Episode 174 - Dakotans
This is Susan Wilfield. Charlie's explanation for inviting me to write this episode of his magnum opus was that everyone in the Gang was entirely too biased to write it fairly. Were it not for the fact that I've been retired for the last three years, I wouldn't have been able to accept Charlie's request that I write this episode. There are two reasons for that: first, despite a drastically changing world, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune–my employer since the merger of the old Star and my paper, the Tribune–wouldn't have taken kindly to my byline on a story that features the sexuality that this one does! Second, there is no way that, while I was still writing for the Tribune–which is how I'll refer to the Star-Tribune for the rest of my days–that I could've followed Charlie's dictum to tell my own sexual history. I'm not sure just how eager I am to tell my story, but I'll have to admit that I've enjoyed reading a lot of other people's stories, so I'll just accept that it's now my turn.
I was born, bred, schooled, and employed a Minneapolitan. It's a much more provincial town than many people believe. Yes, there are some large corporations in the Twin Cities, 3M being the biggest, a major university and a number of colleges, as well as the state capital. But at it's core it's a blue collar town and the majority of folks don't move around much. Even to the point that St. Paul folks don't visit Minneapolis very often, and Minneapolitans visit St. Paul even less–except to do state government business.
So it isn't really true that I grew up in Minneapolis, rather I grew up in Robbinsdale, a near northwestern suburb. Born in 1929 I was shaped first by the depression, then by the war, and I grew to adulthood in the fantastic boom of the postwar years. However, I'm going to have to leave it to others to figure out how those things shaped me. I will say that not having a father at home (he was in the Navy in the Pacific) from age 12-17 certainly was a loss, but he returned safely from the war, got a good job, and we were close until his death in 1974. I still pick up pennies if I see them on the street, and feel that I've found something of value–well they certainly were of value when I first learned to pick them up. I was an only child–arriving in 1929 I came at a difficult time, and my parents wisely decided that they couldn't afford another. We weren't Catholic, but they used the rhythm method of birth control because it was about all that was available. They were lucky.
We lived in a little house on 42nd street near the high school, and my parents spent the first ten years of my life worrying about whether they would loose the house, as both of them lost, and found, any number of low paying jobs. The war changed that, and when I entered high school in the tenth grade in 1944 we had more money than we could spend because of all the rationing and shortages.
The war shaped my high school experience in many ways. For years the boys in the school had known that after graduation they would almost certainly become soldiers, sailors, or marines. With reports of recent graduates dying, or returning home wounded, the war was a constant reality to all of us. I've read Priscy's story. She is just about my age and we had very similar experiences in high school. However, she described the motivation for sex with the soon-to-be-soldiers as "the girls felt a lot of pressure to make the boys happy before they left."
My memory is a little different. Our view of the war engendered a kind of fatalism in us–a feeling that we needed to live now. Not just for the boys' sake, but for all of us. What we didn't do now, we might miss.
For Priscy, this meant fucking almost everything in pants. For me, it meant falling madly in love witih Robbie within a month of entering Robbinsdale High School. Dates were either a movie, followed by a trip to the soda fountain at the nearby drug store, or just a trip to the drug store. A big deal was walking almost a mile to a nice ice cream shop where we could get a wide variety of malts–at fifteen cents each, and that was enough for two people to share–I'd get the glass and Robbie would drink from the metal container from the mixer which contained the extra malt that was always served with the glass. I'd pour some back into the metal container so we'd each get about the same amount.
Were malted milk shakes worth almost all of a paragraph? You bet they were! In 1944 they were a big deal for a girl on a date.
Robbie and I both got stories from our friends, my girlfriends and his boyfriends, about their sexual adventures. I had no father at home giving guidance, and a mother who was working long hours in a factory. Sex education was totally taboo for the school. In that environment, it didn't take many dates before Robbie was "feeling me up" during the movie. What the Hell, I liked it. And it was a real thrill to sit in the back of the movie theater and let my hand roam over to his groin. One Friday after school we walked around the neighborhood and Robbie said, "I dare you not to wear underwear to the movie tonight. If you don't, I won't. It'll be fun."
I knew what he wanted. If I didn't have underwear on, then as his hand slipped under my skirt there would be nothing to stop it–him. I wasn't sure what his not having underwear on was going to do for me, but I agreed. I thought it would be fun.
The movie wasn't crowded, and we were quite alone in the back of the right side. I had on a full skirt, and it was easy for Robbie's hand to reach up under it, and he fondled everything he could find. But a girl's anatomy was as unfamiliar to him as a boy's was to me. I reached my hand over to his groin and discovered that he'd unbuttoned his jeans and that his "thing" was sticking out and was hard, kind of like a hot dog–at least that was the way I thought of it. I squeezed it a little, and rubbed it, but I was as clueless as he. I'd never seen a penis–remember my father was away in the Pacific–and certainly had never touched one. Nor had anyone ever explained to me about erections.
Before long we decided that we needed to get our clothes back together and the excitement of the evening was over. As he walked me home he said, "Susan, I think I love you. I think you love me. We want to do more than we did in the movie tonight. But where can we do it?"
I said, "After school at my house. My mom never gets home before six. We just can't let the neighbors see you coming in the door. They'd tell my mom for sure."
We quickly found that if Robbie came up the alley behind the house he could slip in the side door without being seen, since our neighbor on the side next to the door was a woman living alone, and she worked about the same hours as my mom.
The next Tuesday was the big day. I walked home from school alone, and opened the side door. In about fifteen minutes Robbie slipped in. I made him crawl across the living room to the hall stairs which couldn't be seen through any window. We went upstairs into my room, where I'd left the shades drawn in the morning. We stood there looking at each other and really wondering what we were going to do. Two more clueless teenagers never walked the earth. I pulled him toward me and we kissed. It wasn't our first kiss, but it was the first really romantic kiss. We didn't have any idea of using our tongues, but we managed a pretty nice kiss with just our lips.
But then what? We certainly knew which part of each other's anatomy we were interested in, but there were clothes in the way and very little idea of what to do if the clothes were out of the way. We stood looking at each other, and then I burst out laughing. Robbie followed. That led to hugging, which was more exciting than the kissing, as we were quickly rubbing our bodies against each other.
I need to back up just a minute to tell you that Robbie was a really nice boy, and we sincerely thought we loved each other. He wasn't pushing me into this any more than I was pushing him. We were both eager, but very, very ignorant.
Robbie let go of me, backed up, and began unbuttoning his shirt. When he got it off, he reached over to me and helped me pull my sweater over my head. He took off his undershirt, but was stumped by my slip. I said, "You have to start with my skirt."
He looked for a button or catch in the front like a man's pants, but I had to show it to him on the side. He unhooked it and it fell to the ground. In 1944 standing in front of a boy in your slip was as outrageous as being naked in the 21st century. He hugged me and kissed me again. I think we both wondered if we were going to go any further. He asked, "Are shoes and socks next, do you think?"
I sat on the bed and slipped off my shoes and socks–thank God we didn't wear stockings to school then. He sat in my desk chair to take off his. I asked, "Would like me to take my slip off?"
He nodded, and I wiggled my slip over my head, revealing bra and panties. I said, I think your pants are next. He had on frumpy corduroy pants with a wide belt. He unbuckled the belt, opened his buttons, but seemed very reluctant to lower his pants.
I asked, "What's the matter?"
"I... I... er... My dick is hard."
"What do you mean, it's hard?"
"You don't know what a hard-on is?"
"Oh, God, how do I explain?"
"I think maybe it's show and tell time, Robbie. Let's take off our pants." As I said that, I realized that he needed some support, and that my removing something would ease his situation. I wiggled out of my bra."
He dropped his pants and slowly stood up. He had on white boxer shorts and his hard-on was sticking straight out. He sort of covered it with his right hand. I knew that boys didn't go around with a point in their pants just under their belt buckle, but I honestly didn't have a clue what I was looking at. I said, "You pull down my panties and I'll pull down yours."
He did, and I did. And we stood there, naked as could be, just staring. Later we both admitted to each other that it was the first time we'd seen the opposite sex naked. He'd seen some dirty pictures; I hadn't even seen that much. We hugged and our fronts rubbed, and we both had totally unexpected orgasms. For a girl that wasn't a big deal. I'd learned a while before how to give myself an orgasm as I went to sleep. On the other hand, Robbie now had a mess to explain, and it was all over both of our stomachs.
If this had been a scene in a comedy movie, as if such a scene could be shown outside of a porno house, the lights would've faded out at the ridiculous situation we were in, and the next scene would've shown us fully clothed, laughing about it. In our real lives, however, we had to get out of the situation all by ourselves. It wasn't easy. Robbie, of course, knew what'd happened, though its happening that fast was totally unexpected. On the other hand, while I certainly understood the general concept that the man deposits sperm inside the woman, I had no experiences of, or expectation of, an ejaculation, especially one in this situation. Robbie was totally tongue tied at first, but finally got out an attempt to explain. I got a towel from the bathroom and cleaned myself up and then handed the towel to Robbie who did the same. We both rather sheepishly got dressed, Robbie apologizing all over himself and me telling him that no apology was necessary. Eventually, we were able to laugh over it, but I think that was a few days later.
It was more than a week before either of us was ready to try again. But teen hormones usually win out, and ours certainly did. We headed back to my house the following week, Robbie sneaking in as before. Up to my room, and we agreed that we would both undress ourselves. I faced my bed and he faced my desk and we stripped. We turned and faced each other, kissed quickly because we were afraid of a repeat performance, and then he laid down on the bed and told me to lay beside him. He very gently taught me how to masturbate him, and he came fairly quickly. He picked up a big handkerchief that he'd taken out of his pants when he undressed, and started to clean himself up. I stopped him and said, "Let me do that," and I took the handkerchief and wiped up his sperm. I should note that I had no concept that there was a difference between sperm and semen, in fact I didn't even know the word semen. It was now my turn, and he was totally afraid of putting his finger inside of me, but I showed him how, and how to pleasure me, and eventually bring an orgasm with my clitoris.
We were tenth graders, and had the good sense to be totally afraid of getting me pregnant. We also had the good sense to know that fingers couldn't get you pregnant, but penises could. Mouths never occurred to us. Summer brought all new possibilities, as I was home all day with very little to do, and Robbie had a job at a gas station that didn't start until three in the afternoon, well before my mother would be home.
Did you get the significance of his working in a gas station? Conversation with older boys working there, combined with the ubiquitous little machines in the men's room, quickly led to Robbie showing up at my house one morning with a "rubber" in his pocket. He explained what it was, and together we figured out how to use it–though rolling it on didn't occur to us until a few days later. I lost my virginity by noon! Considering our lack of instruction and the quality of the "rubbers" that were available then, it's probably a miracle that I didn't get pregnant. There weren't many days between then and high school graduation that I didn't get fucked. Robbie loved it; I loved it; and we didn't see anything wrong in what we were doing. Honestly, I still don't, except that in those days we were taking a whole lot more risk of getting me pregnant than we would be today–provided we listened to, and followed, the advice which is widely available to teens. Did we show a spectacular lack of creativity? Yes, of course. Heck, it was our senior year before we tried anything other than the missionary position. Were we faithful to each other? Totally. Were we ever discovered? Never; my mother was almost as clueless as I was and never suspected a thing. I think Robbie's dad had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but as the father of a boy in the 1940s, he thought it was the boy's role to get all he could, and it was up to the girl's father to protect her–it wasn't his job. As far as I was concerned then, that kind of sexism was perfect!
Something else was going on my last two years of high school. I had a wonderful English teacher named Mr. Varmly–I never knew his given name. It woud never have occurred to us in the 1940's to use it. He liked the compositions I wrote for him, and he encouraged me to write. I started writing articles for the student newspaper, and became the editor in my senior year. Mr. Varmly encouraged me to apply to go to the University of Minnesota, and he recommended me for a scholarship–the only way I could possibly have gotten to go to college. I did win the scholarship, majored in journalism, and my life was forever shaped.
With our high school graduation in 1947 Robbie and I went different directions. The draft ended in 1947, and although it was restarted by 1949, large call-ups didn't start until the Korean War demanded them in late 1950. By then Robbie was old enough not to be called up. He had no interest in college, but got a good, blue-collar job with 3M. We dated the summer after graduation, and a few times as I started college. I think it was early October when he invited me out to dinner at a much nicer restaurant than was our custom. Robbie told me that he realized that our lives were going in different directions. He thanked me for a wonderful time in high school. He told me, "Susan, I loved you as much as any boy could, and I still do. But you are moving in different circles, with different boys, and you need to be free to explore new frontiers. So do I. I'm working a full-time job and meeting a lot of new people. We travel in different circles. I need to be free as well."
My first reaction was to feel hurt, betrayed, unloved. I sat a long time, just looking into his eyes. He didn't say a word, but let me think. And the more I thought the more I knew he was right. He wasn't jilting me, he was giving me the gift of freedom. I told him, "Robbie, I love you too. But I think you're right, and you had the wisdom to realize where we were heading. I wasn't that wise, until you put it right in front of my nose. Now, let's enjoy our dinner and then head back to your apartment. I want to have a last, grand, goodbye fuck. Will you do that for me?"
"Will I? I sure will. I can't imagine a better way for our relationship to shift gears. Notice that I didn't say, 'End.' I want us to be friends, to have happy memories of our times at Robbinsdale High and most of all to keep in touch."
We did enjoy the meal, and we sure as Hell enjoyed that last fuck. I spent the night, not worrying about what explanation I'd give to my mom, and the next morning Robbie drove me home. On the way he said, "This New Year's Eve we have a date. A double date. I want to meet your new boyfriend, and I'll want you to meet my girl. If we aren't going with someone else by then, just the two of us can have a reprise of last night."
"Oh, Robbie, I'd love that."
It was a threesome on New Year's Eve. Robbie and his girl, Lizzie Wiggans, and me. I spent the first part of the evening demanding that they stop feeling sorry for me not having a boyfriend, and the second part of the evening hearing about their adventures in love. We still spend New Year's Eve together whenever we can, and that's been most years. Robbie's had a good marriage, has three nice kids (I'd love to say that he has the statistical 2.4 kids, but the real world doesn't work that way), and Lizzie has been perfect for him. I wouldn't have been. He was looking for a settled life in which dinner came on the table at six every evening, the television entertained until the ten o'clock news was over, and then sex competed with The Tonight Show as the evening's entertainment. He never would've been happy with the crazy, zany life of a newspaper reporter. All three of us knew it, and I was never jealous of Lizzie nor she of me.
Robbie had told Lizzie our story, warts, fucks, and all, very early in their relationship. Lizzie hadn't emerged from high school a virgin, and hadn't expected that Robbie would've. Robbie told me, some years later, that Lizzie'd told him that he could take me to bed, "For old times sake," on any New Year's Eve. Robbie had thanked Lizzie, and loved her all the more for the offer, but he declined. He told Lizzie, "I had my time with Susan, and she had her time with me. Now I'm yours and I don't want to screw that up." I cried when Robbie told me that, not because I'd missed the sex, but because I realized what a wonderful guy he was. And I knew he was right that we weren't right for each other. I think I was crying because I knew that was true.
I graduated from the U in 1951 and got a job right away with the Tribune. Life was fairly mundane for a junior reporter at the Trib. Then in the spring of 1960 a friend of mine who had a seventh grader in the new Anthony Junior High School told me about a little kid in his son's class that dove like a duck. He said, "Susan, this kid is going somewhere. You need to come and watch him, and tell his story."
I did go watch the kid dive over at Southwest High School–the junior highs didn't having pools, but they had swimming and diving programs that used high school facilities. He was good, damn good. I approached his coach, Nelson Waters, who was also the Southwest High School swimming and diving coach, and asked if he'd introduce me to the young man; I'd like to interview him for a little story in the paper. He called the young diver over and introduced me to Tim.
"How do you do, Mrs. Wilfield. I'm delighted to meet you. If you'd like to talk, we could walk over to the bleachers over there. I'm sure that would be private." Seventh grade!
I have never interviewed anybody, before or since, who was more sure of himself, more in control of the interview, more polite, more honest, or more forthcoming than Tim. We talked for an hour. He told me of his love for diving, how he practiced three days a week after school, and almost all day on Saturday. He told me that he was also learning to be a gymnast in a local club program, and that that took two days a week after school and most of Sunday. I asked him when he studied, and was told that there was plenty of time left in the day for homework and studying. "What kind of grades to you get?"
"What's your full name, Tim?"
"Please, just call me Tim. That's what I prefer."
When he read the column I wrote about him, he called me immediately and thanked me for the wonderful story, and for just using the name, "Tim."
I said, "Tim, I sensed that that was important to you. My editor wanted to run your full name–he would've had to have gotten it from the school, I don't know it–but I held out for just Tim."
"Thank you, Mrs. Wilfield, you are quite right. You know, I think I'm going to continue in my diving successes. May I call you from time to time to talk about things?"
"Of course, Tim. It'll be my pleasure. And I hope it may lead to a lot of stories. That'd be good for both of us."
He said, "I think it's called, 'I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine.' I hope that relationship can go on for some time."
I had no idea when he said that just how true it would be. I've often wondered just how much of his future Tim could've mapped out back then in seventh grade. I know one thing: He might've been about to dream about his athletic and professional successes. He couldn't have imagined Charlie!"
Boy, have I gotten away from the subject! Fast forward about forty years. It's early in the last year of the twentieth century and the first year of the XXVIIth Olympiad–2000. North Dakota is once again preparing to dominate the Olympics as no other single small group ever has, before or since. You already know that North Dakota, specifically the Marty Center, would be represented by five gymnasts: Dylan, Tyler, Julia, Lorrie, and Betts.
Each Olympic sport has a different procedure for selecting Olympic competitors; not all have a Trials at which a team is selected. In particular, Olympic sailing teams are selected based on a series of international races, and the selection is made almost a year before the Olympics. Thus in 1999, at a regatta in Sydney, Tim and Charlie faced the last competition that would decide whether they would be Olympians together. There were three American 49er crews that, mathematically, could've been selected. However, only Tim and Charlie and one other crew had reasonable expectations of winning the place. That other team was the McKee brothers, Jonathan and Charlie. We thought it was a little funny that it was certain that one of the American 49er racers would be named Charlie. They were ages 40 and 37 respectively, as opposed to Charlie and Tim being 58 and 52. It was quite a difference in years, but nothing like the age differences that Tim and Billy had faced in the previous Olympics.
Tim and Charlie were ahead in the competition for Olympic selection as they arrived in Sydney, but not by much. Since this regatta counted for more than any of the previous ones, the two teams would have to be almost tied this time for Tim and Charlie's lead coming in to make any difference. Essentially the winner in Sydney would race again in Sydney a year hence.
The selection regatta was a series of sixteen races, spread over eight days. It involved all of the serious contenders for positions in the Olympic 49er competition from many of the competing countries, of which there would be 17 the following year in Sydney. Not all countries used this race as part of their selection process.
We arrived in Sydney to the most perfect weather you can imagine. You would expect it to be in the 60's, but it was a little warmer than usual, sunny and breezy. There was enough wind to sail, but it would be a very leisurely sail. The morning after we arrived Auggie was in a foul mood. "Damn weather. It's for namby-pamby sailors, but sure as Hell isn't for racing. This is a test of no man."
That prevailed the first three race days. Tim and Charlie sailed very unexciting races, coming in in the top five each race, but only winning one. They led the McKees in three and followed them in three. It stood, essentially, as a continued tie for the American Olympic berth. That evening, however, the weather forecast was for stormy weather, and Auggie's mood lightened appreciably. Tim and Charlie weren't sure what their opinion of the weather was, being more willing to accept what came down the pike, since they couldn't change it anyway.
The next morning, a Thursday, dawned with a completely overcast sky, light on and off showers, and an awful wind. It wasn't that it was so strong, it was simply totally unpredictable. The wave patterns were inconsistent, and gave no clue to wind direction. Auggie was positively gleeful at breakfast, but Tim and Charlie looked a little worried. Tim said, "Auggie, this is terrible weather, its unpredictable. Luck, rather than skill, is likely to take the day."
"Nuts. This is exactly what you've trained for. Get out there and show everybody why you two are the best 49er sailors in the world. Maybe we can just leave the word 49er out of that sentence. Go get 'em."
The Freddie was out on Rushcutter's Bay at least a half-hour before any of the other boats were out. Tim and Charlie were out testing the wind, pushing the boat, raising the spinnaker in wind that many thought was too terrible for a spinnaker. Auggie kept yelling "Push it; push it," and when they did they tipped a couple of times. Auggie seemed gleeful at this, and watched them right the boat twice in 22 seconds and 19 second respectively. A couple of people standing with me, watching all of the boats practice, commented that Tim and Charlie were pushing it so hard they'd be worn out for the race, which would be a really tough one. I just smiled. I knew that the adrenaline high that Tim and Charlie were on would last for another five days.
Our boys–yes, we all thought of them as boys, Hell, they acted like it–were the first across the starting line by four seconds. Races are won by less than that. They were pushing the boat like the dickens, but it seemed to me slightly less than when practicing. However, the McKees managed to take the lead with a superb tactical move that blocked Tim and Charlie's wind. Then "it" happened.
Tim and Charlie were about thirty feet behind and upwind of the McKees. The wind, to the extent that it was coming in any kind of a consistent direction, was coming at the boat from an about 4:00 o'clock direction; that is, over their left shoulders. The water had a nasty chop, but to either hold the lead, or try to capture the lead, both boats were sailing right on the edge. Standing in the service launch, looking through his binoculars Auggie saw it first. Coming right up behind Tim and Charlie was a nasty squall of considerable fury, fully capable of pushing a 49er sailing on the edge right over that edge. Auggie muttered, "It's going to get them. God dammit.'
But Charlie was watching the wind, he loosened his grip on the jib sheet to let it out, and Tim immediately got the signal to do the same to the main sheet. As they let out the sails they shifted their weight to keep the boat balanced. The squall hit, pushed them back up on the edge but not over, and passed over them. They almost pulled the boat over on top of them as the pressure of the wind decreased suddenly, but they grabbed their trapeze wires perfectly and kept everything in balance. They watched the squall hit the McKees' boat with no warning and over it went. Auggie timed them, it took the McKee brothers 38 seconds to right the boat. In that time Tim and Charlie sailed on to inevitable victory. The McKees came in seventh in that race. More than half the races had yet to be sailed before a winner was formally chosen, but in those few seconds the competition was over.
"It" was the subject of a lot of conversation for the rest of the day. I heard a couple of old salts talking about it in a bar that evening. "I don't know how them two Yankees didn't go over in the squall that wiped out the other Yankees."
"I don't think so. The old guy, I think he's Charlie, saw that thing coming."
"That was luck."
"Maybe, but it's the crew's job to be watching that direction. He was doing his job. Then he let that line out so fast. Gads, he was quick."
"How'd the helm know to let his line out?"
"He picked up on what Charlie was doing. You really got to trust your partner in a situation like that. Any hesitation and the boat would've been over."
"That's what happened to the other American boat."
"And it took him more than half a minute to get it right."
"That's pretty fast."
"I saw the other boat–it's called the Freddie–right themselves in practice this morning. They were getting back up in about half the time it took those guys during the race."
A third guy at the bar cut in, "And you know what's so fucking fantastic about those two?"
"They're older than any of us. They're in their fucking fifties."
"You're shitting me."
"I sure as Hell ain't."
At dinner that night Auggie rose with a wine glass full of Coke in his hand and said, "A toast to Mariah. She won the day for Tim and Charlie. And they say the weather is going to be just as bad tomorrow, and that's good."
A few days later I was present for the official announcement that Tim and Charlie would represent the United States on the US Olympic Sailing Team in the positions of Helm and Crew on the 49er. It was an incredibly emotional experience for everyone there, especially those of us that had been following the sporting careers of Tim and Charlie since Tim's high school years. Right after observing the presentation I went back to my hotel room and wrote a little blurb.
Before I sent the blurb to Minneapolis, I showed it to Tim and asked, "I'd like to send this to Bob Madison for his Sports Tidbits column in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
He grinned and said, "I'm not going to give you permission to send this."
"But may I send it?"
"I'm not giving you permission, and I wouldn't dream of telling you that you can't send it."
"You don't want to be quoted, do you?"
"You can't quote what I don't say."
"This is your way of scratching my back, isn't it?"
"For all of the favors that you've done for me over the years, I guess so."
So I sent it, and Bob printed it:
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 23, 1999. Susan Wilfield, retired star sports reporter for the Tribune and then the Star-Tribune, sends this report from Sydney, Australia, where the Trials for the US Olympic Sailing Team have just concluded. "Our own Tim, diver and gymnast from Southwest High School and bemedaled Olympic champion, and his partner, Charlie, gold medal Olympian in archery, have just been announced as members of the US Olympic Sailing Team, sailing a 49er. I'll leave it to Bob to explain what a 49er is, while I report on an event after the ceremony which announced the members of the team. The first person to greet Tim and Charlie was Willie Carson, son of Billy Carson, Tim's Olympic diving partner at the Atlanta Olympics, where Tim and Billy won a gold medal in synchronized diving."
Wilfiled continued, "Tim and Charlie were greeted by Willie who gave Tim, and then both of them, a huge bear hug. Knowing how close that entire group of Olympians is, there's nothing unusual about that. But before Willie hugged Tim, he seemed to ask a question. Before he answered, Tim looked at Charlie and got an affirmative nod. Then he smiled at Willie, and only then did the bear hug begin. You have to believe that something pretty important was communicated by those nods. Here's my speculation: Willie said to Tim, 'Well, you made that team easy enough. How about it, are we on for diving?'
"Tim turned to Charlie, who nodded an OK; Tim passed that on to Willie, who responded with the big hug.
"Don't look for an early announcement, but remember, when you read next spring that Tim and Willie are competing in the US Swimming and Diving Trials for the slot for springboard synchronized diving, you read it here first!"
My [Bob Madison's] Take: Susan knows those two very well. You can take this tip to Vegas and make money. [End.]
I didn't know it at the time, but that very night another incredible conversation went on. Tim and Willie ate dinner together alone, and confirmed in more detail what had been communicated by not much more than a nod earlier in the day. Billy saw them and joined them–no one else would've dreamed of interrupting those two, but the three of them had a more than special relationship. Billy sat down and asked, "Are you guys talking about what I think you're talking about?"
Tim smiled and said, "Yes, Olympic fever."
Billy said, "I've got the bug."
Willie looked at him in wonderment and said, "You have Olympic fever? Does that mean what I think it means?"
Tim looked at both of them and said, "The schedule says I have to go off the springboard. I think that means you two are going off the platform."
Willie said, "I can't believe what I'm hearing. Am I going to get to dive with the world's two best divers in the same Olympics?"
Billy said, "No, the world's second and third best divers are going to get to dive with you in the same Olympics."
Tim said, "OK, we need to think carefully. Can we really pull this off?"
Billy said, "Well, Tim, you're the big question mark, and you've already committed. I work all day at the pool, and Willie doesn't have anything else to do but fuck Sally, so I think we can be ready. We already know that Willie can handle both the springboard and the platform. He debated between you and me as partner, why not both?"
Willie chimed in, "Why not, indeed?"
Tim ended it with, "Yes, why not? When shall the announcements be made?"
Willie said, "We talked about three days before the Trials. We're all gold medalists, so we automatically have an invitation to the trials. I think we may want to announce sooner than that, but we'll see."
Partners were informed that evening, the rest of the world–including me–wouldn't find out for a little while.
Since establishing themselves on the international cycling road race tour, the Marauders had done very well for themselves. There was no particular trials race to qualify for the Olympic Team; rather, the top ranked individuals on the tour were selected. The number of slots open to each country was determined by its success in the same races. The top ten nations, which included the United States, were awarded five slots in the individual men's road race and three in the women's road race–which had about half as many overall competitors as the men's.
Remember that the top ranked American racing teams had a number of foreign riders, who weren't eligible to complete for the US at the Olympics, though they could compete for their home country. In fact, the Marauders, known officially at the Fred's Sports American Road Racing Team, were the only competitive team on the international scene that was made up entirely of Americans. In fact, Fred liked to point out that they were all transplanted North Dakotans, all being transplanted from Oregon. One of the team racers made the top five. That was JoJo and he was delighted to have a shot at the Olympics. Jinx was sixth ranked and first alternate for the team. Not long after official selection in December, 1999, the fourth ranked American took a fall and was unable to complete, ultimately yielding the fifth position to Jinx.
On the women's side, Als captured the number three position, and was destined to march in the opening ceremony holding JoJo in one hand and Jinx in the other. All three were deliriously happy, as were Nels and Mary, and Fred, and all of the Gang.
I do need to mention fencing and archery. While these programs were growing and doing well, neither had reached the point that any of their athletes were qualified to go to the Olympic Trials. Nels and Mary had high hopes for 2004, and had their eyes on two or three athletes in both of those sports that might make it to Athens.
In tennis Winston had done better than anybody expected him to, reaching the quarter finals in several major tournaments. However, at the end of his first season's tour he had concluded two things: First, that he wouldn't be ranked as one of the top four Americans by 2000, which is what he'd have to be to make it to the Olympics. Second, he hated the tour. He wanted to be back among friends in Grand Forks, and had little interest in the traveling that was required to participate in the professional tennis tour. So, after one year, he retired from professional tennis and returned to Grand Forks and entered UND. He never looked back and never regretted his decision. As a consequence, he was never the Olympian that he had hoped to be. If there were any regrets about leaving the pro tour, missing the Olympics would've been the one regret. But to make the Olympics he would've had to aim for 2004, which would've meant six years on the tour. It was not for him.
In terms of North Dakotans going to the 2000 Olympics, we've reached the Swimming and Diving Olympic Trials, which were held at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Fred got Hal to lead the support delegation, since he'd spent four years as a student there–a long time before. Hal said that he barely recognized the place there were so many new buildings, and none of the coaches or staff that he'd trained with were still around. One of his fellow runners was now an assistant track coach, and they had a reunion dinner, but their interests were so different these days, and their approaches to coaching so different, that they found little in common and didn't meet again after the dinner.
Once the word got out in the Gang that Tim, Billy, and Willie were going to be diving, everyone, without exception, let Fred know that that wanted to be part of the trip to Norman. Fred's attitude was always, "The more the merrier," and that was true of this trip as much as all the others. Luckily for Fred, Tim's deal with Willie that they'd go public with their plans to participate in the Diving Trials only three or four days before the Trials was wiped out by my blurb in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. As soon as he heard about it, Fred called Tim and asked, "OK, I need to know. Are you really going to compete in the Diving Trials?"
"Why do you need to know?"
"Because if you are, a Hell of a lot of people need to be transported, housed, fed, and ticketed."
"Willie and I don't need a mob like that. Just the two of us, Charlie and Sally, Billy and Sara...."
"And, and, and. Keep going and you'll list the whole Gang, a bunch of coaches, all the COGs, your sailing team, another dozen or so hangers on. You get the picture. And in case you think you can trim the list, who do you think would volunteer to stay behind, or not be terribly hurt if they weren't invited?"
"OK, OK. I get your point. Willie and me sneaking off on our own just isn't in the cards, is it?"
"In your old age smart you get. Now, is this rumor true?"
"Yeah. And it's a lot bigger than you think."
"What do you mean?"
"Willie is also going to dive with his dad."
"God damn, I don't believe it. You guys really don't understand the meaning of the word retire do you?"
"Talk to Willie. This whole thing is his idea. He's so eager, I simply couldn't say, 'No'."
"I'll bet you tried real hard."
"I really did."
"Bullshit. Tim, this is the kind of thing we love about you, but don't try to blame it on Willie–or Billy."
And, of course, after the blurb was published reporters were all over Tim and Willie about their intentions for Sydney. "No comment," only gets you so far, and besides, Tim had a long history of being honest with the press. That approach had served him well over the years, both as an athlete and as an educator, and he didn't intend to change it now. So he called all his buddies in the press corps, including me–I was glad to know that I was still on his A-list after publishing my little blurb–and alerted us to the fact that he'd be holding a press conference on his next trip back to Grand Forks–he was calling from some God-forsaken port on the Coral Sea where he and Charlie had just smashed the 49er competition and made a lot of sailors change their dreams from gold to silver.
His opening statement at the press conference began, "I regret to say that my old friend Susan Wilfield seems to be able to read me like a book. She correctly interpreted what she saw in Sydney. Willie Carson and I will be competing in the springboard synchronized diving competition at the Olympic Trials in Norman. As gold medalists in the sport we'll be exercising our right to an automatic invitation to the Trials and won't be participatings in any diving meets between now and then. I guess I could say more, but I'll let Willie speak. This whole thing is his idea."
Willie continued the press conference with, "It certainly was my idea. It wasn't just my idea, it was, and is, my dream. Tim, Billy, Hardie and I all had dreams of competing together, and those were mostly fulfilled in Atlanta. But Tim has always been my hero, and the idea of competing with him, in the Trials, and if all goes well, in Sydney, is simply that most glorious of all dreams coming true. But there's more. What Susan Wilfield did not get a hint of in Sydney is that my dad, Billy Carson, and I will compete at the Trials on the platform."
Questions started immediatley.
"Is this even a little realistic?"
Tim replied to that one. "Somebody else is going to have to judge that. It's realistic to Willie. He convinced me. Billy thinks it's realistic."
"You say you aren't going to be in any meets. How can you be ready for the Trials?"
"I didn't say we wouldn't be diving. Just not in meets."
"Can we watch you dive sometime?"
"We dive in the university pool. Unless the team closes the pool to the press, you folks are always welcome. Willie, Billy, and I will be there at four today and at six tomorrow morning. Tomorrow afternoon I'm heading to Italy for sailing."
"Do you seriously think that you can be prepared in two such different sports?"
"I have a history of competing in two sports at the Olympics."
"You and Billy were one of the 'old men' of the Atlanta Olympics. You're four years older now. Can we ever expect you to retire?"
"Two times in the past I've been completely convinced that my Olympic diving days were over. Now here I am. I am equally convinced that this will be my last Olympics. I say that, as I have in the past, with no reservations and no fingers crossed. Twice in the past events have proved me wrong. I retired the first time because I didn't want to compete against Billy. I came back because competing with Billy was a dream come true. And I honestly thought that was the end. Now Willie has told me that diving with me is as important a dream for him as my dream of diving with his father was to me. I couldn't say, 'No,' to him, and that is the honest truth as to why I'm heading to the Trials."
It was Billy's turn to speak. "I'm completely retired and am totally involved with the job of coaching. I hope that UND has one or two students at the Trials as well as Billy, Tim, and me. But when I had the chance to compete with my son, well, I couldn't turn it down. The schedule won't let Tim compete off the platform, so it was easy to settle who competed in which event. We're both jealous of Willie–he gets to complete in both."
"Do you think you have a chance of getting either or both slots for Sydney? Only one pair can go in each event?"
Tim answered, "OK, you've put me on the spot. I have a long history of giving honest answers to the press. So I either have to answer with, 'No comment,' or I have to tell you what I truly think is the answer to your question. The answer is, 'Yes, we have a chance.' But I'll give you a more complete answer than that. I think Willie is going to get two medals in Sydney. I have a long history of never speculating on the color of a medal. But Willie and I intend to stand together on a podium in Sydney. And Willie and his father are going to stand on a podium in Sydney. And I'll go one step further. I intend to step on a second podium in Sydney, that time with Charlie. You can take that to the bank."
I couldn't believe Tim had said that. He'd laid down a gauntlet of gigantic proportions. He was going to take two medals in two sports, in his fifth Olympic Games, upping the ante for the most medals by a single athlete from his current 19 to 21. Was it an arrogant boast? Tim didn't make arrogant boasts. If he said that he thought he could get a medal, then he really thought he'd get that medal, or those medals. And now he was tossing in a prediction for a medal for the Carson father-son pair as well. Only time would tell, but one thing you could certainly bank on: that answer would be on every sports page in America and probably much of Europe and Australia where Olympic sailing was taken seriously. And you could count on one other thing: there would be a full house at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon to watch them dive. The smart reporters and photographers would return the next morning.
I was right. The three of them gave a very pedestrian show that afternoon. They were good, but they put all their effort into one or two dives and made no attempt to put on a show for the press. Not so the next morning. They came in, looked at the much smaller press corps and smiled. Of course, all of their buddies were there–we knew when the real show would be. Tim and Willie put on a real show, doing every dive that they expected to do in Norman, and doing them to perfection. Then Billy and Willie put on their show from the high platform–the height made it even more spectacular. I don't think anybody there thought that Tim's boast was excessive. We all became believers–at least those that hadn't been believers when we simply had Tim's word for it.
I was retired from the paper, so I wasn't officially part of the press corps, though the Star-Tribune had renewed my press pass for the trips to Norman and to Sydney–on the basis of my history with Tim. But they considered me a free-lance and didn't offer to pay my way, though they would pay me for stories that they published, and that would certainly cover my expenses, because I fully intended to file the best stories about Tim, Willie, Billy, and Charlie. But I got an unexpected call from Fred. "Tim tells me you're retired, Susan. That means you can be my guest in Norman and again in Sydney. I think you'll find things are a little nicer in Fredland than in pressland. Do you want to bring a roommate?"
"Fred, what are you talking about?"
"Susan, you know the Gang well enough to know that we aren't shy about talking about things like roommates and such."
"I mean, 'What are you talking about my being your guest?'"
"You're my guest, that's settled. The question was, would you like me to invited a roommate, and if so, who?"
"Can I make a phone call before I answer that?"
"Of course, dear. Or, would you like me to fix you up with a blind date?"
"Fred, be serious. I'll get back to you."
"Soon, I hope."
OK, you need a little more background. Since my time with Robbie I hadn't been chaste, but those instances were rare. I think I could've had a thing for Eddie from Grand Forks. He was a kind, handsome guy, a competent reporter and a lot of fun. Alas, he was married. I usually stayed with Eddie and his wife when I was in Grand Forks, and thanks to all of the exciting things that Tim and Charlie were involved with, that was not infrequent. Eddie had retired about the same time I did, and his wife had died shortly thereafter. I flew up for the funeral, stayed with Eddie, and though nothing happened on that trip, it was clear to both of us that we'd like something to happen. I don't think Fred had any inside information, but here he was opening a door.
I called Eddie and told him about Fred's offer. He answered, "Are you serious, Susan? I love a trip to Norman, and even more I'd love a chance to spend some time with you. But are you sure you want to be roommates?"
"Eddie, I want us to be more than roommates on this trip. Don't say, "Yes," if you're going to limit it to being roommates."
"I wouldn't think of it."
Well, Fred was delighted with the idea, and he called Eddie immediately and invited him. To Norman and to Sydney!
The folks in Norman weren't ready for Tim, Willie, and their entourage! Fred charted a World Airways jet, which came to Grand Forks to pick up the Gang and assorted hangers on, then stopped in Minneapolis to pick up me and Mike Reasal's parents, then in Chicago to pick up Ronnie's father, Frank, who'd been cruising in the Carribean and had left his cruise and flown to Chicago to meet the plane. There was a large Holiday Inn in Norman and Fred had been able to book 73 rooms. There were almost 200 of us, but he was certain that we'd find a way to fit in that number of rooms. The Inn was able to clear out a whole floor for us, and 68 of the rooms were on the third floor. The additional five rooms were spread around the Inn. Fred had been able to book a small banquet room on the first floor for his famous buffet, which was put on by the Holiday Inn kitchen. All of us, and anybody else we felt like bringing were welcome to come and eat from 4:30 in the morning until 1:30 in the morning. That went on for five days. The synchronized diving trials were on the 3nd and fourth days of our stay, Tuesday and Wednesday. The preliminaries were on Tuesday, and they were Tim and Willie's first public performances in Norman.
Tim had told me, and a few others, in advance that he and Willie had decided not to hold anything back from the first dive to the last. Four years before, each with his own partner, they'd held back a little in the preliminaries, but had decided against that this time. The first required dive was fairly easy. Each mounted his springboard; they never seemed to look at each other. Those of us watching tried to tell who was the leader and who the follower, who signaled when to start. We never could. They stood on the end of the board, and simply started, exactly together. The did a one and a half in pike position and slid into the water so quietly you hardly knew they were gone. The audience was stunned–it was so spectactularly perfect that it was almost beyond comprehension. Two bodies simply don't work that perfectly together. They came out of the water together, still completely synchronized. All of a sudden the crowd was on its feet and the roar was deafening. Tim smiled, turn to Willie and they both hugged each other, and walked over to the competitors' bench and sat down. Eddie turned to me and asked, "Why are we wasting time with any more of this? It's a done deal. I don't know how those two do it, but they're the best diving pair I have even seen."
I said, "There's another pair here, and they're going to be competing this afternoon."
After the show that Tim and Willie put on in the morning in the springboard preliminaries, the speculation as to what we might see in afternoon for the platform preliminaries was all over the place. One faction seemed to think that Willie couldn't possibly relate that well to two different partners. The other group thought that there was no way Willie would be here with two partners unless he could do as well with one as the other. It was pointed out that Tim and Billy had gold together in Atlanta. One thing was settled, nobody was going to miss the diving that afternoon.
Father and son disappointed no one, except for the other divers. The only thing left unsettled at the end of the day was which of the two pairs did better. You couldn't settle it from their scores, though Billy and Willie were a tiny fraction of a point ahead at the end of the day–with the number of dives and the number of judges, a mathematical tie was almost impossible
It went like that for two days. Since only one pair could go to the Olympics in each event, the competition for second place was meaningless, and competition for first place simply didn't exist.
I knew that Tim and Billy could handle that kind of situation very well. They sat out with all the other competitors, wished them well on each dive, applauded each dive, chatted with those that wanted to, and you never would've known, until they dove, that they weren't just part of the group. Amazingly, Willie handled the situation just as well. I couldn't believe that they weren't resented more than they seemed to be. Here they were, coming out of nowhere, having avoided every preliminary meet, taking the spots that many pairs had been hoping for for four years. One of the divers from IU, who knew of Billy's legacy there, came up to Tim and Willie, introduced himself, and said, "I had dreams of the Olympics, and I may get an individual slot, but losing out to you two is nothing to be ashamed of. Someday I'm going to be proud to tell my kids who I competed against in the Olympic Trials."
Tim said, "Thank you. And if your kids become divers, bring them up to North Dakota sometime and introduce them. I'd like to see them dive. And believe me, that is a completely honest invitation–even though it's for years from now."
"I hope that someday I can take you up on it."
"Please, please do. I love to meet eager young divers."
Tim and Willie went first the second day, getting a few scores by various judges of less than a ten. The first time it happened, on their third dive, the audience booed the judge when the score was posted. That became a game, and every time something other than a ten was posted the booing got louder. By halfway through the finals the judges stopped giving anything but tens.
In the afternoon finals the officials began by stating that if there was any inappropriate response (understood to mean booing) to the posting of judge's scores, the meet would be stopped and the auditorium cleared.
So, instead of booing a 9.9, each 10 received a loud cheer, and anything else complete silence. I talked afterwards with one of the judges that I knew. He told me, "Susan, we all felt totally intimidated by the crowd. We really didn't want to have to leave with a police escort. But the diving was so good, we really didn't change our scores because of the crowd. The crowd was right. They were, both pairs, the best divers I have ever seen–singly or synchronized. If they don't get gold medals in Sydney, I'll be flabbergasted."
Their press conference centered around two questions: "How have you overcome your age?" worded a variety of ways. And, "How have you kept up your diving for so many years?" Tim didn't have an answer to the first; he simply said that he didn't pay any attention to age. To the second he gave a simple, logical answer, that was completely true. "I practice regularly, two or more hours a day, and I've been doing so since junior high school. I don't intend to stop any time soon. And I know for a fact that the same is true for Billy and Willie."
"Have you kept up your gymnastics, Tim?"
"Yes, but I was never as good a gymnast as I was a diver. And gymnastics has changed and gotten much more spectacular over these thirty years. I've been left behind. I'm probably just about as good as I ever was, but I was being left behind by the Montreal Olympics–I only got one silver medal there. I couldn't possibly compete today."
"Willie, how does it feel to dive with a partner twenty-five years older than you, and then to dive with your father?"
"It's a dream come true. And on my good days, I'm almost as good as they are."
Tim smiled and said, "Don't you believe it: Willie is the best in the world. Well, maybe the best in the world except for his father, Billy."
"If you three are really that good, why aren't you competing in individual competition?"
Tim said, "After my last comment, that becomes a difficult question to answer. But, I'll give you my honest answer. I don't know how well I'd do in individual competition. I'll leave that for others to judge. But I'm here today because of my love for Willie, and we're here to dive together. That's why I'm competing on the Olympic Sailing Team. I want to stand on a podium with Charlie, and I want to stand on a podium with Willie. Standing on a podium by myself is no long part of my ambitions."
Billy answered, "I'll have to say about the same thing. Do you have any idea how proud I'm going to be of my son if we get a medal? Doing it together is just too wonderful. None of us need another individual medal."
Mick, still representing Sports Illustrated, said, "It's not a question, but I'll simply note that there are a lot of young divers here in Norman that are very glad that that's your position. Any chance of it changing?"
"Thank God." That came from one of the top divers from Ohio University who was standing in the back of the room.
But there was an individual competition, in both swimming and diving. And Billy had two boys and one girl competing. One of the boys was Johnny Dawson, a senior who was competing in the backstroke. His preliminary race was on Monday and his finals on Wednesday, at the same time that Billy and Willie were competing. Johnny made it into the finals and it really hurt Billy that he couldn't watch the final race, but Tim was able to go over, along with a number of others. Johnny came in second and had captured a place in the 200 meter backstroke–another North Dakotan headed for Sydney. The same day Pieter Haanson was competing in springboard diving, but he didn't make the cut for the finals. We'd all been there cheering and supporting him, and, according to Billy, he was diving above his level, but the US Olympic Trials are some of the toughest competition in the world, and not making the finals isn't anything to be ashamed of. He wouldn't be a competitor, but Fred assured him that he'd be part of the North Dakota delegation to Sydney.
Nan Watson was a sophomore diver, and she did make it into the finals off the platform. It was clear, watching the field of divers, that she had no chance at the first or second positions–there were two divers, one from Indiana Univeristy and the other from the University of Wisconsin–that had sewn up the first two positions–though it was unclear until the very end who'd be in first–it was the woman from Indiana University. Until the very end there were three or four divers that had a chance at the third position. Nan was good, but her second to last dive had been a little weak. In order to capture the third slot her final dive was going to have to be very, very good. Tim and Billy walked over to her just before the dive and they spoke quietly. Soon after that Nan rode the elevator up to the ten-meter level (Tim, Billy, and Willie were almost the only divers that climbed, though why others didn't copy their success always amazed me) and took her dive. It was just what she needed: very, very good. Judged as high as a 9.9 by one judge. She had won her trip to Sydney!
I asked Tim later what he and Billy had said to Nan. What kind of a pep talk do the two best divers and coaches in the world give in that situation? Tim answered, "We told her we loved her, no matter what her dive was like. And we reminded her that Fred was going to invite her to Sydney regardless. She just smiled at us and said, 'I know, but it's good to hear it'."
That meant that North Dakota would have fourteen Olympic competitors in Sydney, including the President and the Dean of Law of the University of North Dakota. It was an amazing achievement.
That ought to end this episode, but I have to fill you in on my personal story. Eddie and I would've liked to get one of the rooms off of the third floor, so that we could've had a little privacy. But we were both good reporters, and we knew that we needed to take the opportunity to be in the middle of the action. It wasn't the usual practice of the Gang to have reporters this close to their personal action. But Fred trusted Eddie and me and he took advantage of our retired status to let us know that everything we saw in the Inn was "off the record" unless we were specifically told otherwise. Well, those five days with the Gang were an eye-opener for both of us. We had figured out that the sexual rules for Tim, Charlie and their Gang were pretty liberal, but the reality was far beyond our imagination. Doors were virtually never locked, and people wandered all around. The night pairings were pretty much as you would expect them to be after reading this story, but at the time Eddie and I hadn't read the story! Three things stood out for us: everybody seemed to be bisexual; nobody seemed limited to his or her regular partner; and intergenerational sex was common. I think we were most amazed by the last in that list.
Well, to be honest, Eddie and I weren't tempted to enter in, though we got invitations. We were new to each other, and we were glad for the chance to explore what that meant in a non-threatening situation. Eddie was as much fun to fuck as Robbie had been. The few guys that I'd played with over the years didn't hold a candle to either Eddie or Robbie. Honestly, I don't think that had anything to do with how good they were in bed; rather, it was simply that I wasn't really in love with them, and that makes all the difference. I knew I was in love with Eddie from the first day.
We made two resolutions: We'd room together in Sydney, and in Sydney we'd see about exploring the Gang.
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