The end of the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998 raised our (Tim and Charlie's [me]) consciousness of the forthcoming summer Olympics, to be held in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, from September 15 to October 1 of 2000. As you can guess, there were a number of people in Grand Forks that were very conscious of those dates.
Perhaps I should start with Hal and Jody. After their stunning success in 1996, various reporters and sports columnists can be forgiven idle speculation about the possibility of one or both of them returning in 2000. Those people should've been eavesdropping on a conversation between Hal and Jody, sometime in 1998, as they cruised along on one of their morning runs. Jody raised the subject:
"Well, Hal, is Olympic fever going to bite us this year?"
"Are you out of your mind?"
"Hal, you run as well today as you did two years ago, and you can't tell me that you're going to slip much in the next two years. You have another medal in you, perhaps another gold."
"Don't you think it's time to give someone else a shot?"
"They all have a shot, but don't you think they ought to have to beat the best in order to claim they're the best? The new runners coming on today ought to have a chance to say that they beat the legendary Hal Bruder."
"Or the great Jody Matthews."
"Am I tempting you? You know, Hal, one of the great things about you is that you've always kept in shape. You've always run regular marathons since you were a teenager. You don't have to get in shape for the next Olympics, you are in shape. You just need to show up at the Trials and claim your spot."
"As simple as that?"
"Shows how little you know."
"Come on, Hal. You know it's true."
"OK, Jody, are you telling me you're getting Olympic fever? You've medaled in the last three Olympics; isn't that enough?"
"I can't help dreaming, Hal. But I don't think I'd want to run alone; I'd want you there. We've been a team for too many years."
"You did fine in '92 without me. But this conversation isn't going where I want it to. I've retired from Olympic competition twice, and I don't intend to return. I'm over fifty years old, I don't need more Olympic medals, and I don't really want to end my Olympic career with a 4th, 5th, or 6th place 'Victory Diploma.' You have more Olympic marathons in you if you want, and I know that you're in as good shape as me, and could claim a place just by showing up at the Trials. But think about this: times are going down for these new young kids, and ours aren't. If you go, you're risking ending with that same 4th, 5th, or 6th place diploma. Is that how you want a brilliant Olympic career to end? We both have to know when to quit. So, yes, I'm beginning to have Olympic fever, and I'm curing it by taking two aspirin and running another marathon here on my course in Grand Forks."
"I guess I'd better run that one with you."
"Perhaps we should change the course so we can stop for a cup of coffee at the 16 mile mark."
The idea of a triumphant return to the Olympics was never mentioned again.
Let's check out the Cavers. All of the original gymnasts were now retired, having given a spectacular performance in Atlanta in 1996.
The new group of Cavers was led by Dylan, Julia, Lorrie, and Tyler, and four others whom Marty had recently invited to join–Betts Spilling, Loren Peterson, Elly Kranston, and Henry Pearlman. The most likely Olympic hopefuls for 2000 were the first four I just named. All had a shot, and all had been successful enough in various competitions to claim an invitation to the Trials. In addition, one other young Caver, Betts, had done well enough, especially on the balance beam, to get an invitation to the Trials. Marty was delighted to have five Cavers competing after all of the original group had retired.
The Gymnastics Trials would be hosted by Ohio State University at Columbus. Marty borrowed IT and all nine Cavers–including Honorary Caver Winston, Tyler's brother and Lorrie's significant other–headed for Ohio in early June of 2000. Tim and I, all of the parents of the eight, and a number of Gang members rode along in a chartered bus. The Spillings, and the other parents of the new Cavers, were just getting used to the way of the Marty Center, the Cave, and the Gang. We took some getting used to, particularly Fred's generosity. Fred had four serious loves in his life: Marty, Tim, the University of North Dakota, and the Olympics. Collecting this crowd in IT and the bus, and leading the expedition to the Gymnastics Trials, was one of Fred's great joys. We went out of our way to make sure that newcomers learned quickly to say, "Yes," and "Thank you."
The trip involved about 1,100 miles of driving each way, and would include an overnight just over halfway, in Madison. The Cavers slept in IT, along with Fred and Marty who had the bedroom in the back. The kids slept on the foam mattresses in the main area of the bus. Dylan and Julia were a pair, as were Winston and Lorrie. The other five weren't romantically paired, but had found that the sexual freedom of the Cave was not to be ignored, and they slept in a variety of combinations. When you changed every day in a unisex locker room, the single sleeping area of IT wasn't a big deal. Marty and Fred were much too involved with each other to pay much attention to the goings on in the rest of the bus.
The arrival of the team from the Marty Center was eagerly anticipated, both by the team, and by almost everyone else involved in the Trials. The Marty Center gymnasts had dominated the last two Olympics, with eight gymnasts qualifying for the team in 1992 and, incredibly, ten in 1996. With the retirement of the first group of Cavers after the Atlanta Olympics, the group hadn't been the dominant force in the last four years as they'd been in the previous four. Nevertheless, the gymnasts from the Marty Center hadn't been inactive the last four years, and nobody was willing to discount the possibility of their having significant successes this time around, if only because they'd been ignored prior to the two previous Trials and had completely upset the applecart both times.
In Atlanta, Lorrie had medaled on the uneven parallel bars and hoped to medal on them again in Sydney, but first she had to make the team. Dylan had medaled on the still rings in Atlanta, but it'd been a surprise, and he wasn't sure that the rings were, in fact, his best event. His greatest love was for the parallel bars. Julia hadn't qualified for the 1996 Olympics, but had been to the Trials and come in an impressive ninth. This was the first Olympiad for Tyler, and likewise for Betts who was even newer to the Cave, but both would be forces to be reckoned with.
I'd love to be able to describe the absolutely spectacular performances of the Cavers at those Trials. But absolutely spectacular performances are rare, and even the Cavers aren't capable to delivering them every time they showed up. But, then, nobody else delivered an absolutely spectacular performance either. Nobody equaled Tim's still rings; nobody could execute a three somersault floor exercise move and end, with certainty, less than a half inch from the edge of the mat; nobody could scare everybody half to death on the high bar like Nels and Seth, and certainly nobody could be sure of sticking everything–Tim was the first and the last in that elite group of one. But all the Cavers did very well; they were competent, and from time to time really good. Dylan and Tyler ended up with the third and fourth spots on the men's team, and Julia, Lorrie, and Betts got the second, third and sixth spots on the women's team.
Marty could hardly believe it. "Five out of five. That's fantastic. I never dreamed of it."
Fred said, "You lie, Marty. You know you dreamed of it. You just didn't have enough faith in your dreams! Now you need to start dreaming of medals."
"Five out of five, Fred. We've dominated the Trials three years in a row. Can we start talking dynasty yet?"
"I think we need to get Tim to give you a dose of ego antidote."
Outside the confines of the Gang Marty tried his best to simply take it in stride. The reaction of other coaches was varied, and interesting. Some seemed to resent the Marty Center's three Olympiad dominance. More sensible ones wanted to know his secret. A couple went out of their way to thank him for his policy of not stealing top gymnasts from other programs. To this Marty responded, "It isn't a no-stealing policy, though I certainly wouldn't want to be involved in that. It's simply that our program is designed to bring local kids up through the ranks. If I opened my doors to everybody here who'd like to move to North Dakota and join the Marty Center–and I've had inquiries from more gymnasts than you would believe–then I wouldn't have room for the top gymnasts from my intermediate programs."
One coach asked, "What's in the Grand Forks water that produces top gymnasts?" Marty knew that the question was really, "What's your secret?"
Regrettably Marty's routine answer, "Love and support. We love the kids, and the kids love and support each other," didn't satisfy anyone. Marty's insistence that the kids didn't compete with each other, only with themselves, simply didn't ring true in this crowd from highly competitive programs. Marty pointed out that the only real competition he'd had within his program had been four years before between Nels and Seth on the high bar, and both of them were happy, and relieved, that it ended in a tie rather than a victory. "That's who these kids are; it's the goal of our program. If it also makes them Olympians, that's secondary."
Marty would tell you that there was one Caver who needed to get a lot of the credit for the success of the group. It was non-gymnast, but Honorary Caver, Winston Phipps, Tyler's brother. Ever since the Cavers had decided to invite Winston to be an Honorary Caver, the dynamics of the Cave had slowly changed. From his first naked shower with Lorrie, which led to their being a couple, he added a new level of excitement, camaraderie, and love to the Cave. Marty'd been worried about the group's decision to invite Winston to be an Honorary Caver, particularly in that they didn't know him very well. What they knew of Winston was mainly what his brother had told them, and, of course, they knew that Winston had come out of the same environment that Dylan had. Regardless, it never occurred to Marty to question the decision; a commitment had been made to the Cavers that they made the decisions in the Cave, and this was clearly their decision. As it turned out, Marty couldn't have been happier. It was just one more example of the value of trusting good kids to make good decisions.
Winston didn't spend a lot of time hanging around the Cave. He was a serious tennis player, and was at his tennis club–which had indoor and outdoor courts–virtually every day, often before school as well as after. But he came by the Cave after tennis, and if the weather was decent, he'd still be in his tennis shorts. He'd change with Lorrie and the rest of the Cavers. He didn't make any bones about the fact that changing in the Cave was a sexual experience; one that he enjoyed very much. In fact, his presence heightened the level of sexual activity in the Cave, not only for him and Lorrie, but for all of the group.
Marty dropped down to the Cave late one afternoon and was surprised to find Dylan pinned to the mat by several Cavers and the others tickling his genitals, being urged on by Winston. When Marty appeared Winston–stark naked himself–walked over to him and said, "You're welcome to stay, but the rules of the Cave won't allow you to play." The he walked back to where Dylan was being held and pinched one of his nipples. Dylan was all smiles and giggles, so Marty decided that his best move was simply to head back upstairs. Later he asked Dylan about the scene.
"Oh, Marty, Winston's a trip. He's been daring us to do something like that to him for a while, and a week or so ago I took him up on his dare. I got Loren and Henry to help me, and we grabbed him when he finished a floor routine. We pinned him down, and his brother Tyler got the girls to tickle him mercilessly.
Then Tyler asked Lorrie if she'd like to pull down his shorts, and she replied, "He's been asking for this." She pulled down his shorts and jock strap and the boys holding his legs slipped them off. She said, "Come on girls, let's give it to him." I think it was further than either Elly or Betts had gone with a boy, but they were enthusiastic participants. However, it was Tyler that eventually jacked him off till he shot cum all over himself and me. It was pretty funny. He's been paying us back one by one all week. Marty, are we going too far?"
"You kids make the rules down there. It doesn't seem to me that you're doing anything to anybody that they aren't in agreement with. You were being held down by the group when I came in, were they doing anything to you that you thought was out of line?"
"Oh, no. It was just what we did to Winston, and I was the leader."
"Just remember, that kind of play can get out of hand."
"Marty, we don't let things get out of hand down here. Remember, the first ingredient for getting things out of hand is alcohol. Our firmest rule of the Cave is we don't drink. Period. Anywhere. Anytime. That's part of our training regimen, but it serves other purposes as well."
"Believe me, both your parents and I would rather you were playing sex games on the floor, than drinking yourselves onto the floor. And I know that that's what a lot of your contemporaries are doing most weekend nights."
"More than weekends, Marty. That's why I live at home rather than in the dorms."
"You guys still have your no fucking in high school rule?"
"It's changed. Now it's no fucking until you're publicly engaged, at least publicly to the other Cavers."
"Are you and Julia publicly engaged, at least to the Cavers?"
"Not yet, but we are privately engaged. Our parents know. Now you know. We'll tell the Cave soon."
They did, and the next day Winston approached Dylan in the locker room and said, "Follow me. Everybody follow me."
He led them all out to the mats and told Dylan to lay down and told Julia to get him hard. That didn't take long, considering the situation. Then Winston pulled out the brightest fluorescent orange condom anyone there had ever seen. I can't imagine where he got it, but he had it. He knelt beside Dylan and said, "If you're engaged and not yet married, then you need to know about condoms and how to use them. We will now proceed to lesson one. After removing the condom from the package you hold it at the tip of your dick and roll it down, like this." He proceeded to do exactly what he was saying. "Once it's on, you can insert your penis anywhere your little heart desires and which Julia will allow. As soon as you withdraw, after ejaculating, you need to remove the condom, tie it so that the sperm stays inside, throw it away, and wipe off your dick–carefully. And if you're going to play around any more, you need to go to the bathroom and use water to clean it off. Sperm are energetic little bastards, and if you give them a chance, they'll make it home. Any questions?"
Julia said, "Have you got more of those orange condoms?"
"Indeed I do."
"I want them. They're awesome."
He handed her a bag of about a dozen. "We'll think of you as you try them out tonight. Now let's get dressed and use this mat for that for which it was designed."
I don't want to leave you with the impression that these were a bunch of over-sexed kids with no limits. First, after their little round robin of getting everyone naked on the floor and teasing them, it didn't repeat. They didn't see any need. It did lead to an atmosphere in which physical sexual overtures were acceptable, but not very common. You'd see boys lift each other by grabbing between the legs, or catching a girl the same way. Every now and then a kiss would replace a hug often accompanied by a hand to the tit or groin. Sex was much more on the surface than with the previous Cavers, but it didn't go too far.
Sleepovers became more common, and Dylan's folks were a little startled by his asking if Friday night was free so that he could have Julia and Tyler sleep over. The three of them had discussed the idea, and decided that they were ready to try a three-way. They'd considered how they'd handle it with their parents. They decided that it would undermine the rules of the Cave if they asked their parents' permission. On the other hand, they knew this was pushing the envelope and didn't want to create a confrontational situation. Thus the wording, asking if the date was OK, rather then the sleepover itself. It gave the parents an out without making them impose a rule.
Dylan's parents, Carroll and Denise, caught on immediately, and appreciated the way the matter had been presented. Carroll said, "You seem to be pushing to a new level. Has the entire Cave discussed this?"
"Right now it's just the three of us and Winston."
"Winston is quite the little sex fiend, isn't he?"
"I wouldn't say fiend, but he's the most openly sexual of the Cavers," was Dylan's response.
"What would you say if we got all of the Cavers, and all of their parents, together at the Cave on Thursday evening? The deal with the Cave is you make the rules, but you also communicate. This would be part of that commitment to communicate."
"Sounds good to me. I'll call everyone."
Dylan did call all of the parents and invite them to the meeting, along with their kids. On Tuesday afternoon, in the locker room after practice, he told them what was up. He asked, "We didn't ask, because we didn't think we needed to. But is everyone comfortable with the idea of three-way sleepovers?"
Lorrie asked, "Are we pushing the envelope, and endangering the deal that we have with our parents?"
Winston said, "I've talked to the former Cavers in the Lighthouse. They certainly pushed the sex this far in their days as Cavers. They weren't as open about it here in the Cave, but there wasn't much they didn't do."
Tyler said, "I think we wait and see how it goes on Thursday."
Loren said, "Thanks for giving us this heads up. I'm not sure I'm ready for three-way sleepovers yet, I think I'd be more into four-ways."
Elly said, "Don't push your luck, Loren."
"What should I push?"
Winston said, "Let's get home. I'm hungry."
By Thursday night all of the parents had been told what the big meeting was about, as had Marty. Everyone was there. Carroll opened the meeting by saying that he'd suggested the meeting to Dylan, but Dylan had called it. It was his meeting. He gave the floor to Dylan.
Dylan wasn't shy, and got right into the subject. "OK. The other day I told Mom and Dad that I'd like to have Julia and Tyler sleepover. We all knew this was pushing things further along, and I gave Mom and Dad space to talk about it. They said that the deal in the Cave was wide open communication and suggested that this meeting was a way for that to happen. OK, here's the deal. The three of us, supported by the other Cavers who will certainly be following, would like to be able to have three-way sleepovers. Yes, there are sexual implications to that, we aren't thinking of just having a pajama party. The plan of the Cave says we don't have to ask permission, but we do need to be open to conversation. We are."
It was Elly's mother, Samantha Kranston, mother of one of the youngest Cavers (now in eighth grade) who spoke first. "Dinner conversations at our house have been most unusual since Elly joined the Cavers. Before she became a Caver she told us very little about her life other than very specific information about her studies and her gymnastics. We learned nothing about her friends, her loves, her joys, and the sorrows that have to invade a young person's life. Then she joined the Cave. At first, dinner conversations seemed to be tests. Would we really be willing to accept what went on in the Cave. We learned about who was naked in the locker room, which boys had boners, who touched who where. We learned that Winston had started stripping kids and tickling them–all over. Then we learned that it had happened to her–and she liked it. That was a little tough, but we passed the test.
"OK, it was a little tough, but we knew more about what Elly was doing than we ever had, and we had no sense that she was doing other things behind our backs."
"I wasn't, Mom," said Elly.
"We know. The communication was wonderful, but we had to wonder whether we'd abandoned our role as parents. Was Elly involved in really inappropriate games with the other Cavers. Elly and Henry have spent the night together at both of their houses. They tell us they aren't romantically involved, but do play sexual games. Elly's had her first period, but Henry hasn't reached puberty."
She turned toward the two of them and said, "I hope I'm not embarrassing you, but the rules in this group are that we let it all hang out, right?"
Henry said, "Right."
Samantha continued, "I'll spare you the details of those games, but I've heard them all from Elly. If the older kids're involved in three-way sleepovers then the younger ones will be soon. And we all know that four-ways will follow. We can expect that the nine of them will want to spend the night in the Cave before too long. So, the question we have to ask ourselves tonight isn't whether we're going to permit three-ways, or four-ways, or group camping in the Cave. We've already said to them that they make the rules. The question is, did we make a mistake when we allowed this whole thing to get started. Do we want to call it off? If we balk at this particular thing, then what we're really saying is that we can't accept the Cave. We need to rework it. Begin again from scratch."
Another parent said, "I don't want to do that, but don't you think that three-ways are going a little too far?"
Another said, "Samantha's right. If we're going to impose our rules in this, then the game is up for the Cave. I, for one, would hate to see that. The cave has worked miracles for our kids, and for a similar sized group before them. The athletic success has been spectacular. But it is, honestly, not the most important thing. The Cave has produced, and is producing, truly outstanding young people. They are loving, caring, well-behaved, disciplined, young people that act, think, and love far beyond their years."
Samantha said, "That's what Carroll and I think. I think that we need to keep in mind the two rules that the Cave has set which they consider inviolate: No alcohol and no intercourse until you're engaged. Show me another teen group that self-imposes those rules, and actually follows them. I know the parents are supposed to be in the rule-making business, but if the kids give me those two rules, then three-ways, four-ways, nine-ways, who really cares? These kids know what's important, and they know it more than most of their peers. Good for them. And, good for the Cave."
They talked another half hour. The Cavers themselves wisely decided to keep their mouths shut. They were winning the battle without firing a shot, why mess around with success? At the end the parents simply decided that the Cave was the Cave and there was no reason to make changes. They agreed that even a little change could screw up a good thing. They all went home happy, if a little uncertain as to just what might be in the Pandora's Box they might've opened.
The next night Dylan, Julia, and Tyler had the first three-way of this generation of the Cave. They slept naked. They had oral sex. Both boys were sucked by the other two, and Julie had an orgasm as the two boys traded off arousing her with their tongues. Dylan's parents, Denise and Carroll, heard all about it at breakfast the next morning, and the other parents had heard the story by noon. All six of the parents told their kids that perhaps a slightly slower flow of information would be acceptable!
With Winston in the group, they sustained a high level of sexual activity, and, indeed, a nine-way camping trip in the Cave was soon arranged. All the parents decided that they really didn't need, or want, the details of that night.
Winston wasn't all sex. During this time he was becoming an ace tennis player. Neither the Cavers nor the Gang had paid much attention to his tennis, since he played in a local club that the Cavers weren't involved with. That all changed in the spring of his ninth grade year when he won the local Grand Forks open tennis tournament. Tennis players at the college had rarely been involved in the local tournament, as they were interested in NCAA events. However, it had long been a tradition that on a warm spring day in late May the city champions (men, women, men's doubles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles) would play the college champions. To the surprise of the college players, a tall, fit, good-looking young boy was the city men's champion, and was half of the men's doubles and mixed doubles pairs. The tournament began early in the morning with the woman's doubles, and the college kids won a lopsided victory, as had been common through the years. Things changed in the mixed doubles. The boy, as people referred to him, had the first serve and it was against one of the top college players, who found himself standing still in the middle of the court watching Winston serve an ace that he didn't even try to return. He almost got his racquet on the next serve, but not quite. By the third serve he managed to return it, but the woman opposite blasted his lob into the far corners of Hell, bouncing inbounds on the way. He did manage to touch the fourth serve with the wood of his racquet, but the ball flew off to the side. The two college players had lost the first game without scoring a point, and only managing one return. They fared little better when serving, especially when Winston was the player to return the serves. By the end of the first set they'd come to terms with the fact that they were up against real competition, and played much better. Nevertheless, they lost the first two sets and the match (a two out of three match).
The men's doubles followed, and Winston was up against new opponents. They assumed that he'd be tired (it was unusual that a player would play in both the mixed and men's doubles), and the new college player that received the first serve thought he was ready. He wasn't. Like his predecessor, he simply watched it go by. He managed to return the next, and they actually had a little volley, until Winston dropped a short lob into the front corner of the court that nobody could reach. The Grand Forkers did lose the second set, but blazed through the third 6-1.
Winston's partner from the mixed doubles was the women's singles champion, and she was up next. She gave a creditable performance, but lost to the female college champion by a close margin.
The top college player hadn't played in the doubles, mainly because the college coach liked to give as many players a chance to play as possible, so the college students were limited to one entry in the college tournament. Their top player, Hank Scharmer, was very good, having not only won the UND tournament, but the regional NCAA tournament, and had placed in the top 8 in the national NCAA tournament, two years running. He'd watched the previous matches, so he knew that the little boy he was up against was very good.
Let me pause here just a moment to note how the word boy can be used in both an endearing and a demeaning way. Tim and I used the words kid and boy with each other and with friends in a way that we all appreciated. We liked to think of ourselves as boys and not the old men that we were becoming. Frat boys didn't mind the appellation. But Winston wasn't the boy of the tournament because people wanted to endear themselves to him. It was deliberately demeaning. And he knew it when he heard it, and it was said often enough that he heard it.
Hank had the first serve and he planned to take his first opportunity to blast the damn boy off the court. The trouble was that he failed to connect with Winston's return. His next serve was out of bounds, and his second serve was slower to insure against a double fault. Mistake. Winston blasted it to Hell and gone. They actually had a pretty good volley the next point, and Hank won it. It was now 15-30 and his next serve was perfect. Winston's return was just out of bounds and the score was deuce (purists would call it 30-30, but it amounts to the same thing). Winston fairly easily scored the next two points and won the game, breaking the champion's serve in the first game.
The next game was pathetic. It took Winston four serves to win the game–not one was returned in bounds, and only two were even touched by the racquet. It seemed that this was going to be a very one-sided match.
In fact, it wasn't terribly one-sided. Winston won the first set 6-4, never again breaking Hank's service. In the next set, neither broke the other's service until the score was 5-5 and then Hank managed one brilliant return of one of Winston's cannonball serves, followed by Winston's first, and only, double fault. The set was then 6-5 with Hank serving and he managed to win.
The final set wasn't quite a rout, but Winston won 6-3. After the match Hank came over to Winston–there was none of that crap of jumping over the net–and congratulated him. "You're a God-damned good player. Where did you come from?"
"Right here in Grand Forks. You're pretty good yourself. We need to play some more."
"I'm not sure my ego can stand it. And I have a very sneaky feeling that this match was as close as it was because you decided that it should be. Don't ruin my day by telling me that I'm right, but I'm pretty sure I am."
Winston just smiled.
Hank went on. "How come you haven't been playing in bigger tournaments?"
"I guess it's time. My ego doesn't take defeat well."
"Don't give me that bullshit. You didn't get as good as you are by only playing against people you can beat. Who do you practice with?"
"We've got some pretty good players in the club."
"Come on. We know you're the best of that group. Who else do you practice with?"
"There's some pretty good competition in the Twin Cities, including at the University. Tim knows a lot of people there and has arranged some practice days for me."
"Tim? As President Tim, Olympic champion Tim. How do you know him?'
"It's a long story. My girl (endearment, folks), Lorrie, and I are going to Jerry's for dinner. You want to join us?"
"Can Jill come along, that's my girlfriend? And I don't know Jerry's."
"It's a great little place. Tim loves it. Or we could go to the Dakota Steak House. And, of course Jill's welcome."
"How are you going to get there? I understand that you're in ninth grade–much to my embarrassment. You can't drive."
"Jill's a senior. She'll drive. We'll meet you there around six. OK?"
"Just tell me where it is."
Dinner was fascinating. It would've been much more fascinating for Hank and Jill if the sexual aspects of the Cave and life with the Cavers had been explained, but that was a no-no. Winston did let it slip that he and Lorrie were expecting to spend the night together, and Hank picked up on that right away.
"Tonight? The two of you?"
Winston simply said, "If I can play tennis like a college student, I can do other things like a college student."
"Does that include drinking yourself silly?"
"Absolutely not. How about you?"
"The pressure to drink in college is tremendous. But it doesn't go well with top level NCAA athletics. I don't touch the stuff. Even a little. I know that a little won't hurt me, but I see too many guys that can't draw the line. I just avoid it."
Jill said, "The same for me. It works for Hank and me, though it keeps us out of much of the social milieu of the campus."
"That's too bad. What about the rest of the tennis team?"
"Regrettably tennis is a very competitive, individual sport. That doesn't make for close personal relationships."
Winston said, "I know what you mean. The guys at the tennis club sort of resent me, and it doesn't make for close friendships. The Cave, the bunch of gymnasts I told you about, of which Lorrie is one of the best, is quite the exception. They're all very close friends."
All such great evenings come to an end. However, it was clear that it wasn't really going to end for either couple. Jill was spending the night with Hank, who's roommate was home for the weekend. And, of course, Lorrie and Winston were spending the night together at her house.
Winston and Hank did practice together some, and the four of them double-dated a couple of times. But graduation soon rolled around for Hank and Jill; they planned to live in Bismarck, where Hank had a job and Jill was looking. I think all four of them wished they'd met sooner, but life doesn't present those choices. They passed out of each other's lives.
Winston began entering regional, and then national open tournaments. He was national junior champion in 1997 at age 16. He repeated the next year, and was ready to turn pro by 1998 at age 17.
Time out. You need to know the ways of the Olympic tennis world. For all intents and purposes, the Olympics had become simply another tournament on the international pro tour. The qualification system for tennis in the Olympics was very simple: The top 56 men and 56 women on the pro tour got places, with a limit of four per country. An additional 8 places were given out to insure small nation representation. In other words, from being an amateur only event, Olympic tennis was now closed to amateurs, no matter how good they were; only players with a top ranking on the pro tour could compete. And there were rules that made it impossible for anybody who hadn't been on the tour for two years to play in the Olympics. The rules were similar for men's and women's doubles, and in 2000 there were no mixed doubles in the Olympics.
Thus, for Winston to have any shot at all at going to the Olympics in Sydney, he would have to join the pro tour immediately, and start doing very well almost immediately. Winston decided to take a shot at it, and Lorrie backed him. But it was a definite long shot.
Aquatics. Billy had been the Aquatics Director at UND for ten years. Shortly after he arrived, he and Tim, with Willie and Hardie sitting in, had a series of discussions regarding the future of aquatics at UND. Billy was unquestionably the outstanding diving coach in the country and had just come from one of the top swimming and diving programs. However, he wasn't seen to be a top level swimming coach, and freely admitted that his forte was diving. They all agreed that if UND wanted to be a recognized power in swimming and diving two things would have to happen: first, they'd have to get a top level swimming coach to complement Billy in diving. The second thing was more problematical: they'd have to become a Division I school, and that meant a change throughout the entire sports program–one that Tim really had no interest in, because of the vast increase in athletic scholarships that it would involve. He, probably correctly, believed that as a Division I school they'd have to go back to scholarships that were really contracts and required students to compete in their designated sports.
But was Billy going to be content running a lower than top level program? Billy's immediate answer was, "Yes. If my sole criteria was to be at the top of the college competitive heap, I would've stayed at Indiana. Here I can coach those divers that come along and want to excel. Some may rise to great heights, like Willie and Hardie, others won't. All will receive the love and support that solid athletes deserve."
Willie put in, "I think a good many young divers will make their way here. They can work on their diving to their heart's content, with a top level coach. Nothing will keep them away from individual competition, either in NCAA events or the open events of USA Diving. I think you'll attract some very interesting and very qualified divers–kids just like the four of us here, that consider diving a personal challenge more than a team sport."
It worked out that way. UND was able to attract divers from the northern tier who were just below those recruited by the top Division I schools like IU. They also got divers that were good enough to go to more prestigious programs, but didn't want to get sucked into the highly competitive environments of those schools. Think kids like Tim. But up until now, none of these new divers had made it to the Olympics, though Billy'd had one at the Olympic Trials in both 1992 and 1996. Of course, in 1992 Wille was a UND undergraduate and an Olympic medalist. In 1996 the UND diving representation at the Olympics was four alumni: Tim, Billy, Willie, and Hardie. Now with all of them retired from diving, Billy was ready for a new generation of UND divers. He had two, Nan Watson, a sophomore from Eagle River, Wisconsin, and Pieter Haanson, a junior from Moorhead, Minnesota. They both dove from the 10-meter platform, and both were very good. Both had invitations to the Trials, and Billy thought that both had at least a chance of a trip to Sydney.
Only one swimmer from the UND team qualified for an invitation to the Trials. A young man named Johnny Dawson from Beaver Creek, Idaho, qualified for the Trials in the backstroke.
And that brings us to what is, perhaps, the most interesting possibility for the Sydney Olympics. It all began, I believe, with a question put to Willie by Sally, his wife of just under a year, between sex one evening and falling off to sleep, "Willie?"
"You were talking in your sleep last night."
"What'd I say?"
"You were talking about diving."
"For years I lived and breathed diving."
"You were talking about the Olympics."
"Which Olympics? Atlanta?"
"Really, Sydney? Are you sure?"
"You were talking about getting another medal, with a partner."
"I don't know. I didn't get that much. Willie, are you beginning to get Olympic fever?"
"That's sort of an ambiguous answer. You must be thinking about the Sydney Olympics if you're dreaming about them."
"I guess I am."
"Would you like to go?"
"It isn't a matter of going. We'll both be going. The question is whether I'd like to dive one more time."
"For sure. At least I think so."
They drifted off to sleep.
A few days later Willie asked, "Was I really dreaming about diving in Sydney?"
"Yes, you were."
"I guess I really do have it on my mind."
"Would you and Hardie like to give it another go?"
"Hardie couldn't. He's hardly been to the pool since we decided to retire. If I were to dive again it would have to be with someone in shape."
"And who would that be?"
"It would have to be my dad or Uncle Tim."
"Are they in shape? Tim certainly hasn't been diving much since he started that sailing business."
"He either dives or does his gymnastics every morning when he's in town. He often works out in the afternoon as well."
"That man is incredible."
"Yes, he is. And he hasn't lost anything, or at least damn little, since he retired from diving years ago. He proved that in Atlanta."
"So did your dad. Are you really thinking about asking one of them to dive with you?"
"You want an honest answer, don't you?"
"Willie, what kind of a question is that? Of course I do."
"I know. I was sort of being funny. OK, I'll admit it, I made a call to USA Diving the other day. I asked about the diving schedule in Sydney. The men's tandem springboard diving is on September 28. Tim's last sailing race is on September 25. The tandem platform conflicts with his sailing."
"Willie! Are you really serious?'
"Sally, I honestly don't know."
"Well, it'd be quite a coup. Especially for Tim. It's hard to believe he'd consider it. Wouldn't your dad be a more logical choice?"
"I know my dad. If I asked him, he'd insist that I had to ask Tim first. He simply wouldn't consider it unless Tim was invited, believed that the invitation was sincere, and positively turned it down."
"I think you're right about that. I know your dad as well. Billy simply will not go one-up on Tim."
"That's been true all their lives. It isn't going to change. So if I have some hairbrained idea of tandem diving in Sydney, it has to start with Tim."
"Well, do you? Look, Willie. I'll support you in this one hundred percent. I'll support you if you do, or if you don't. And, Willie, that I know that means that you and Tim are going to be paired every night in Australia after he and Charlie finish sailing; I'm OK with that. Hell, it might be fun to watch my husband compete in one of the more improbable contests at the Olympics. Is there any chance that you two could claim the spot? As I remember it, only one pair gets to represent the United States."
"I've kept up my diving. More than I should have; I should be looking for a job. But my endorsement money is still coming, if more slowly, and they want to be able to photograph me diving. I'm in shape. You saw Tim two years ago, after he'd been out of competition for almost thirty years. He hasn't lost anything in the last two years."
"Can he possibly be ready to compete in two sports in Sydney?"
"Tim can do anything he sets his mind to. Returning to diving again isn't half as improbable as becoming a world class sailor in two years."
"Well, are you going to talk to Tim?"
"Sally, I honestly don't know."
"Talk to your dad. He might have some good advice."
Willie did talk to Billy, just a couple of days later. He took his dad to lunch at Jerry's.
"Why the lunch invitation, Willie? That usually means that you have something on your mind."
"Am I that transparent? Can't we just have a nice lunch together?"
"When you offered to buy I knew something was up. So, what's up? Wait a minute. There's a lot of talk going around about the Olympics in two years. Tim is going. Gymnasts are going. That little kid that plays tennis thinks he's going, and everybody seems to agree. Are you getting Olympic fever?"
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"Go talk to Hal. He'll send you for a cold shower and run you into the ground. It's a sure cure for Olympic fever."
"I'm serious. At least I think I am."
"Hardie hasn't really kept up his diving since you two retired. You have though, haven't you?"
"Not like I should have, but I could be back at prime, or near prime, before the Trials. They're more than a year off–almost two years."
"Are you thinking about individual events. You're good, but the world keeps advancing. Would you have a chance?"
"I doubt it."
"You're thinking about synchronized diving, aren't you?"
"You, or Uncle Tim."
"Not me. I'm retired."
"You were retired four years ago, but you collected a gold medal in Atlanta."
"It would be incredible for Tim to dive and sail. Is that even possible? Wouldn't the events conflict?"
"Platform would; springboard is two days after he finishes sailing."
"And Tim, our little superman, could walk away from several grueling days of racing, get a good night's sleep, practice diving with you for two days, and be ready to win another medal?"
"Well, you know him. Is that possible?"
"Hell, I don't know. I sure as Hell couldn't manage it. But I couldn't learn to sail enough to sail around a lake in the time he's become a world class sailor. Willie, that kid can do whatever he puts his mind to."
"Do you think he'll put his mind to this?"
"The right side of my brain says no. But the left side tells me that you just might be able to pull his chain on this one. I can just see him going to some meeting of university presidents wearing two Olympic gold medals, while assuring everyone present that Charlie made him wear them."
They both laughed over that, but then agreed that Tim was quite capable of such a stunt. And with potential donors as well as university presidents.
Willie continued, "I sort of thought that you'd spend most of lunch trying to knock some sense into my head. It turns out you're as nutty as I am. You sure you don't want to dive with me?"
"And take the place from Tim. Not in a million years."
"That's exactly what Sally and I said you'd say."
"Does Tim have the time available to get ready for the Trials? To even qualify for them?"
"He's a returning gold medalist. All he has to do is show up. Me too. We'd have to have some really intense practice sessions, but we wouldn't have to go to any meets."
"I really don't believe I'm having this conversation. We both must be losing our minds. Talk to Tim the next time he's in town. But, Willie, you need to talk to Hardie first. We know he isn't ready, and we know what he will say. But he's still your partner, and you have to talk to him. He may resent your getting him to retire under what now looks like false pretenses. Your friendship with Hardie, and his love, are more important than any Olympic medal."
"I hadn't really thought of that, Dad, but you're right. My next conversation needs to be with Hardie."
It was. Hardie listened in disbelief. "You're going to dive again? You think I might want to dive again? You're worried that I might be upset that you're diving again after getting me to retire? Not a chance. I'm not in shape, and I'm not sorry about that. Willie, you weren't betraying me by retiring. We both made that decision, and you were completely sincere. I've never been unhappy with the decision. If Tim and Billy could come out of retirement like they did in Atlanta, so can you. Evidently Olympic fever is a more serious disease than I thought. Luckily I seem to be immune. A return trip to the Olympics isn't in the cards for me, and that's exactly the way I want it."
"As I understand the rules of the Gang, that's a forbidden question."
"I take it back. Thank you, Hardie, for being the best friend and best diving partner anyone could wish for. I don't know what'll come of this dream; I haven't even talked to Tim. He'll probably laugh himself silly, and then tell me to run along and play. But I think I'll ask."
Tim was in town for a short while at mid-summer. Willie visited him at home, and he, Tim, and Charlie sat in their den while Willie made his presentation. Both Tim and Charlie laughed themselves silly. But Tim didn't tell Willie to run along and play. When he finally stopped laughing, he sat completely quiet for quite a while. In fact, Charlie spoke first.
"Willie, that silence scares me. In spite of the laughter, he's taking you seriously."
Tim said, "No, I'm not. I was, however, thinking about whether it would even be possible. Not that I'm thinking about actually doing it. Willie, why don't you dive with your father?"
That was a difficult question for Willie. He knew that he couldn't speak the real reason to Tim, because Tim would be very upset at the thought that Billy wouldn't dive out of respect and love for Tim–even though, if he thought about it, he knew that that would be Billy's position. Instead, Willie said, "Because I want to dive with you, Uncle Tim."
Charlie said, "Willie, if you're in the least serious about this, your best move right now would be to say goodnight. Let it percolate in that little pea brain of his. He may not have a giant public ego, but I assure you he didn't get where he is, and has been, without the biggest ego on earth. Give it a chance to work its magic."
Willie said, "Good night," and left at once.
Tim said, "My God, Charlie, do you believe what he has just proposed? That he'd even think it was possible is an incredible ego boost. It never would've occurred to me. But what a dream: sail with you and dive with Willie. I'll at least have to think about it."
Two days later Willie and he were both diving at the natatorium. Tim went over to Willie and said, "We've done some tandem dives before; let's try one. You name it."
They went to the springboards, Willie named a dive, and they got set. Willie said, "You signal."
Tim signaled and they headed off the board. Billy was watching, and he walked over and said, "Olympic metal, here we come. Do you two have any idea how good that was? And you haven't even practiced it."
Tim asked, "When would we have to go public with this nonsense?"
"Three days before the Trials. I'd have to let them know we're coming and that as current gold medalists we're exercising our right to an invitation."
Tim said, "OK, Willie, if you can accept this, here's the deal. No commitment. But we'll practice every morning that I'm in town. Afternoons when I can. I'll take a pass on the gymnastics most days. We'll made a decision four days before the trials."
Willie said, "Deal." They didn't shake on it; they kissed on it.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]