Atlanta. Two Thai friends and I made t-shirts that proudly proclaimed "Bolles Nation.")

Fast forward to today: Gregg Troy is the head coach of the U.S. men's Olympic swim team. Dave Marsh is now the CEO and Head Elite Coach of SwimMAC - a United States Olympic Committee Center of Excellence. So, is it fair to say that these two world class coaches may have improved their craft working with all those world class foreign talents? So much so that these two are now charged with developing and leading Team USA on the biggest stage possible.

The career arcs of Marsh and Troy reveal something frequently missed when folks make their isolationist arguments in favor of keeping foreign swimmers out of the NCAA. Both coaches and swimmers improve thanks to that international presence. Want to be the best? Put yourself around the best possible talent. American swimmers are better thanks to the presence of foreign athletes side by side in their lanes at college. And American coaches are better too, when given the opportunity to work with top talent from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. How could that not help a team improve in every way?

So, here's to the enemies. The foreigners, the ones who cross oceans and borders and arrive at American colleges determined to improve themselves... By doing so, they also improve all those young entitled American kids around them.

No thanks necessary.

For Love and Hate

Coughlin and Phelps - A Contrast in Outlooks It gets old. It does for everyone. The mornings, rising before dawn isn't fun, never is. Being sore all the time for years on end, I don't miss that. The ever-present pressure, the cloud that follows you, forever questioning your every move, whether this decision or that will help you be at your best. One can understand the longing to escape.

It's a seldom reported side to the supposed glory of the Games: Many athletes, the ones nearing the end, just can't wait to get away.

That's why you hear the stories of swimmers who retire and choose to stay dry - for years. Those swimmed-out souls whose only contact with water is the shower after they've swum their final race... It seems Michael Phelps is among this disgruntled group.

Today on ESPN.com, Rick Reilly wrote a piece that led off like this: "Michael Phelps can't wait for these coming Olympics -- to end."

It went on to detail how much Phelps truly dislikes the water, how for all his world travels, he hasn't seen much of anything, how he just wants to get out of the pool and on to the golf course. Take a look. Reilly was sympathetic to Michael's "plight", even if he clearly doesn't get it. For those that do, the empathy might be a little harder to come by. On the one hand, there's burnout. Fair enough, every swimmer can relate. But on the other there's perspective. Like the kind expressed by Natalie Coughlin...

Right next to that Phelps piece, ESPN.com ran a story entitled "Coughlin's run a bit under radar." It revealed a very different mindset, from a swimmer who's been there every step of the way with Phelps; their careers have unfolded almost exactly in parallel. For the last decade, Natalie Coughlin has been America's premier female swimmer. While her aquatic achievements aren't quite Phelpsian (no one's are), she has steadily compiled one of the greatest careers in Olympic history. Indeed, if she has another standout Games in London, Coughlin will go down as the most decorated female athlete in U.S. Olympic history. She has eleven medals now, just one behind Jenny Thompson. If she wins two in London, she'll be second in total medals only to Phelps, and first among all U.S. women in any sport.

While their careers have followed the same current, it's clear that their present outlooks could not be more different. Phelps told Rick Reilly that he's so sick of the water that when he goes to the beach, he doesn't even want to get in. Consider that for a second. It's more than a little depressing to read that the greatest swimmer in the history of the world hates to be in water. So much so that the thought of diving through the waves on a hot summer's day repels him.

Now contrast that with Coughlin's comments about her career as a swimmer. A click away on ESPN today, here's what she had to say: "I love the entire process. I love the day-to-day. As much as I hate being tired all the time, I love pushing myself in training and I love being outdoors. As I get older, I realize more and more of my friends have to sit in an office, in a cubicle. I get to watch the sun rise, I get to travel the world and take care of my body and that's my job. That's really cool. That alone keeps me going."

As I was saying, there's burnout, and then there's perspective. It might suck to wake up at 5am most days, it might be a bummer to fly across the world all the time and see very little, but does it suck as much as being chained to a cubicle? Earning enough to be well ensconced in the 1% while getting paid to swim?

This is not meant to bash Phelps's current outlook. Beyond the endless training, the guy has had to shoulder the weight of the sport for years now. That's a hell of a burden. Plenty of folks will say: 'well, then why didn't he just retire after Beijing and be done with it?' Like it was that easy... That wasn't an option. Not for a guy who's spoken so much of wanting to 'change the sport', of wanting to elevate it and bring it to the masses.

Those are the words of an ambassador. By definition: "a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity."

It might take some dry years away, but here's hoping the love will return someday. Because, as Natalie Coughlin still appreciates, that specified activity is a very beautiful thing indeed.

The Seaweed Streak

In Praise of Murray Rose, Australia's Original Thorpedo... 1939 - 2012, RIP "Wow, he was handsome," said my wife, taking a long look at a long ago cover of Sports Illustrated.

It was hard to disagree. The guy looked like a sun-baked superhero. See for yourself, right HERE: Rose as SI cover boy back on August 14, 1961, over half a century ago. Back then, Murray Rose was the greatest distance swimmer in history, the winner of four Olympic gold medals, a sporting icon Down Under whose fame at home was said to exceed Mickey Mantle's in the States.

Rose died last Sunday, April 15, of leukemia. He was 73. Over the last few days, I've been reading his many obits. (Here's a nice one in the New York Times.) The man had a story to tell, a life worth remembering...

First, his Olympic record: In 1956, at the Melbourne Olympics, 17-year-old Rose won gold in the 400, the 1500, and as a member of the Aussie's winning 4 x 200 free relay. Four years later, now the team captain of the USC Trojans, Rose returned to the Games in Rome, where he defended his Olympic crown in the 400 free, added a silver in the mile, and a bronze on the 4 x 200 relay. It's said that he would have added three more medals in those same events at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, but by that time, Rose was immersed in a Hollywood acting career.

Aside from those outsized Olympic achievements, Murray Rose had another claim to fame: his diet. See, Rose was a vegan, a proponent of raw foods and only organically grown fruits and vegetables. Goes without saying, he was a few decades ahead of the foodie curve. He dined on seaweed and sunflower seeds and produce grown out back where he could see it pulled from the earth. In the late 50's after he'd exploded to prominence, his vegetarianism was the subject of countless articles. Indeed, he may have been the sporting world's first celebrity to promote natural foods. But unlike so many of today's fanatical holier-than-thou eaters, Rose was adamant about never pushing his dietary agenda on others. According to SI, he also had a "corresponding resentment of having others' opinions forced on him." In short, he made his own decisions and lived by his own set of values.

In that same SI story way back when, they called him "an Englishman by birth, an Australian by law, and an American by preference." Some background: Rose was born at the dawn of World War II in Scotland. His parents wanted to emigrate to the States, but they had some difficulties with immigration. Instead, they made their way to Australia, moving young Murray out of harm's way as the war intensified in Europe. The family settled within spitting distance of the Pacific, in an apartment overlooking Sydney harbor. Rose spent every day of his childhood with his toes in the water. He was "discovered" by a local swim coach when he was just 5-years-old. A dozen years later, he was the world's greatest swimmer - and the biggest star in his land, when Australia hosted the 1956 Melbourne Games.

Then, he was off to USC, leading his parents' long deferred American dream. His father, now a prominent advertising executive in Sydney, took a job in New York, while Murray settled into L.A. life as a Trojan. He swam for a young then-unproven coach named Peter Daland; Rose was soon elected SC's team captain.

By all accounts, Murray was a supremely humble, honest soul. He had some decent success in Hollywood, with a few roles opposite stars of the day like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter, but once admitted he lacked the passion to truly commit to acting. He never had that problem with swimming. In the pool, his commitment was complete.

Rose was known for his ability always to win the close one. He was a pure racer, a guy who lived to be tested in head-to-head competition. 43 years ago, Sports Illustrated produced one of the all-time great quotes from any Olympian, when they asked Rose about his ruthless racing instincts. Said Rose: "If you are racing a man the object is to break him. You can break the other man's confidence by doing certain things. The big thing is to make him feel you are controlling the race."

Safe to say Michael Phelps, and every other champion who's come since, has shared that assassin's sentiment. But Murray Rose wasn't like the others. He had a perspective that transcended time and glory. Here were his parting words to Sports Illustrated back in that 1961 cover story:

"If you can concentrate so that time is meaningless, a race will give you complete pleasure and you will feel no pain."