Episode 203 - Athens
This is Billy, and it's about time that Charlie let me write one of his damn episodes! Hell, my father got to write one, both of my sons have gotten to write one, but I have to wait until Episode 203. OK, I'll admit it's a great episode to write, just as it was a great episode to live through. But here I am at almost exactly 63 years old, and Charlie–consistent with his pattern throughout this story–wants me to tell about my sexual history as a teenager, my sexual history since I met Tim and Charlie already having been well told by Charlie himself.
Actually I didn't have much sexual experience before I met Tim and Charlie. In sixth grade a girl in my class, Jennie Marx, dared me to play doctor and nurse with her. I was pretty shy at the thought of letting a "nurse" examine me, but the idea of pretending to be a "doctor" examining her was tempting. I didn't say, "Yes," or, "No," but, "Where?"
"No one is home at my house. We can go there after school."
I said, "OK," with as much fear as enthusiasm. We met after school and walked to her house, which was very close to the school.
On the way she asked, "Have you ever taken your clothes off with a girl?"
"No. What about you?"
"The only boy I've seen naked is my brother, and he won't let me touch him."
"Where is he this afternoon?"
"He's in eighth grade and plays baseball after school. He won't be around for a couple of hours."
"What about your parents?"
"They get home between five and five-thirty, depending on when they leave and traffic; they're never home before five. It's only three-fifteen, we have plenty of time alone."
"Just what are we going to do?"
"I'm not sure. I've never played doctor or nurse." At this point we got to her house and we went in through the back door, which was the door her key fit. We drank some apple juice in the kitchen, and then she invited me to go up to her room. Her room had lots of pink, plenty of dolls, and a desk painted white that she used for study. She sat at her desk chair and motioned me to a stuffed chair in the opposite corner.
I said, "Your parents wouldn't want me in here, would they?"
"No. They also wouldn't want us to take off our clothes, but I hope that's what we're going to do."
"Who goes first?"
"We go together."
That seemed fair, so I stood up and started to take off my shirt. Jennie just watched. I said, "We aren't going together."
She said, "Sorry, I was too interested in watching you." She took off her blouse and undershirt–she didn't need a bra yet. She came over to me and tickled my nipples. "I told you, I've looked at my brother naked. I'm interested in touching and feeling which is what nurses and doctors do. You can touch me."
I did, but there isn't much to touching a flat, sixth grade chest. I sat down and took off my shoes and socks, knowing that they'd have to be off to get my jeans off. She sat on the edge of her bed and took off her sneakers and bobby sox. She looked cute, but was clearly very nervous about our situation.
If she was nervous, think about me. By this time I was hard as a rock, and that fact was hidden by my jeans and the fact that I was sitting down. I'm not sure what inspired me, but I decided that I needed to tell her about boners, which I proceeded to do, assuring her at the end of the brief story that I had one.
"Let me see it."
"You take off the rest of your clothes and I'll take mine off." I was pretty sure that this would lead to a You First/No You First standoff, but it didn't. Jennie slipped off her skirt and then her undies, but quickly sat down so that not much could be seen. I had no choice but to do the same, and I did. Now we faced each other, naked and sitting down.
Jennie said, "We stand up on three. One. Two. Three." She stood up. I was a little slower, but I stood up as well. We both looked at each other's genitalia for a while, and then Jennie said, "I told you that I was interested in touching and feeling. But I've never seen a boner before. My brother's dick has always just hung down."
"Sisters don't excite brothers. Naked little girls do excite naked little boys. And I'm excited. Now, who gets to touch whom first?"
Jennie said, "Well, I got naked first, so I should get to touch you first."
I said, "OK," and she took her hand and first touched and the squeezed my dick.
She said, "OK, it's time to play nurse and doctor. Lay down on my bed and let me play nurse."
I did, and she did. She was quite thorough, asking questions about my balls, my dick, the head of my dick. She tried pushing it down, and found that a good boner is a good boner and won't let you push it down. After a few minutes she got up and said, "OK, that was neat. Now it's your turn, doctor."
She got up on her bed, spread her legs, and said, "Don't be shy, I wasn't."
It took a little while to get brave enough to actually stick my finger inside her, but Jennie insisted that I really couldn't understand a girl unless I pushed inside. She showed me where, and I did push in. She tried to explain the parts I was encountering, but I don't think I really understood much. I certainly don't remember much, except the combination of thrill and embarrassment as I pushed my finger into a vagina for the first time. It was also the last time until I got that far with Sara!
All through junior high, whenever Jennie saw me she'd say, "Hi, Doc." If we were completely alone, which was quite seldom in a big school, she'd rub my groin and say, "Any time, Doc." I never took her up on it.
Charlie wants to know how I learned to masturbate. Well, sometime around age twelve or thirteen my playing with my dick and balls in bed got fairly serious. I found that lying on my stomach with pressure on my dick, and pushing up and down with my feet on the footboard was very exciting. Finally, one night I came with a mess all over my pajamas. I found that it would dry overnight, and I could ignore it. Experimentation led to the conclusion that lying on my back and using my hand was a lot more efficient, and made it easy to clean up with the underpants that I had just taken off. Eventually the locker room talk at school caught up with my adventures in bed, and I figured out what was going on.
I'll share one last thing. The idea of any kind of sex with a boy never really occurred to me before I met Tim. Yeah, I did participate in, actually I won, a circle jerk with some of the swim team, but we never touched each other, we just jacked off. But talking with Tim and Charlie got me thinking about gay sex. So I talked with a couple of the boys that'd been in the circle jerk. They were intrigued with the idea of trying sex with a boy, and we experimented a few times that year–tenth grade. We tried jacking each other off, sucking, and fucking. They were dating girls at the time, and decided that they really preferred girls–I'm not sure just how far they were going with their girls. I think they got tired of each other and me when they reached the point of having an orgasm with their girls. I wasn't sorry to see it end, even though I didn't have a girl at the time. But I was very busy with my diving, and finding time for sex with two boys was difficult. I'm glad for that experience, because it helped me sort out my sexual identity which had gotten a little confused by my interactions with Tim and Charlie, which were certainly sexual, but never physical in any way until that magical eighteenth birthday.
OK, Charlie. You happy?
The North Dakota/UND/Grand Forks delegation to the Athens Olympics would've been newsworthy if it had only been Tim, Willie and I. Our Grand Slam in the Trials had focused attention on Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the UND diving program. However, NTAC, the Marty Center, and the university wrestling and aquatics (swimmers) programs all had athletes that had qualified for various Olympic Trials.
In cycling there are no specific Trials for the road races. The United States would send its top five ranked male cyclists and its top three ranked female cyclists as the teams for the two road races. Remarkably, four of the Marauders made the team: Jojo and Jinx who were ranked second and third and who had both raced in Sydney; Jake, ranked fifth, who would be new to the Olympics; and Als who was now the number two ranked woman. It showed the presence that the NTAC team was acquiring among Americans in international cycling. However, since the sport was dominated by the Europeans, being on top of the American heap was no guarantee of a successful Olympic bid. Most "American" teams had many Europeans on them, the Marauders still being the only all-American team on the international circuit.
Nels and Mary, not to mention Fred, were delighted with the Marauders' success, but NTAC had more. They had three fencers at the Trials, and Michelle Raditz secured a place in women's foil. They had two archers at the Trials, but neither made it to the Olympics. Except, of course, that Fred invited all of the NTAC athletes that went to the Trials to be part of his party in Athens. All eventually accepted.
The Cavers of the Marty Center sent a nice group to the trials. There were currently nine Cavers, none of which you've met in this story, because they were all new to the Cave (but not the Marty Center where they'd been gymnasts since early elementary school) since the 2000 Olympics. Four of this new group, two boys, Gil Stevenson and Fritz Palmer, and two girls, Ellen Halverson and Nancy Drew (honest to God, that was her given name), would be competing in the Trials.
This new group of Cavers wasn't on the Gang's radar screen. We'd been very much involved with the Cavers because Nels was a Caver. But as the Cavers that were there with Nels moved on, we didn't keep up a close connection. Of course, since Fred and Marty were key members of the Gang we knew about the Cave and how they were doing. And we watched them compete. Tim would drop by and greet them, offering pointers and support. But they didn't move to being part of the Gang. Tim did report that the "rules of the Cave" hadn't changed. They all changed and showered together, and Tim reported that the sexuality on the mat was slightly more overt than with previous groups. That would seem to be the trend of our entire society!
Marty again achieved a perfect success record as all four of his gymnasts at the Trials won places on the U.S. team.
The UND aquatics program was getting better and better, but UND was still a Division II school, and had no reasonable claim on positions on the Olympic team. (Try to tell that to Tim.) Aquatics includes swimming and diving, and the three of us would be the sole divers at the Trials. However, my swimmers were beginning to make a place for themselves as individuals in NCAA meets. John Rafferty swam freestyle at the longer distances, 200, 400, and 1,500 meters. Jane Simmons swam the individual medley at the 200 and 400 meter distances. Both were good, but getting a place on the Olympic team was going to be a very difficult proposition.
You already know about diving in the Olympic Trials. In swimming John and Jane didn't run away with all the slots like Tim, Willie and I did in diving. But, miracle of miracles, they both managed to get a slot: John in the 1,500 meter freestyle and Jane in the 200 medley. Both had come in third in the final, but that secured them a trip to Athens. Scoring Olympic medals wasn't really on the table, but they were destined for a wonderful time being Olympians in Athens.
UND had a heavyweight wrestler, Simon Frazier, that had been tearing up the competition in Division II wrestling. He hadn't been defeated all year–his junior year. Damned if, in the Trials, not a single wrestler from a Division I school–or anywhere else–could beat him. In fact, we checked, he hadn't been beaten since midway through his freshman year. He was determined not to let that change in Athens. We felt he just might pull it off.
So, we would head to Athens with 3 divers, 2 swimmers, 1 wrestler, 4 gymnasts, 1 fencer, and 4 cyclists. A total of 15 athletes from North Dakota. To put that number in perspective, if the population of California produced Olympians at the same rate as the population of North Dakota, the entire U.S. Olympic Team would be from California and its colleges. I'm quite certain that Tim was more excited by the number 15 than he was for his role in the diving Grand Slam.
Tim and the Grand Slam weren't the only aquatics news going into the Athens Olympics. Michael Phelps, the fantastic swimmer out of the North Baltimore Swim Club was entering eight events and there was considerable buzz that he might win gold in all of them. He'd competed as a fourteen-year-old in Sydney, coming in fifth in the butterfly. People, including Tim, had predicted back then that we would see more of him, and it was certain that we would in Athens.
The Fred's Sports contingent in Athens was almost 400 persons. This was the result of a growing Gang, fifteen athletes and their families, invitations to key or outstanding Fred's Sports employees, invitations to all North Dakotans that had made it to their Trials, and Fred's firm belief–expressed in invitations issued to many–that "the more the merrier" was the true embodiment of the American way of life. The Athens Olympic Games cost Fred's Sports, and Fred, north of two million dollars. The tax man determined what Fred's Sports could pay with pretax dollars and what Fred would pay with post-tax dollars. Fred didn't care; he hired accountants to get it right, and paid his taxes with good cheer. He figured they were a good bargain for the roads, schools, hospitals, and other services provided by a good government. And if you asked Andy, he'd tell you that the two million the trip to Athens cost was just chump change for Fred's Sports. "You have no idea how the money rolls in," he told us. He also assured us that Fred did, and was careful not to spend more than he had. "But," Andy added, "that would really be hard to do."
Fred's contingent–what else could we call ourselves?–pretty much marched to Fred's drum when it came to travel schedules and arrangements. Fred didn't allow people to march to different drummers. Mind you, he wasn't controlling; he simply was generous to a fault and didn't take very well to people refusing his generosity. For example, the two NTAC archers who'd been to the Olympic Trials and hadn't qualified for the Olympics were reluctant to accept Fred's invitation to go to Athens with the group. "But we didn't qualify!" one of them protested.
Fred simply said, "You didn't make the U.S. Team, but you're the stars of the NTAC Team and you belong with us in Athens! We leave on August ninth, there will be seats for you on the plane and a hotel room for you two to share in Athens. Be there."
They asked Nels, who simply replied, "Be there."
They were at the airport on time and were swept along with the rest of Fred's contingent. They had a wonderful time, and thanked Fred profusely several times; at Tim's urging Fred got kisses from them in the plane on the way home.
Actually, there were two Fred's contingents: the athletes and the spectators. The athletes, coaches, partners and spouses if any, and others needed to directly support the athletes, left for Athens at the end of July. The athletes were, of course, part of the U.S. Olympic Team, but what team was going to say no to Fred's offer to transport members of the team and house and feed them in Athens until they checked into the Olympic Village. In the actual event, Fred carried along several others from the team just because it worked out better that way (all the cyclists for the road races traveled with us).
The spectators arrived on Monday, August 9, 2004, and had three free days to sightsee and relax before the Opening Ceremony on Friday. It was a lovely ceremony with Greek goddesses performing a ceremony before the lighting of the Olympic flame. I know Tim missed walking with Charlie as the athletes processed in, but he joined with Willie and me to make a hand-holding trio. Willie and I both wanted Tim to be the center of the trio, but he refused to break up the father and son pair; so I was in the middle with Tim holding my right hand and Willie my left. What a thrill! I certainly know how Tim felt about walking hand-in-hand with Charlie.
The next day, Saturday, would be make or break for Team North Dakota as we'd begun calling ourselves–after Fred had demanded that we not refer to ourselves as Team Fred. That first day would feature the men's cycling road race, the synchronized platform diving, the men's gymnastics qualifications, and in swimming the qualifications and finals for the women's individual medley. Wow, our three male road racers and our one female swimmer would be finished, win or lose, by the end of the first day. The male gymnasts couldn't win medals that day, but they could fail to qualify and have the Olympics over for them. As for the diving Grand Slam, this was event one of four. Tim and I would begin on Saturday morning; if by that evening we didn't have gold medals, then the Grand Slam, at least for us, was a dream that would never come to pass.
OK, I know you're interested in Olympic Village rooming and sleeping arrangements (not necessarily the same), and I will have to admit, after all my experience with the Gang, that these do affect the Olympic athletic results. I'll go along with the sentiment expressed before in this narrative, that sex isn't going to make you a better athlete. But I also firmly believe that a healthy sexual relationship can affect your ability to perform at your highest levels in a given situation. This is especially true in dual events where people must work together–the obvious examples being 49er sailing and synchronized diving. For the diving, I speak from experience.
Well, let's start with the three of us going for the Grand Slam. To begin with, our Olympic hosts were pretty wedded to the two-to-a-room idea, and those two were always of the same sex. The physical arrangements didn't prohibit roommate switching, but being assigned to mixed rooms was simply not going to happen, nor were triples. Both Willie and I suggested that Tim room with the other, but Tim would have none of it. Father and son would room together and anything else was not to be discussed. Tim approached Jojo and asked him if he'd like to be his roommate. Jojo was flabbergasted. He, Jinx and Jake were trying to figure out who would room with whom, and then along came this suggestion from Tim. Certainly part of Tim's motivation was the simple fact of two groups of three that had to resolve their roommate problem. But I also know, from talking to Tim, that there was more to it than that. Ever since Jojo, and the rest of the Marauders but especially Jojo and Als, had come on the scene he'd been intrigued by them: their enthusiasm, their daring, their housing arrangement, the way they embraced the Gang and what it stood for, and the way they performed as a group. The idea of getting to know Jojo better appealed to Tim. As for Jojo, he really was enthusiastic about the Gang, and Tim and Charlie were the keys to the Gang. Rooming with Tim would be wonderful. And, as Tim made clear, and Jojo enthusiastically agreed, it would also be sexual, and that would involve Willie and me as well as Tim, and trading off was certainly in the cards.
The rest of the men paired up easily, Jake with Jinx, Gil with Fritz (both gymnasts), and John Rafferty, the swimmer, with Simon Frazier, the wrestler. John, a tall, lanky, powerful long distance swimmer, and Simon, a tall, brick-solid, powerful heavyweight wrestler made quite a pair. The looked like, if angered, they could take on the whole floor of their village building!
The women were more of a problem–the problem that goes with odd numbers. It was quickly solved for us by Ellen Halverson, the gymnast. Early on in the planning for the trip to Athens she'd recognized the "odd woman" problem, as she put it. She found a roommate among the other women on the U.S. Gymnastics Team, promptly told us of her arrangements while assuring us that she was quite pleased with them even though it meant breaking up the Cavers, and just as promptly solved our roommate problem. Als and Raditz, the fencer, wanted to room together, having been friends for a while in Grand Forks. Jane Simmons, the swimmer, would room with Nancy Drew since they were the last two to pair up. Both seemed very happy with the pairing, and we never heard a complaint.
As for sex, we knew there'd be sex involved with the three of us and Jojo–Jojo was eager. Jake and Jinx would simply be continuing to live as they did in The Wheelhouse, and Als and Jojo would certainly be joining in. The Cavers were unknowns–except that we knew that the Cave had become even more sexual than in its early days, or so Tim reported and Marty concurred (with a wink). We had no idea about our two powerhouses, John and Simon; except that we knew that if they really went at it, beds could be destroyed! Likewise we had no idea about Jane and Nancy.
Fred, bless him, who was afraid of no subject, got John, Simon, Jane and Nancy together soon after we'd all settled on roommate selection. He raised the subject of sex, the arrangements for Athens, the fact that they'd be rooming with people that they didn't have a long standing relationship with, and the value of a healthy sexual relationship in the context of extreme athletics. He went on to say that he was bringing the subject up, because he'd seen too many kids avoid the subject until it was too late to have a relationship and the time left was only good for a fast fuck. Relationships were what was needed in Athens. Well, the four were virtually struck dumb. Fred was afraid his willingness to step boldly had gotten him into serious trouble. They all stared at Fred and then at each other, and then all four burst out laughing. It wasn't the subject, but the fact that this came from an eighty-year-old man who looked and acted like their grandfather, except that they all admitted later that of their grandfathers still living, all were creatures of the depression era, and Fred seemed to be carved right out of the twenty-first century.
Simon spoke first. "Fred, I can't believe you just said all that to us. You really are as fantastic as people have told us you are. But not to worry. We have all had essentially the same conversation with each other. We're all bi- and expect to have a ball between now and Athens, and in Athens. And if it doesn't help us win medals, it sure as Hell will give us a good time in Greece."
Fred got up, kissed them all, right on the lips, lots of tongue, and said, "Let's go to dinner at the steak house."
It was Simon who got the idea first, and he asked, "Fred, where's Marty this evening?"
"He's having dinner with some of his cavers, inviting those who won't be on the U.S. Olympic Team to come as guests of Fred and the Cave."
Nancy asked, "Marty is taking all of the Cavers?"
Fred replied, "The Cavers are a group. It's too bad they couldn't all be Olympians, but if one is going to Athens, they all are."
Simon returned to his stream of thought and continued, "What would you think if we came back here after dinner and explored the implications of those kisses you just gave us."
Fred said, "I'd love it. But I can't ask you kids to get involved with an octogenarian."
"You can't ask, but we can. And I just did."
The others joined in with their concurrences.
Fred's face filled with delight, and he said, "Let's go have those steak appetizers." He did duck out for a quick telephone call to Marty, telling him to find someplace else to spend the night. Marty would head to The Playhouse before the night was over.
The stage was set for Athens. After the first night in the village Tim reported that Jojo was extraordinarily sexual. He told Charlie the next morning, "Charlie, that kid rides his dick as long and hard as he rides a bicycle! I could just barely keep up."
"But you did keep up, didn't you?"
"Don't but me. You kept up with the virile twenty-six-year-old in bed, just like you're going to keep with the teenage diving phenoms that think they're going to beat the old man."
"You're not jealous?"
"What kind of a question is that? When it's all over, I get you all to myself–give or take dozens of Gang members that think I ought to share you. Right now your job is to pretend you're twenty-six, getting all the blow jobs you want from your fellow athletes, and win medal after medal after medal. Then go out and don't pretend; do it!"
The next night Tim was again with Jojo. After they'd come to their room and shut the door, Tim pulled down Jojo's pants and felt his legs. He said, "Legs of steel. As a bike rider you had to have them." Then he told how Charlie loved making love to Hal's legs of steel.
Jojo got the idea, pulled off his clothes, and lay down on the bed with his feet on the pillow. He said, "Make love to my legs of steel. Just don't forget the third one." Tim did, and as he moved to Jojo's cock, he stuck his own into Jojo's mouth for 69. Both agreed it was wonderful, kissed hard, and fell asleep.
The next two nights he was with me, and we explored each other as we had many times before, still able to find new and intriguing things about each other's bodies. The next morning was Saturday, and we headed to OAKA (the Athens Olympic Aquatic Center) where synchronized platform diving would be the first aquatic event of the Olympics.
We were ready. Oh, God, were we ready. I'd love to keep you in suspense, but there wasn't any suspense. From our first dives to the last we were on top. We weren't flawless; nobody ever is. But we certainly made the case for the old men. The young kids didn't have a chance. Practice and experience carried the day. The talk around the pool wasn't so much about our winning, but that virtually all of the other divers that had hoped for gold medals began to realize that they were going to be shit out of luck–a phrase I heard more than once. The pair from China got the silver and Australia the bronze, realizing that an American sweep was impossible in the synchronized events, because only one American team was allowed to enter.
You can say what you want, but gold medals are heady stuff and hearing "The Star Spangled Banner" played as you stand on the top podium is heady stuff. Standing there with Tim was fantastic. At that moment I understood where Tim and Charlie got the will power to give three years of their lives, and incredible effort, to learning to sail a 49er. I floated down off the podium, and in a sense I'm still floating as I write this–years later.
Two days later Willie and Tim gave a repeat performance, this time from the springboard. Greece and Germany got silver and bronze. Everyone was delighted to see the divers from the host nation capture the first of their sixteen medals of the 2004 Olympics. Willie, Tim and I realized with some relief that we were half way to the Grand Slam. The first Gang member to reach us after the medal ceremony was Hardie, who simply said, "I told you so," and winked at Willie. Don't tell me this whole thing didn't start with Hardie.
UND's Jane Simmons took the bronze in the women's individual medley, setting a personal best by three one-hundredths of a second, and scoring a complete upset for a swimmer that wasn't expected to make it into the finals. Her comment afterwards; "Nancy Drew, I love you." There's a story behind that. As they'd told Fred, Jane, Nancy, John, and Simon had discussed the sexual implications of their situation, and had agreed to explore them. This started before they left for Athens and continued at the hotel in Athens before they moved to the village. The girls were delighted by the attention from and the bodies of the two boys, and the boys were equally intrigued with the girls. But they made an unexpected discovery. The girls liked sex with each other and so did the boys. By the time they'd moved into the village, nearly all of their sex was gay sex, and they were content that way. Further, the girls at least were beginning to see romance in their futures as well as sexual pleasure. Jane's "Nancy Drew, I love you," was the first public expression of this, but it certainly wasn't ambiguous.
Our two men gymnasts qualified, Gil in the all-around and the rings; Fritz only on the parallel bars–he was devastated that he didn't make it on the high bar. Marty took him to the woodshed for letting his disappointment about the high bar jeopardize his possible success on the parallel bars. Fritz took Marty's criticism fairly well, and with the support of the other Cavers–all of whom were in Athens–he more or less got over his disappointment.
That left Jojo, Jake, and Jinx in the road race. The great thing about the course was that it wound around central Athens near some very famous landmarks, skirting around the Acropolis at the end of the course–which the men would circle for 17 laps, about 225 kilometers. There were two hills, the first on Alexandros Avenue which rose just under fifty meters in two kilometers, and Licabettous Hill–the highest point in Athens–where the climb was just under 100 meters in the same 2 km. Perhaps saving Jojo's life, or perhaps costing him an opportunity to get ahead, there were no dangerous turns at the bottoms of hills, as there'd been in Sydney.
Well before the race, back in Grand Forks in fact, Jake and Jinx had told Jojo that they saw their role in the road race as supporting him. Jake said, "Look, Jojo, we all know that Jinx and I aren't going to get a medal in Athens, and you might. You're good enough, and we aren't."
"That's stupid," said Jojo.
"No, saying it's stupid is stupid," answered Jinx. "It's simply not true that either Jake or I are among the top three cyclists in the world. You're close, but probably not quite that good. But there's a lot of luck in road racing, and a need for good teamwork. With luck and teamwork you could medal. Now don't even think about turning down support from your teammates."
Jojo had to agree. Now as they got ready for the start of the road race at just after noon on Saturday, the three agreed they'd ride together, breaking the wind for each other. Jinx and Jake would take turns leading. Jojo wanted to take his turn, but they would have none of it. Jinx said, "When the break from the peloton occurs, you need to be as rested as possible, because you will be all on your own from then on in." The break occurred on the 14th circuit in the descent from Licabettous Hill, unusually late at this level of cycling. It was led by Paolo Bettini of Italy and Sérgio Paulinho of Portugal, with Axel Merckx of Belgium and Jojo close on their heels. The race would be decided in the six hill assents–two per circuit–in the last three circuits. Could Jojo hold on, and more importantly, could those legs of his rise to the occasion and pass one, two or (impossibly) three of the riders in front of him. He seemed to fall a little further behind on the 16th trip up Licabettous Hill, but gained back his position on the descent. Everybody was fading a little as they started the last climb on Alexandros Avenue. In the descent from there to the start of the steeper climb, Jojo moved into third position. That seemed to rejuvenate him, and he headed into the last climb with a fervor. He was less than a second behind second place as they started the last descent from Licabettous Hill–this descent, interrupted by two small climbs–was the full second half of the circuit. The four riders, with Jojo in third, would likely settle the race in the short climb just before the finish. It would be a cliffhanger, regardless.
Jojo poured everything he had into those pedals. You could see him straining his muscles to the limit. The problem was, so were the other three riders in this front group. They finished the last short climb and had three-tenths of a kilometer to the finish line. Nobody passed anybody–in ten seconds all four crossed the finish: Italy, Portugal, USA, Belgium. Jojo had his second Olympic medal. In less than a few more seconds the peloton roared through, with Jinx and Jake not far from the front at 16th and 17th. They got the word to us at the OAKA and we were delighted.
Later that evening, as Tim was relaxing over a snack in the lounge area of the Olympic Village he asked Jojo about his medal. Jojo replied, "Tim, I can't believe it. I medaled in two consecutive Olympics. It's absolutely fantastic."
Tim asked, "It doesn't bother you that it isn't gold?"
"Oh, Hell, Tim. Getting the gold in Sydney was shear luck. I can't ask for that two times in a row. I wouldn't have gotten gold if the German rider hadn't fallen. I didn't like getting a medal that way. No, I earned this one fair and square, as did the two guys in front of me. You can bet I tried like Hell to catch them, but I just couldn't. I'm so glad to have any medal."
Tim hugged him so tight he could hardly breathe. Tim said, "Let's go to bed, you deserve what you're about to get."
Jojo said, "You're getting a gold medal; tonight should be what you deserve as well. Shouldn't you be sleeping with Charlie?"
"Nuts. Charlie isn't in the Village, but I assure you he isn't alone, or if he is, it's by his own choice. Now, you worked your ass, well your legs, off for that medal. I just had to fall off a platform. Let's go to bed."
OK, readers, use your imagination; you can be sure that Tim and Jojo did!
Sunday wasn't for the divers; it was for the women's road race and gymnastics qualifying. Most of the time on the road racing circuit, Als exercised her hard fought for privilege of racing in men's races, now legally and officially open races. Since women's races were shorter, she considered the Olympic women's race to be a pushover. She didn't try to enter the mens race, because Olympic rules were clear, and it wasn't a bureaucracy that you could either negotiate with nor intimidate. But we warned her not to be overconfident. The women she'd be up against were damn good, and just because they didn't frequently race at the longer men's distances, it didn't mean that they didn't cover those distances in practice.
Als assured us that she took nothing for granted. She'd mapped her strategy and would work with the other American racers as they drafted each other until the leaders broke away, whenever that would come. Als decided that she'd have an advantage once the breakaway came, as she felt her great strength would help her keep ahead, even after nobody was breaking wind for the leaders.
Als led the breakaway in the third to final lap, with four other riders with her. By the final lap it was down to her and an Australian, Sara Carrigan. Als pushed hard, but Carrigan stayed right on her heels, taking advantage of Als draft. Als couldn't shake her off, and they stayed right together up the climbs. At the top of the last small hill just before the finish line Carrigan made her move, passing Als and pouring into her pedals all of the energy she'd saved from drafting Als for much of the last lap. Als gave it all she could, but couldn't regain the lead, taking second place and a silver medal.
Afterwards she agreed that Sara had deserved the gold medal, but Als also told the team, "We've got to strategize on how to handle a rider drafting you after the breakaway. I just couldn't shake Carrigan, and I didn't have enough strength to simply ride away from her. There was no way I could stop her final drive at the finish. Sara's strategy was perfect, and I guess I was the perfect victim. However, it isn't bad being the victim when it gets you a silver medal." To Jojo, with whom she had a constant, but friendly, rivalry, she said, "Ha, silver to your bronze. Guess that shows you."
Jojo just laughed, "Remember my gold in Sydney."
Als kissed him and said, "I do; I guess we're even. We'll have to settle it in London." With that she squeezed his balls hard enough that he jumped. Nels had witnessed the exchange, and nobody was happier than he–except perhaps Millie and David, to whom Nels reported the conversation immediately. He told them, "I'm pretty sure they're serious about continuing their cycling until the London Olympics. That's wonderful news for NTAC and for you two, assuming that you'd like to continue managing the Freds Sports/NTAC cycling team."
Millie replied, "No, we're getting bored with traveling around the world, babysitting the most fantastic group of athletes anyone ever met (well, maybe your sailing crew was the exception to that), a group that doesn't need babysitting by the way, visiting exciting cities, meeting exciting people, getting all our expenses paid, and saving up a good salary back home. No, anyone in their right mind would cry their eyes out at being forced to do that another four years."
Nels replied, "I think Tim would insist upon a Coke toast. Let's head down to Fred's buffet; I'm sure that the Coke is flowing."
What a day! And to top it off, both of Marty's women gymnasts qualified–Ellen in floor exercises and Nancy on the balance beam. Ellen's finals would be next Sunday; Nancy's the next day.
Wednesday brought the women's foil competition for Michelle. She managed a seventh place showing and had to be content with simply being an Olympian, though she would get a "Victory Diploma". She was more than content: she was happy as a lark. She insisted that the entire Olympic experience, from being hosted by Fred, supported by Nels, NTAC, and especially Als her Olympic Village roommate, marching in the Opening Ceremony, and just being a part of Team North Dakota was the highlight of her life thus far, and she expected that to be true for decades to come. "Oh, Billy, it's a once in a lifetime experience! At least for me. I know some of you bounce around the Olympics like a badminton birdie, but for us mortals this is the top." We hugged and I knew she was telling the truth.
Gil managed a fifth in the gymnastics mens all-around, and seemed happy. He hadn't had much hope for a medal, and was looking forward to a better chance on the rings on Sunday.
As Tuesday had been, Thursday was a day of rest for all of Team North Dakota. The group headed in a variety of directions, watching a number of events. Somehow Fred managed to get tickets to the events folks wanted to watch. It was almost as if he was a magician, but he had asked that ticket requests get to him, Marty, or Andy as early as possible–preferably about two months prior to the event. Nevertheless, he managed to accommodate almost all last minute requests.
Tim, Willie and I decided to spend Thursday together, with just the three of us. We decided to walk to the Acropolis and visit the Parthenon. It's a truly impressive space, and we spent a couple of hours walking around. We bought lunch from some vendors serving tourists–of which there were many due to the Olympics. We sat and ate, and Willie looked up at the huge columns of the Parthenon and asked, "Are we out of our minds to think about this Grand Slam thing?"
It was a damn good question, and we all knew it. Finally Tim answered, "Dreaming is the first step to accomplishment. Never discount dreams. As to whether we can turn this particular dream into reality is still uncertain. One thing's sure, if we do accomplish the Grand Slam we really don't deserve it. An accomplishment like that requires working your butt off, year in and year out, not making a sort of last minute decision on the order of, 'Wouldn't it be neat if we got all those gold medals at the next Olympics?'"
I said, "Tim, don't be cynical. By any standard, you've worked your butt off for years. So have I. Willie hasn't been working for the years that we have, but don't think he hasn't worked his butt off. All we've decided to do is try to put it all together. It's something that we could've done before, but for various reasons never did. Well, this year we decided to do it, and damned if we aren't halfway there."
Tim said, "I don't know how you figure halfway. We have two golds, four if you count individuals. There are six more medals to win. That's not halfway."
Willie said, "Give us a break, Tim. You know what Dad meant. Now let's really talk about what's on everyone's mind."
Tim said, "What do you mean?"
I said, "I know what he means. Who's going to get the gold, and how hard are the other two going to fight him for it?"
Tim said, "Billy, if you pull the stunt you pulled in Mexico City, I swear I'll withdraw from the competition."
"Who says I pulled a stunt in Mexico City?"
"I do, and so does the whole world. And you wouldn't have that gold medal on the wall next to my swim suit if it weren't true."
"They do look nice together."
Tim continued, "We had a deal, a clear understanding: no holding back. We're all three going for the gold–both golds. Right? Nobody's going back on that, are they?"
Willie said, "Let's get one thing clear, Uncle Tim. I'm going to try as hard as I can. Dive the best I ever dove. So is Dad. But we simply aren't as good as you are. Maybe Dad could've beaten you in Mexico City. He was young and eager, and you were pretty new at international competition. That was years ago. You've kept up as nobody else has in the world history of diving. Those two gold medals are yours for the plucking. If you don't win them it's your own damn fault. And there isn't a Goddamned thing that either Dad or I could do to stop you. And I'm going to have a ball trying to beat my father and win a silver or two. But if I get a gold, it's because you fucked up. And if you get a gold it won't be because I let you, or Dad let you."
Tim thought about that for a minute and said, "Fair enough, and enough said. Thank you."
I said, "One more thing. Our diving is Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Until then, Tim, you spend the night with us in our room. Jojo is finished and he doesn't need you. We do. And you need us."
Tim said, "Agreed." The next eight nights were rather spectacular, and also very private–even now.
John's event was the 1,500 meter freestyle. He had placed third at the US Trials, and didn't have a chance at a medal in Athens. Since there were no other events involving North Dakotans on either Friday or Saturday, most of Fred's contingent showed up for the qualifying heats, and as many as Fred could get tickets for were there for the finals–which John miraculously qualified for: the bottom qualifier. But it meant that he would be in the big race, seen on worldwide television, especially by all his friends back in North Dakota. They saw him come in very close, but in last place. He climbed out of the pool and was a true Olympian: ecstatic to have been given a chance to compete at the very top. And he would come home with an eighth place "Victory Diploma" which would hang on his wall, his son's wall, his grandson's wall, and so on until the thing crumbled to dust sometime well into the third millennium. I was so damn proud of him I almost cried. Both for his swimming success and his attitude. Tim gave another of his non-breathing hugs.
Sunday evening we were back watching gymnastics: Gil on the rings and Ellen on the floor. Gil was first, and his speciality was an inverted iron cross. He couldn't match Tim, but nobody else in the world had ever matched Tim on either the iron cross or the inverted iron cross. Tim held those positions until the audience's arms ached! The rest of Gil's moves were equally spectacular. But, the nature of the Olympics is that it gathers all of the truly spectacular people into one place. Gil was spectacular, but not the most spectacular. He took home a silver behind a Greek gymnast who'd won silver in Sydney and truly deserved the gold in Athens. Gil had no sour grapes, freely admitted that he was beaten fairly, and was proud of his silver medal.
Ellen's floor exercises were very good and she made the finals. A little slip in one of her routines and a small step over the line as she tried to replicate Tim's line hugging antics cost her a chance at a medal, but she did come in seventh. She freely admitted that she'd beaten herself with her two slips, and was happy with her seventh place finish. She was another gymnast that Marty, the Marty Center, and the Cave could be proud of.
It was Monday. Springboard diving prelims were in the afternoon (all three of us qualified), Fritz would compete on the parallel bars in the evening, as would Nancy on the balance beam. We were all worried about Fritz. He had let his failure to qualify on the high bar get to him. While Marty and Tim had both talked to him, and he seemed to be over his disappointment, we all still worried. We were right to have worried. Fritz had a medal in him, but he simply wasn't ready to let it out. He got a fourth place, which may have been worse for him than finishing way back in the pack. His disappointment was palpable. He got his hugs from Marty and Tim, but you can believe that he could breathe easily while he was getting them. The whole Gang ranks attitude above athletic success, and Fritz' attitude was simply not winning him friends in this crowd. Gil, his fellow gymnast, Caver, and roommate, was particularly annoyed with him. We were all very glad that Gil's last competition was over before he had to deal with a disappointed roommate!
Nancy had a wonderful time on the balance beam. She'd worked with Tim, both back home in Grand Forks, and during some of her practice sessions in Athens. She was ready, but, of course, so were her opponents. She just squeaked by with a bronze medal, beating fourth place by a tiny margin, and substantially behind second place. She was happy. Marty was more than happy. And her comment was, "Jane Simmons, I love you." When they got back to Grand Forks they made it official with a joint coming out party, followed by a Holy Union about six months later!
Tuesday afternoon was the springboard semifinals with the finals in the evening. The field would be narrowed for the finals, but all of the semifinal dives counted in the final total. I know Charlie's going to edit this, and he demands brutal honesty, not messed up by undue modesty. So, OK, we three were spectacular. The most common word used to describe us, especially Tim and me, was unbelievable. NBC got old footage of Tim and me in Mexico City doing some of the same dives we did in Athens. There was general agreement that we were better in Athens than in Mexico City. I've looked at the films, and I have to agree with that judgement. And that is what everyone was saying was unbelievable: that thirty-six years later we could not only have held our own, but improved. There was also no disagreement with the judges awarding more tens and more total points to Tim than to Willie or me. The competition between Willie and me came down to the last two dives. I was a fraction of a point ahead of him going into the last dive, and we both scored mostly tens and tied on the last dive, leaving me that same fraction of a point ahead.
Some time passed, and I really have no memory of that time. But soon we were on the podia, Tim at the top where he belonged, and "The Star Spangled Banner" was playing. Our hands were over our loudly beating hearts, and we tried to watch the ceremony through tear filled-eyes. I remember one fleeting thought, "If we're this broken up now, how will we ever get through the next one if we somehow manage to come in one, two, three again?" Time would tell.
USA Diving was deliriously happy. They'd had their dreams of a trifecta, but the reality was overwhelming. And in front of everyone was the now very real possibility that it might happen again in four days. It was interesting to watch the change in attitude toward the three of us as we moved from the Trials to Athens. At the Trials we had been thought of as outsiders, perhaps even interlopers. We hadn't been traveling the circuit; we weren't in college with the other divers; our day had come and gone; we were the wrong generation, even Willie was. But now, all those other competitors were gone. We three were the sole male American divers. We were their team, no longer outsiders, but the best America had to offer. And to top it off, we were winning medals like a kid eats M&Ms. God, were we heroes?
But we weren't the only members of Team North Dakota, as Fred and others referred to us. Even the press was beginning to talk about the North Dakotans as something rather special. At this point in the competition, Team North Dakota had ten medals, including three golds!
In addition to we three divers having one last chance to shine, there was one other Dakotan to compete: Simon Frazier, a rising senior UND heavyweight freestyle wrestler who hadn't been beaten since his freshman year. That record held in the Trials, and Simon was determined that it would hold in Athens. The preliminary rounds on Friday didn't change that and Simon was ready to go on Saturday. Simon made it into the final match, which would take place late Saturday afternoon–the same time our semifinals were taking place. People had to choose and Fred managed to produce tickets to meet everyone's pleasure. We had encouraged everyone to go and watch Simon, and join us in the evening, and most of the group did. They got to see quite a wrestling match! Simon was up against a truly superlative wrestler from Uzbekistan who had a roughly ten-pound weight advantage. The Uzbek (reflecting his ethnicity rather than his nationality) was favored to win, by both the crowd as well as serious analysts. Simon wasn't deterred. Both of the wrestlers followed the Jim and Paul style of wrestling: straight forward, no subtlety, stand up and fight. They did. When you combined their size with their surprising agility, it made for a truly exciting, and sometimes frightening show. They were up and down, seemingly killing each other with regularity, but Simon reported afterwards that they'd actually been very respectful of each other. By the end of the match they almost liked each other, or so Simon claims. Hard to say, since they didn't have a common language.
Simon was behind in points as the second, and last, round was about to end. Then with a mighty effort, which surprised even Simon, he threw down the Usbekistani (referring to his nationality, not his ethnicity), flung himself upon him and managed to hold him long enough for a pin–and a gold medal. They were both exhausted, fell into each others arms, helped each other up, and the referee held up Simon's arm in the traditional gesture of victory. They would have to wait for the match between the two men they had beaten in the semifinals to determine the bronze medal winner and allow the medal ceremony.
Simon insists the ceremony wasn't an anticlimax. He told Tim later, "Now I understand why you put forth the effort you do. There's no drug as exhilarating as standing on the podium, listening to 'The Star Spangled Banner' and getting a gold medal hung around your neck." He went on, "I know, gold isn't supposed to be important, just the medal. But I have a winning streak going, and breaking that would really have been disappointing. And Goddamned, Tim, I didn't break it! And, by God, no college wrestler is going to break it this coming wrestling season!" Tim just smiled; he couldn't possibly disagree with that attitude.
Simon's roommate, John, reported that the wrestling in bed that night was almost as violent!
But before that night could arrive, Tim, Willie and I had to compete. Our biggest threat was a diver from China, Hu Jia, who'd scored two medals in Sydney. He wasn't closest at the beginning of the finals, having had a couple of weak dives in the semifinals. But his dives were virtually perfect in the finals. With each dive he gained a little on me, and I was running third amongst the three of us Grand Slammers. But on the penultimate dive, the three of us did spectacularly well, and Jia was only almost perfect. He slipped a little in his point score, and it would now be very difficult for him to beat me, or either of the other two, unless we screwed up, which we certainly did not intend to do.
As we got ready for the final dive, Tim got us together and told us, "OK, it's pretty clear that we've done it. But I don't want to leave here on a downer. Let's make sure that we leave them with a view of perfection that won't be seen again for decades!" Can you believe? I outscored both Tim and Willie on that dive, and their dives would have to be considered perfect. My dive didn't get me a silver medal at Willie's expense, but it certainly insured the bronze. We had done it. The three of us had taken every medal in sight. A feat never done before and there will be decades if not centuries before it will be done again. And this feat was accomplished by men of ages 57, 51, and 30! Oh, yes, it was almost forgotten in all the commotion about the three of us: Tim was the first Olympic diver to win four gold medals in a single Olympics, surpassing Willie's record of three.
The press had a field day. The only thing that could've upstaged our Grand Slam would've been Michael Phelps winning a virtually impossible eight gold medals. He won eight medals, but only six golds. He didn't win the million dollar bonus offered by Speedo for eight golds. His performance was spectacular, but he was haunted by speculation and prediction that he would do even better. He had been in a tough position, and performed almost perfectly. But almost is an important word in the highly competitive world of the Olympics. Tim, Willie and I had avoided almost as Michael would four years hence.
Do I need to say that Tim scored his twenty-first Sports Illustrated cover? And the kid (he still likes that) had the balls to tell SI that if they didn't use Mike's picture on the cover he'd never talk to an SI reporter again. They were used to him, and to the quality of Mike's work, and they easily agreed. Their photo editor, who was in Athens, told Tim, "Hell, Tim, we can't agree to that unless he gives us the best photo."
Tim asked, "Well, did he?"
"Hell yes. He almost always does."
There's that almost again.
There was nothing almost about the Team North Dakota records: fourteen medals, five of them gold. Again, if North Dakota had been a nation, it would've ranked 16th in gold medals and 18th in total medals. And there are less than a million people in North Dakota–but one of them is Tim!
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