Episode 202 - Claim
That's an intriguing title for an episode, isn't it? I (Charlie, again) will give you a hint; it comes from the slogan of a very popular campaign on the UND campus in the fall of 2002: Stake Your Claim!
It all started with Hardie, or at least I think it did. He never admitted it, and Willie wouldn't confirm it, but everybody seems to think it started with Hardie. It surfaced in a conversation that Willie had with Larry, the now retired Director of Aquatics when Tim, Billy, and later Willie, were students.
Willie and Sally had invited Larry and his wife Karen to dinner at Red Lobster, one of the national chains that's taking over mid-priced dining in almost every city and town in America (and the world). Willie knew Karen liked Red Lobster, and that was why he chose it. It was shrimp special time, and they had shrimp cocktail, and shrimp for a main dish, cooked three different ways. I know Willie would've preferred steak, but the other three were delighted with the shrimp.
Midway through the meal Willie said, "Someday I'm actually going to invite somebody out for dinner without an agenda, but I'm not sure when."
Larry said to Karen, "I told you there was a hidden agenda." He turned to Willie and said, "Spill it."
Willie said, "Keep this conversation under your hats. I want to know what chance Tim and Billy would have diving at the next Olympics."
Karen said, "You have to be kidding. How old will Tim be?"
"Fifty-seven. But remember, he and Billy won gold in Sydney in synchronized diving."
Larry looked at Willie and asked, "Shouldn't you have added your name to that list?"
"Yes, you. If Tim and Billy were to go to the next Olympics, they'd want you with them. I think they both believe you're the best diver of the three of you."
"Do you think that?"
"That's a tough question, Willie. I think you were the best of the lot of you. But they practice every day. They have literally for decades. It is unprecedented, phenomenal, crazy, but true. You retired and stopped serious practicing, but then decided to dive in Sydney and got back up to speed. I think that was a miracle and one of the reasons I think you were the best of the three of you. You aren't practicing now. Could you be back up to speed, and better than Tim and Billy in time for the Athens Olympics? I honestly doubt it. If I had to bet, if the three of you dove in Athens, you'd get bronze."
"And that means that you think Tim and Billy could get gold and silver."
"They're as good as they ever were, and both took gold medals. I don't think there's a diver today that could touch them. I drop by the pool and watch them dive from time to time. I look at their bodies. My God, they're virtually unchanged in forty years. I'll bet you that they both could wear the clothes they graduated from high school in. And those bodies are as coordinated as they ever were and very nearly as strong. And if a young Chinese diver has done a given difficult dive a hundred times or more in the last four or five years of practice, Tim and Billy have done it a thousand times. Think of the impact of that kind of experience. I wouldn't want to be up against it. Diving isn't a strength sport; if it were, Tim and Billy would be slipping. Tim couldn't compete in today's world on the still rings or the pommel horse. The strength and power of an eighteen-year-old would win out. Not in diving. You know that."
"Yeah, I do."
"But you can't be serious about the Athens Olympics. Tim would laugh you out of his house."
"Yeah, that's what he did when I suggested that he dive in Sydney. Tell the silver medalists in Sydney all about that laughing fit."
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Well, I'm exploring. There are three questions. One, are they good enough? You've answered that tonight. I agree, by the way. Two, could they be persuaded to compete? I don't know. Three, how do I fit into this? I don't know that, either. I thought I'd retired. But the two gold medals in Sydney certainly were intoxicating. So are the endorsements they generated."
Karen said, "Willie, you really are an exceptional young man. Most athletes aren't able to look at themselves as honestly as you seem to be able to. I really admire you for it. But, don't kid yourself. If Billy and Tim dive in Athens, so will you. Don't pretend question three is in doubt."
Sally said, "It isn't in doubt, is it, Willie?"
"No, it isn't. But please understand that I'm not talking about getting Tim and Billy to dive in Athens so that I can. I really am thinking of them, not me."
Karen said, "That I can believe, Willie. I know how much you love the two of them."
"And thank you for dinner. I'm going to go home and call Tim and tell him not to accept any invitations from you for at least a year."
"Don't you dare."
"I won't, but I'll bet Tim will wish I had."
The next day Willie was in my office in the law school. He knew that Tim wouldn't see us together there and so wouldn't ask me what Willie had wanted. He laid the whole thing out, including his conversation with Coach Larry, and asked me what I thought. "What do I think? I think you're out of your fucking mind. On the other hand, so's Tim; you just might be able to sell this to him. If you sell it to Tim, Billy will go along; Billy would never say no to Tim. And Billy won't tell Tim what to do. It'll be like you trying to get Hardie to tell you what he wanted to do when you talked about retiring, which he did and you didn't. What that fair to Hardie?"
"Yes, it was. Hardie was ready to retire. After the first year, he hardly went to the pool to dive. He was ready to quit, and he didn't resent my diving with Tim and Billy in Sydney."
"Hardie tells the truth, and he's adamant on the subject."
"I'm glad to hear that, and I agree with you about Hardie."
"What about Tim?"
"I honestly don't know. I do know that you can't just ask him. You're going to have to wage a carefully planned campaign. And I can't be part of it; he'd kill me. I'm going to be completely neutral. I'm not going to tell him what I think any more than Billy is. If you want to go to Athens and dive with Tim, go for it. I wish you well. But I'm out of the loop."
"Thanks, Uncle Charlie. That's good advice."
The idea surfaced again in a column on the sports page of the Dakota Student. The writer speculated on whether Tim, Billy, and Willie could capture diving slots on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Aquatics Team. The writer went on to say that he'd visited Coach Larry and asked him whether Tim, Billy, and Willie could get places on the team. According to his report, Larry had been a little more circumspect with his analysis than he had with Willie. But in the final analysis, Larry had thought that all three of them could earn places to dive in Athens. And, yes, he thought they'd all medal in something.
Tim and I ate lunch together the day that issue of the paper came out. He showed it to me (I had already read it) and said, "What the Hell's this all about?"
"I think it's pretty clear. Somebody has figured out that you're as good as you ever were, and that therefore you could win another gold medal if you put your mind, such as it is, and your body, magnificent as it is, to it."
"Did this guy talk to you?"
"Of course not. Why would he talk to me? He talked to Larry. He ought to have talked to you, Billy and Willie."
"Damn right. But if I call him, he's going to think I'm taking him seriously. I'm going to keep my mouth shut."
"Have you talked to Billy or Willie?"
"No, should I?"
"They might like to dive in Athens."
"They're both completely retired."
"Just like you were before you dove in Sydney."
"Are you suggesting that I might like to dive in Athens?"
"No.... Well, I'm not going to be diving in Athens."
"But you might like it? Olympic medals can be addictive, can't they?"
"What're you saying, Charlie?"
"That when you answered, 'No,' a minute ago, you had second thoughts. Since you like to tell the truth, the 'no' was problematical. That diving in Athens might be fun."
"Oh, Hell, Charlie. This whole business's silly. I'm not going to dive in Athens."
"What if Billy wanted to? And wanted to go tandem with you?"
"Tim, be warned. You haven't heard the end of this."
He certainly hadn't heard the end of it. I was beginning to wonder who other than Willie might be behind it when a week later the Dakota Student had a banner headline which read, "STAKE YOUR CLAIM." If you'd read only the first paragraph, you wouldn't have thought much about it. It began with some platitudes about sports at UND, about several of the wonderfully successful athletes that'd come through UND (including, but not limited to Tim, Billy, and Willie) and urged the university to "Stake its Claim" to sports greatness.
Then the writer, who remained anonymous, got specific. "Let's talk turkey. We have three divers on this campus that everyone believes are the best three divers in the world. If they were to head to the Olympic Trials, all three would be picked to represent the United States of America in diving. Then, having proceeded to the Olympics in Athens, Greece, they could share a total of six golds medals, two silver medals, and two bronze medals–a huge contribution to the United States medal count, a huge feather in the cap of the beloved University of North Dakota (whose President is always looking for ways to make his university stand out), and a source of individual pride for Tim, Billy Carson, and Willie Carson. Gentlemen, Stake Your Claim."
This time Tim got to my office before I got to his. "Who the Hell is behind this? What's going on? What do you know about this, Charlie?"
"Not much. I know Willie was wondering what it would take to get you to dive in Athens. This may be his answer to that question. But Willie doesn't control the Student. There's a lot more behind this than Willie."
I'd warned Willie that when the next shoe dropped, Tim was going to start asking me specific questions that I was going to have to answer. So that day Willie made himself scarce. In fact, he dove most of the morning, getting to the pool just after Tim left. He had lunch with Max, and the two of them spent a delightful afternoon in Gangland, with their cell phones turned off. They had dinner with the group at The Playhouse, and Willie didn't get back to The Lighthouse till well past Tim's bedtime.
The phone rang at The Lighthouse at six the next morning–not too early to call a house with babies. Willie was wakened and went to the phone. However, by this time Tim'd calmed down a little, and he very calmly asked, "Did you write the article in yesterday's paper?"
"Did you have anything to do with it?"
"Directly, no. Indirectly, I think so. I've talked to a few people and suggested that it would be something really special if the three of us went for the gold."
"Where did the phrase, 'Stake Your Claim,' come from? Did you dream that up?"
"Honestly, no. I think Bob Richardson, Sports Editor for the Student dreamed that one up."
"But you knew about it?"
"I loved it."
"Do you want to dive in Athens, Willie? I thought you were happily retired."
"I was, until the prospect of diving with you in Atlanta arose. That was special. Diving with Dad in Sydney was special. A grand slam in Athens would be even more special."
"What do you mean a grand slam?"
"The three of us lock down all the diving slots. We go gold, silver, bronze off the platform, gold, silver, bronze off the springboard, two of us take gold in synchronized platform, and two take gold in synchronized springboard. A grand slam. Four golds, two silvers, and two bronzes. Of course, since two people get the synchronized medals, it would really be six golds, two silvers, and two bronzes."
"You can't be serious."
"Think about it. Just who on this earth do you think could stop us?"
"Some really good Chinese; some sharp kid from Indiana that we haven't even seen dive; any one of a hundred top level divers in this world."
"Let them take their best shot. But if we don't head to the trials, whoever in those hundred divers hold Olympic gold will never know whether they were the best, or whether it was a gift."
"My God, you are serious."
"Think about it."
The next blow came in a meeting of the Faculty Senate. A professor of philosophy rose and said, "Mr. President (referring to the President of the Senate, not to Tim), may I make a motion? I apologize for not advising you in advance, but I believe that you'll understand my reason for not mentioning this in advance."
"State your motion."
"I move that the Faculty Senate of the University of North Dakota go on record as supporting the efforts on this campus to encourage the President of the University to Stake His Claim, and that we advise him that just as the university supported his efforts in the Olympics in Australia, granting him sufficient time to practice in order to accomplish his spectacular feats in Sydney, we are willing and able to provide the same support for similar feats in Athens, Greece."
Tim was caught completely unawares, but was on his feet in an instant. However, the President of the Senate ignored him and said, "Is there a second?"
The roar of people saying "Second," drowned out any attempt that Tim might've made to speak.
The President said, "Do you want me to repeat the motion? Hearing no request for that, is there discussion?"
Any number of faculty were on their feet, and the President called on John Martinwold, Professor of Public Health, and Dean of the Faculty. Martinwold simply said, "The love affair between this university, including faculty, staff and students, and President Tim is legendary, and the envy of university presidents throughout the land. Likewise, we are the envy of university faculties throughout the land for having the likes of Tim as our President. Supporting Tim as he Stakes His Claim in Athens is, as the students like to say these days, a No Brainer."
Tim finally got to speak. "Where did the idea that I was going to be diving in Athens get started? Does anybody know?"
Professor Martinwold very calmly replied, "I haven't the slightest idea where the idea came from. But it's a very good idea. Whether or not you choose to Stake Your Claim, however, is a matter between you, Billy, Willie, Charlie and God. Neither I, nor this faculty, wish to intrude on that decision. The purpose of this motion is to allow you to be free to make that a personal decision, not affected by obligations to this university."
The President asked, "Are you ready to vote?"
Somebody spoke, "Make it unanimous."
"Is their any objection?" Silence. "The motion has received a unanimous vote."
Tim rose and could only say, "Thank you." To himself he said:
Monday of the week of Thanksgiving, Tim headed to the pool at his usually six in the morning. He stopped diving just before eight, took a shower, dressed, and headed out the door to walk to his office. He got out the door, but couldn't move away from the building because of a large cluster of students, all carrying placards reading "Stake Your Claim." As soon as he was out the door a chant started, "Stake Your Claim, Stake Your Claim, Stake Your Claim...." Soon there was an opening in the crowd so that he could walk toward his office through lines of chanting students, "Stake Your Claim, Stake Your Claim, Stake Your Claim...." Students from around the building doors ran ahead and filled in the spaces ahead of Tim, and this continued as students would, right after he'd passed, run ahead to fill in the lines. They followed like this all the way to Twamley Hall, still chanting, "Stake Your Claim, Stake Your Claim, Stake Your Claim...." They let Tim pass into the building, stopping the chanting just before he got to the door. They all waved to him, and he turned, smiled, and waved back before turning and heading up to my office.
"Did you know about that?"
I hadn't known, but had heard the chanting and had looked out the window to see what was going on. "No, not till the noise started. Then I looked out the window."
Tim's next move was completely unexpected. He was off to Bloomington, Indiana, to talk to Ralph Billings, the now retired aquatics coach and director at Indiana University. Tim'd gotten to know Ralph when he was in high school and looking at colleges. Ralph had then been the diving coach for Tim's first Olympics in Mexico City. Though Tim hadn't attended IU, he and Ralph had great respect for each other, and had a friendly rivalry over the years: UND diving vs. IU diving. Since both claimed Billy, they could never agree on which program did best!
Tim usually talked with me, often as we lay in bed at night, about the problems he faced and the decisions he had to make. However, he was silent about the Stake Your Claim business until he came back from Indiana. He began by telling me of his conversations with Ralph Billings. He'd started by telling Ralph that he'd come for some advice.
Ralph had laughed and said, "Tim is asking for advice? I thought you were the man in control. I remember a little high school kid visiting IU; boy was he in control. That kid was the only kid in history that turned down the kind of offer we made to him. Turned out he was right, too. Well, I guess with age comes the wisdom to know that other people actually know something."
Tim said, "I guess I deserved that. And, yes, I'm pretty confident of myself and my opinions. But I do ask other people's advice, and I do listen to them. I don't always take other people's advice, and I won't even promise to take yours this time, but I truly would like your take on a problem."
"You know I'm always willing to talk, and flattered that you would fly down here to talk. We do have telephones down here, you know."
"Nothing competes with face to face. Here's my problem. A lot of people at UND, well, it seems like everyone at UND, is urging me to compete in diving in Athens. Individual events and synchronized."
"How old are you?"
"I'll be fifty-seven during the Athens Olympics in 2004."
"And that doesn't answer your question?"
"I'm pretty sure that Willie's one of the prime movers in trying to get me to dive. His vision is that he, Billy and I would achieve what he calls a grand slam."
"That would mean the three of you claim all of the men's diving positions on the U.S. team, and win all the golds around, plus a couple of silvers and bronzes. Have I got that right?"
"I think so."
"And Willie thinks the three of you can accomplish this?"
"Yes, he does."
"You know, I missed Sydney. I had a little heart episode a couple of weeks before, and my doctor strongly suggested that traveling around the world was inappropriate; I really had no choice but to take his advice. So, I haven't seen you dive since Atlanta when you and Billy took gold. Can you still dive that well?"
"I'm not sure. How can I judge? And I had a different partner in Sydney."
"Let's go over to the pool and let you give me a demonstration. And don't try to tell me that you didn't bring a swimming suit. I know you love to show off."
"You've got me, dead to rights, and, yes, I brought a suit. And, yes, I'd enjoy showing off for you, but only if you'll promise to be brutally honest in your comments."
"That I will promise. Let's go. I want to see you put on the same show that you did as a high school student those many years ago."
"I can't remember what dives I did back then."
"I can," and he recited the six dives on the list, which Tim had done both from the platform and the springboard.
"You can remember all that?"
"Like it was yesterday. It was the best diving I've ever seen and that continues to be true to this day."
"I think you exaggerate."
"Not in the least. Are you still familiar with those dives? They're a little different than the one's you usually present today. Do you want a little warm up?"
"When were you last diving?"
"How many of the dives on our list did you do yesterday?"
"And the other half?"
"I keep a record. I do every dive in the dive book at least every six months, and I repeat it until I think it's perfect, or as near perfect as I'm going to get it."
"Go ahead, show off for me."
Tim did. He did the twelve dives, and then he did another twelve that were at the top level of difficulty. Ralph had applauded each dive but had said nothing. When Tim finished Ralph said, "I haven't seen Billy or Willie recently, but I have to believe that I've just witnessed the best diver in the world. Perhaps the best diver that has ever been in the world. It was absolute perfection. Flawless. Unbelievable. And your body! Except for a few gray hairs and a few droops and lines in your face, I was looking at the same body as the high school Tim. The only way that could happen is if the stories are all true: You practice diving and/or gymnastics daily. Seldom missing. Is that right?"
"It is; I only miss if I'm traveling."
"Well, you're the best in the world. Now explain to me what possible reason there might be not to go to the trials and stake your claim, along with that of Billy and Willie, and try to get your grand slam?"
"We've all had our chance, collected our medals, stood on the podia. Isn't it someone else's turn?"
"Sure, if they're better than you."
"If I stand on a podium in Athens, I'm going to be thinking of some kid, a really great diver, who is sitting at home in Peoria, or Jacksonville, or Beijing, missing his chance."
"Think about it, Tim. That was true for every medal you ever won. Because you and Charlie took the American spot in the 49er race, some other pair stayed home."
"For me to set out on a quest for a medal, work my butt off, and get the American slot was fair. But what if Charlie and I sailed from time to time over the next two years and then went at it again, and secured the slot a second time. Wouldn't that be greedy?"
"So nobody should ever double up in the Olympics? If you got a platform slot you should give up ambitions to also win a springboard slot? No, the principle is that the United States, and every country, wants to send its very best in every Olympic slot. If you're willing to put in the time and effort to remain the best, you owe in to the team, to the nation if you will, to stake your claim, to use the phrase that's being tossed around at UND."
"How do you know that?"
"Tim, it's all over the web."
"My God, Willie's doing, I'm sure."
"I say, 'Good for Willie'."
"You're no help, Ralph. I guess I'm going to have to go back to Grand Forks and accept Willie's challenge to go for the grand slam. Anything else would be doing it half way."
"Good for you."
"But, keep it under your hat. I'm going to make Willie sweat a little."
"Good for you."
Tim was back in Grand Forks the next day. He didn't mention his conversation with Ralph until we were in bed that evening. Then he said, "Charlie, I have a very difficult decision to make. I haven't talked to you about it for two reasons: First, I didn't want to put you on the spot, and, second, I suspected, and still suspect, that you're in cahoots with Willie. But before a decision is made, I have to ask for your input, and whether you will support me in my decision, if it's different from your input."
"So ask me."
"Consider yourself asked. Should I, as everyone is saying, stake my claim?"
"Just, 'Yes.' No explanations; no reasons; just, 'Yes'?"
"Just yes. You know all the reasons. You've heard them from a dozen people. Why should I list them? Just yes. What did Ralph say?"
"What're you going to do?"
"Will you support me if I say, 'No'?"
"That's an insulting question. You know I will. Unqualified support. Is there a doubt in your mind about that?"
"No, but it's loving and comforting to hear it spoken. OK, here's the deal. Willie, Billy, and I are going to hit a grand slam. If I'm going into this, I'm going to set my sights high. This is the first time in my life I've set my mind on the color of a medal, but that's what's involved."
"Good for you."
"But, I'm going to make Willie sweat a little. Don't you dare tell him of this conversation. I know you two have been talking, but don't you dare spill the beans. Promise?"
The next morning when Tim got to his office his secretary, Irene, was grinning. "What's so funny?"
"Read your emails."
Tim had 572 emails from students, faculty, staff, and others, all of which read, simply, "Stake Your Claim." Except that a few read, "STAKE YOUR CLAIM."
By the time he went home another 321 had arrived. The next morning there were another 145 that had arrived overnight, but at midnight they'd pretty much stopped. Only 4 of the 145 had been sent after midnight. Clearly, whoever was behind the emails–it had to be Willie, but we found out later the email campaign had been orchestrated by Hardie–had managed to keep it to a one-day campaign. Over the next week a dozen or so trickled it, but the vast bulk came in the intended 24-hour period!
Then the trustees got into the act. They voted by email, which they legally couldn't do, but this was only an advisory vote that had no legal effect, to express their willingness to grant paid leave to the President of the University as he pursued Olympic ambitions. Tim couldn't believe it; not that they would vote as they did, but that they'd voted at all.
A few days later the college choir assembled outside of Tim's window. To the tune of "O Tannenbaum" they sang:
Oh, stake your claim,
Oh, stake your claim,
How perfect is thy diving.
Oh, stake your claim,
Oh, stake your claim,
How lovely are thy medals!
It went on through multiple verses that weren't sublime poetry, but which made their case quite well. Willie and Hardie, who were definitely not members of the choir were prominent in the middle of the front row, evidently singing loudly.
After that, Tim decided that he'd better make an announcement before the campus gave up studying so it could campaign for Tim to stake his claim. But how to make the announcement?
Tim called Mike, who still took pictures for Sports Illustrated. Mike, can we scratch each other's back a little?"
"You want a favor, right. Something in the magazine?"
"Yeah. The whole campus has gone nuts with a campaign called, 'Stake Your Claim.' It's aimed at getting me, along with Billy and Willie, to seek to qualify for the Athens Olympics, and then the three of us go to Athens and claim all of the diving medals. They're calling it a grand slam."
"So, are you going? That would be the story."
"No, the story is the Stake Your Claim campaign, They have been chanting, singing, mounting an email campaign–even the faculty and trustees have been involved. It would be a good story."
"So why do you want a story in Sports Illustrated?"
"I've got to figure a unique way to respond to this campaign. And my idea involves your magazine."
"It's not 'my magazine'."
"You know what I mean. I want to respond to the magazine article by writing a letter to the editor. I'll answer their challenge. SI has to promise to print the letter and then not to scoop me by putting the same information in an article. Can you arrange that?"
"Only if the answer's going to be, 'OK, we'll head to Athens'. Anything else isn't news. But I'm sure that I can get the editors to handle it the way you want. How do I fit in? What pictures can I take?"
"You and Bryan head up here as soon as you can. Somebody seems to pull a Stake Your Claim stunt every day or so, so it won't take long for you to get a useful picture. And I'm sure the Dakota Student has pictures of the previous stunts, and using them will please some student photographer."
Mike said, "Tell you what. Mick's retired, but I'll bet he'd like to come and write the story. Bryan would like to get some footage, and what he'd really like would be to camp near you for the next couple of years and follow through on your grand slam, creating another video."
"That's a lot of effort which would be down the drain if we don't get the grand slam."
"Tim, boy, I know you too well. You wouldn't be going after this prize if you didn't think you were going to win it. And if you're going after it, you'll get it. And that's just as true of Billy and Willie. I know all three of you. If I head to Vegas and start placing bets early enough, when the odds are high, I could retire on my winnings."
"You could lose your shirt as well."
"That's why I only fantasy-gamble. Bryan and I will be there as soon as we can get tickets and move Mick's ass. I know he'll be eager."
The next stunt, which I think Mike may have arranged, was to have a little biplane flying over the campus at eight one morning as Tim walked from the natatorium to Twamley. It was pulling a banner that said, simply, "STAKE YOUR CLAIM." I don't think Tim would've seen it, except that several students were standing around outside the natatorium, looking up. Naturally Tim looked up to see what they were looking at, and there was the plane.
"Shit." Said to himself. Out loud he said, "Tell me it isn't so." Bryan caught that on videotape. Bryan was well back and out of sight. One of the students was holding a small microphone. It had to have been arranged by a photographer. But don't feel bad for Tim; he's staged enough such events in his day that turn about is certainly fair play.
The next Tuesday SI appeared with a three-quarter page article written by Mick, with Mike's photo of the biplane and banner, and a Student photo of the choir singing, "Stake Your Claim." The next issue contained this Letter to the Editor,
Your article certainly captured the spirit that is moving the University of North Dakota to urge me to Stake My Claim. It reflects the love and support that I have consistently felt here at the university, whether as a student, athlete, or president. I have always believed that a key to success, including athletic success, is love and support, and UND has consistently selected coaches that share that belief. After the love and support shown to me by the UND community, they leave me no choice but to join Billy and Willie Carson as we Stake Our Claim to positions on the US Olympic Diving Team and to medals in springboard, platform, and synchronized diving. Look out world, the UND divers are going for a Grand Slam.
The editors, having agreed not to run a separate story in that issue, couldn't resist a tag response to the letter, "You read it here first!"
About mid-morning somebody on campus picked up their SI and browsed through the Letters to the Editor, stumbling on the one from Tim. Thanks to modern electronic media, and smart phones carried in every pocket, the news was all over campus in minutes. My secretary walked in with the news moments later, and followed with a copy of the magazine within an hour. Tim got the news when Willie burst into his office, waving his cell phone, and shouting, "A Grand Slam, Uncle Tim. A Grand Slam. You're damn right we'll give 'em a Grand Slam!"
Tim just smiled and waved Willie out of his office so that he could return to work. Or so he pretended. In actuality he called me and said, "Charlie, I assume that you've heard about the Letter to the Editor. Shall we do lunch and chuckle a little."
I said, "Do you want to hide, or show off? If you want to show off, the Faculty Club it has to be."
"I'll see you there at noon."
Our walk across campus to the Faculty Club was punctuated by thumbs up signs, handshakes, shouts of, "Way to go," and other celebratory words and gestures. As we walked into the Faculty Club Tim was greeted by Professor Willard Simons of the English department, a very senior member of the faculty. "Well, President Tim, you certainly have a knack for publicity. What a coup. I know I'm not the first, but let me wish you safe journey to Athens. I suggest that you take along a couple of math majors to keep track of your medal count." Getting that from Professor Simons was as much a coup as getting to the Olympics would be.
The diving world had certainly been aware that the Stake Your Claim campaign was going on, and its intensity had been made clear in the SI article. But there'd been general agreement that Tim wouldn't get sucked in. It was pointed out that he'd never competed against Billy since Mexico City and had never competed against Willie, and he wasn't expected to change his mind. Although the current crop of divers had seen him compete in synchronized diving, none had been alive when he won his individual medals. The possibility that he could repeat, decades later, simply wasn't credited. The announcement that he'd be competing brought one of two reactions: For those not close to Tim, derision at the silliness of the effort. For those that knew Tim well, a strong feeling that he wouldn't be going after a goal that he didn't expect to achieve.
That Tuesday evening he sat down with Billy and Willie and told them, "Look, I should've told you I was going to commit you to this before I wrote the Letter to the Editor, but I was sure you were on board or this Stake Your Claim business would never have gotten started."
They both agreed.
"OK, then we have to have one other understanding. All three of us have to agree to do our damnest to get those gold medals in the individual events. No holding back; no reluctance to beat old Tim; no 9.7 scores. If I can't get an absolute promise on that, then the deal's off. No fingers crossed, nothing held back. It's got to be the best man that wins the gold."
Both agreed. And then Billy said, "But there's one other thing that has to be agreed: In the synchronized diving there are four slots and three of us. One of us has to compete in both synchronized events. Tim, that's going to be you."
Tim replied, "I think it should go to Willie, or you Billy. Or, at least we should flip for it."
Billy and Willie both said, "It's you, or we don't dive."
Tim said, "It's a deal. We don't dive and we forget this whole campaign."
Billy said, "Tim, I love you, and this is non-negotiable. You will dive and you will enter all four events."
Tim said, "OK, I know when I'm beaten. But it's on one condition."
Willie asked, "What's that?"
"We don't know who's going to win the individual golds. But if somebody wins gold in both individual events, that person will be the one in both synchronized events. Somebody may have a shot at winning four diving gold medals in one Olympics and breaking Willie's record of three. Maybe Willie can break that record himself."
"Could we shift the divers around if, say, Willie got the two individual golds."
"Yes, as long was we stick with divers on the team. The world, and probably our Olympic coach will think we couldn't shift partners like that, but we know we can interchange among ourselves with no problem."
Willie asked, "Uncle Tim, do you really think we can win a grand slam?"
"Are you having doubts, Willie?"
"You can bet your sweet ass I am. This all sounded like so much fun, such a sure thing, and then reality hit. I know one thing, I'm going to keep my mouth shut about making any predictions."
Billy said, "Good. I think that should apply to all of us."
Tim was silent for a while and then said, "I'm certainly not going to make any predictions about who among us is going to get gold. But I am willing to put the diving and Olympic worlds on notice that the three of us intend to win this grand slam that Willie has created. I think that my letter has already done that, and I'm certainly not going to back off, now that I've Staked My Claim. And Willie, you need to practice your butt off from now till the Olympics. Your diving hasn't been as regular as Billy's and mine has been."
"I promise, Uncle Tim. I'm working on my Ph.D. but I'll devote all the rest of my waking hours to diving, starting tomorrow."
Billy said, "Don't short change Sally or the kids."
Then Tim smiled, and called to Bryan, who came into the Dakota House living room from the adjoining dining room. Tim asked, "Did you get all of that, Bryan."
"Sure did, Tim."
"Bryan, I'd like you to meet Billy and Willie Carson. I believe that you have met them before in other circumstances. Billy and Willie, Bryan will be videotaping our every move for the next two and a half years to make a video which he's calling Quest for the Grand Slam. It will be to our diving efforts what Auggie and Lynn's book, Quest, was to Charlie's and my sailing quest. And before you object, you need to know that this is part of the package, and you've no choice. Be prepared to live with Bryan. And I can assure you that he's an expert at being unobtrusive."
Tim continued, "Now, I've talked to your wives. You'll be spending the night here with me tonight. Charlie and Sally'll be with Sara. And, yes, Bryan and Mike know all about our rather strange relationships, and they understand the concept of confidentiality. So we don't have to cover anything up because they are around."
That night was the first of a number of nights that the three of them spent together in the next two and a half years. That night they were in Dakota House, but they were more likely to be in Gangland–they found they enjoyed the picture gallery and the pornography collections.
The Olympic Trials were just over two years away. The pressure would be tremendous. The speculation among other divers and the press would be stupendous. The visitors to Grand Forks to watch practices would be overwhelming. The demands that they enter open competitions so that other divers would know what they were up against were repeated often. They decided that they wouldn't enter Nationals or Worlds. The were content to be Olympians. However, they understood the demands that other divers wanted a chance to compete with them. So they announced a plan to enter four regional meets, in the Northern Tier, on the East Coast, in the Deep South, and out in California between then and February of 2004–the Olympic year. However, they decided that they wouldn't shoot for a grand slam in any of those meets. At each meet all three would enter one individual event, and one pair would enter one synchronized event. Having announced their plans well in advance, those four regional meets took on special prominence, and the top divers hastened to register for those meets.
Their first meet was in the early winter of 2002, in Atlanta. There were half again as many entrants in 2002 as there'd been at the same meet in 2001. The audience was double, all eager to see the three of them dive in competition. Only Billy and Willie were entered in the individual springboard event. Tim the individual platform. Technically, since they hadn't been actively diving, they weren't eligible to enter at the regional level, and needed to start at state or district level. But the meet promoters were so eager to have them, that a waiver of that requirement was easily forthcoming, and not objected to by any of their competition. (I should note that since they all held Olympic gold diving medals, they automatically qualified for the Olympic Trials.)
Author's note: I have no idea whether that is true in the U.S. aquatics Olympics Trials, but it makes this story work.
The only competition between any of the three was between Willie and Billy off the springboard. Billy took first and Willie third, behind a really good diver from Ohio University. It was probably the thrill of a lifetime to beat Willie, but Willie hadn't been practicing seriously between the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and the decision of the three of them to go for the grand slam, a decision taken only a couple of months before the Atlanta meet. Willie wasn't phased by the loss, and Tim and Billy were pleased, because they knew that it would kick Willie's practicing into high gear. (Actually, they were wrong there. This whole thing was Willie's doing, and he was taking his practicing very seriously. He didn't need a push. And he did realize that the loss was due to his lack of recent practice.)
When Tim first climbed the 10-meter platform and stood there getting ready to dive a hush came over the audience. Here was the man they came to watch. I think the hush occurred as everyone was shocked by the body of the 57-year-old. As I've said before, he looked like twenty. It was startling. Then his dive, the simplest of the required dives, was flawless. Tim and Billy took first in their events, which included the two of them as a team off the springboard. The world was ready to take them seriously.
The next spring the inevitable finally happened. Tim and Billy would be entered against each other in the individual platform event at the Far West Regional Swim Meet in San Diego. They hadn't dived against each other in competition since the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. I watched with some trepidation, as I knew that this was potentially a very traumatic event for either or both of them. Somebody was going to come in second, and that was going to be very difficult for the one that came in first. That sounds strange, but it's the way their friendship had functioned over the years.
They were doing exactly the same dives in the same order. They were getting nearly all tens, but each got two 9.9s. One of Tim's 9.9 dives was on a dive of slightly greater difficulty that Billy's 9.9. That gave Billy first place and Tim second, but it was so close that nobody present, certainly not Tim or Billy, thought it was predictive of future events. How did Tim and Billy take it? Nobody ever knew. They were both all smiles over their trophies, and neither seemed fazed by the position they ended up in. Conversations with both of them later suggested that they'd come to terms with the fact that only one of them could hold first place, and they were content to let the best man win. It didn't seem to make any difference to either of them. They are either great maskers of their true emotions, or they have ice water in their veins and were emotionless. When I asked Tim, he thought a little and said, "I really don't know."
The calendar ground on and the Olympic Trials, scheduled for March, 2004 at Ohio University in Miami, Ohio, quickly approached. Willie'd been true to his word and had practiced at a pace that matched Tim in his heyday. He traveled to Bloomington to work a while with Ralph, and then two other coaches that were willing to spend time with him just to be able to say that they'd coached him. But his real coaches were his father and uncle, and they couldn't have been more pleased with his progress. They both increased their practice pace somewhat, but they had to work around their responsibilities at the university. Tim was able to gain more time for diving practice by almost, but not quite, eliminating his gymnastics practice. He would be back in the gym following the Olympics.
Those who'd seen them in the regional meets they entered, and those that had traveled to Grand Forks to watch them practice, were convinced that their quest for a grand slam was realistic. Those that had not, often referred to it as quixotic. From time to time Tim thought of it that way as well, but generally he was focused on his goal of a grand slam. However, on more than one occasion he asked me, "I've never set my sights on a gold medal, only a medal; am I setting myself up for a fall?"
"You know, a fall wouldn't hurt you, and Billy and Willie could survive as well. But you sure look perfect to me up on that platform or diving board."
"I wish you were a judge, Charlie."
"I wouldn't have a clue how to judge diving, despite all of the time I've watched you dive. To me all of your dives are stupendous, except for some that give me a hard-on, and those I rate as either gorgeous or erotic, or both."
"Charlie, you're no help."
I have no idea how many people Fred brought with him to Miami. It seemed like the whole world. We occupied most of two Holiday Inns. They were fairly near each other and Fred paid to have two shuttle vans going between them 24/7, and the vans went to the university diving venue when it was open. Meals were served for Fred's guests in both Inns from six in the morning to ten in the evening, and right through the night at one. Fred told Holiday Inn that they should feed all comers, including guests of the Inn that weren't part of our group. That way, Holiday Inn had no problem turning their dining room over to Fred.
For divers (and swimmers, but we were interested in the diving) entered into more than one event, it was a very intense experience. A schedule that was spread over two weeks at the Olympics was spread over five days at the trials. I'll skip all the preliminary stuff, as it was inevitable that Tim, Billy, and Willie would make the finals in everything. That between them they could capture all of the men's diving slots was quite another thing. In particular, there was a small group of college coaches that were quite upset at the possibility that all college divers might miss the Olympics.
Ralph, quite correctly, felt that this might be upsetting to Tim. The day it surfaced, Ralph got Tim aside at the dining room at Holiday Inn for a talk.
"Those guys are rattling your cage, aren't they?"
"In a word, yes."
"Don't let them."
"They're right. None of their divers have a chance."
"Tim, look who they are. None of their divers would have a chance if you three weren't here. IU, Ohio, Michigan–their coaches aren't complaining. The complainers' ringleader is Frank Gibson from Arkansas. They haven't sent a diver to the Olympics for several Olympiads. And the one they sent back then didn't come close to a medal. It's pure sour grapes. The good coaches are impressed with the diving they're seeing and are telling their guys, 'That's how good you have to be to go to the Olympics. You want to go to the Olympics? Set your sights on 2008 and plan to dive as much between now and then as those three have these past four years.' I know that's what the IU team was told, because I was there.
"Tim, don't forget. The Olympics are for the world's best. You three are the world's best. You–all three of you–belong in the Olympics. And you're proving it right here in Miami."
Tim needed that, and he would accept it as God's truth only from Ralph Billings.
What can I say about the semi-finals and finals? It's a visual sport, and this book doesn't have pictures. We're now up to recent enough history that you can find pictures on the internet if you go searching. Try Googling "Tim diving;" you'll have to scroll past all of the scuba diving shops run by somebody named Tim this or Tim that, but there are some fabulous pictures to be seen.
The only way to have fabulous pictures is to have fabulous diving to take pictures of. All three of our heroes came through with truly fabulous diving. At least for the trials they accomplished their grand slam. The three men held all ten men's Olympic diving slots! And, yes, you guess it. Tim held first place in every event. He would dive in four events in Athens, both individual events and both synchronized events. Billy was second from the platform, third from the springboard. Willie was the opposite.
That night, in bed, amidst my expressions of love and admiration, I asked a question I'd thought of on and off for years. "Tim, how do you, as a gay man, wander around that pool with all those practically naked, absolutely gorgeous men–many of them quite properly called boys–without getting a hard-on? I have a hard time keeping my dick just barely under control at your meets."
Tim laughed. "How long have you been thinking about that? The answer is simple. You can thank Speedo. They know that they have a very tiny piece of material holding in some pretty valuable assets, and some of those assets are pretty large. And you can be sure that Speedo cannot afford any wardrobe malfunction. Their suits are a triumph of design: they hold in; they contain rampant urges to rise to occasions that shouldn't be risen to; they protect hidden assets even as they slam into the water from more than 30 feet high; and they stay in place consistently as we dive. There are reasons other than endorsement fees that divers wear Speedos. They are damn good suits. But, Charlie, I don't have a Speedo on right now, and my little thingy down there would like to have an occasion to rise to."
My tongue and I took the hint.
What a triumph the Trials had been! We would have to rearrange the SI covers on the dining room wall once again, as his face (well, actually his whole body, and not much of it was hidden by his tiny Speedo) graced his 20th SI cover. We decided not to mess with the existing arrangement, since the possibility was great that he might appear on a cover after the actual Olympics in Athens. Then we could make places for two covers at once. Cocky, weren't we?
Our group's return to Grand Forks from the Trials had been the occasion for a huge celebration. The three divers had, after all, done exactly what the campus had asked them to do, and they'd accomplished exactly what the campus community believed they could accomplish. Well, at this point they'd only gotten into the race, but it was clear from the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered outside of Twamley that they were convinced that–at least for them–getting into the race was the same as winning it. I have to hope that they don't go through life with that as the main lesson of their college years, but it was very affirming to Tim, Billy, and Willie to have that certainty directed toward them.
The three of them spent their last night in Ohio with their partners. They had felt the need to return to their marital beds as soon as they no longer felt the need for love and support the night before a competition. Certainly I, and I'm sure Sara and Sally, would've been delighted to let them celebrate together that night, but they adamantly refused. Tim said, "Charlie, we're totally indebted to all of you for letting us be together while we've been in Ohio. Particularly since we were all involved in tandem diving (I'll never get used to the word synchronized), sleeping together the night before was important. But the competition is over; we won; and now it's time to return to our partners."
Back home in Grand Forks, as I stood in the front row with Sally and Sara, watching the campus honor its heroes, I said to them, "They need a celebratory night together. Are you both up for a good fuck from an old-timer?"
They both seemed delighted. As soon as the festivities were over, we headed to Dakota House, telling Tim, Billy, and Willie that they were to head for Gangland. Carl heard this, briefly conferred with Willie, and then headed off to Gangland to change the combination on the lock, thus guaranteeing them privacy–provided Willie remembered the new combination.
He did. They had a glorious, celebratory night, followed by a glorious, celebratory morning. They came home midmorning looking quite contented. Carl went down to Gangland from his office about noon and changed the lock combination back.
OK, you know three of the Olympians that North Dakota would send to the Athens Olympics. There were more Olympians from North Dakota. Read on!
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