Back in Grand Forks any number of athletes were looking for an opportunity to compete on the biggest sports stage of them all: The Olympic Games (well, give or take the Superbowl and the World Cup). But at this point I have a little difficulty telling the story. As we, and the Gang, had aged we were less involved in the lives of the new generation of students and athletes. Of course, I continued to be very involved with students in the law school, and Tim's door was always open to all UND students. Tim did stay connected to the aquatics team, especially the divers, and the gymnastics team, because he practiced with them almost daily. But as he had aged, and his Olympic successes were history not living memory for the divers and especially the gymnasts, he was less involved with them personally. We knew what was going on in the Marty Center and the Cave because Nels, Mary, and Marty kept us informed. And Tim practiced from time to time with the Cavers in the Cave. But the relationship was less personal.
At this point it wasn't clear what the direction of the Gang would be–how far would it keep expanding and in which directions? The big influx of new members had been, first, a lot of parents, second the COGs, and last the spouses and partners of the COGs. But others had been welcomed: the last two groups were the startling group of long track skaters, Ivan, Fredie, Nicole, and Rydia, and the four dancers, Natalie, Jocey, Terry, and Gerry. The last summer Olympians to join the Gang were the Marauders. I recite all of this to further explain that Tim and I weren't really familiar with the crop of Olympias that North Dakota would send to the Beijing Olympics.
But we'd get to know them! In the last summer Olympics (2004, Athens) we'd had divers, cyclists, gymnasts, swimmers, a wrestler, and a fencer, a total of fifteen. Of these only four would go to the Trials seeking to compete in Beijing: cyclists JoJo and Als, fencer Michelle, and gymnast Gil. All but Michele had medaled in Athens and were, of course, hoping to repeat and improve, if possible–though seeking to improve on a medal violated Tim's rule about worrying about the color of the medal. However, all had shown their character as they'd received silver and bronze medals. Maybe hoping for gold was allowed? Michele, with a seventh place finish, would be very happy just qualifying again, earning another trip to the Olympics, and having another shot at any kind of medal.
Marty's Cave continued to prove to be one of the most productive sources of Olympic gymnasts anywhere. This year was quite special, because in addition to two new American females and one new American male, they had an Australian with an excellent chance of qualifying for the Australian team. He'd come to Grand Forks as an exchange student as a junior at Central High School, gotten involved with the Marty Center, and had been invited to join the Cave toward the end of the year. In inviting Raymond Carter, always called Ray, Marty had assumed that he'd only be there for the rest of the year and perhaps the summer, but he was so good it would have been unfair not to invite him into the Cave..
Marty couldn't talk to Ray's parents about the "rules" of the Cave, but he didn't think he had to. Ray's host father in Grand Forks was Jim McKesson, Janice's father. He'd agreed to host Ray when he heard he was a gymnast in Australia, but not before he'd written to Ray's parents with a full explanation of his house rules for teenagers and the thinking behind them; the house rules for Ray would be the same he'd given to Janice–after he'd met Carl and the other parents of the Cavers. He got back an interesting letter from Ray's parents, saying, in essence, that they fully approved, and had tried to implement the same rules for Ray at home, but that so far his interest in other kids had been far from sexual, so that no issues ever arose. They were hoping that Ray's interests in America might be broader. Ray hadn't been a Caver more than a month when he asked both Marty and Jim if he could find a way to stay in America another year, and then perhaps attend UND. Jim and Marty were delighted; Jim because Ray'd been a welcome addition to the life and home of a lonely widower, and Marty because Ray was proving to be an outstanding gymnast. It turned out to be remarkably simple for Ray to stay, as long as his parents approved, and they did. All of the legal papers for him to continue at Central High School were in place. Extending his visa, as long as he was an enrolled student was quite simple. However, he would lose the sponsorship of the exchange program, but Jim McKesson was quite willing to be his sponsor.
He was now a sophomore at UND, a member of the UND gymnastics team and an active Caver. But, since he was a citizen of Australia, he'd have to compete for a spot on the Australian Olympic team. That would involve a trip home to Australia to compete in the Australian Trials–right in the middle of the school year. He was a good enough student that that didn't cause a problem, and his parents were able to pay for the trip home. Since the Australian Trials were about three weeks ahead of the U.S. trials, he would be the first North Dakotan (he'd been fully adopted) gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. Marty couldn't stand the idea of Ray flying all the way to Australia and back alone–not because he was too young or immature, but because he didn't think any athlete should have to deal with that as he approached the most important competition he'd yet competed in. Nor did he think that being cramped in an economy seat was a good idea. The solution: Fred's Sports would sponsor the trip, first class, and Willie, who had several previous trips to Australia under his belt, would accompany him. The Australian Trials were in his home town of Sydney, and he and Willie stayed in his parent's home. It wouldn't be until they met Marty and Fred at the Games in Beijing that they would begin to understand why Fred's Sports came to sponsor his first class trip home, and with a companion. He made the Australian team and was back in the U.S. in time to accompany the other Cavers and UND gymnasts to the American Trials.
Roger Wunderlick, a UND junior from Minneapolis was a very good gymnast and had qualified for a invitation to the Trials, mainly on the strength of his work on the parallel bars and the pommel horse–he competed in all events, but those were his specialities. He would be the first UND gymnast to make it to the Trials that hadn't come out of Marty's Caver program. Coach Frank was delighted. While he was eager to get Cavers on his team (he wouldn't have had a competitive team without them), he was very glad to show that the team wasn't totally dependent on the Cave.
From the Cave, in addition to Gil and Ray, were two high school seniors, Phil Hampel from Red River High and Jeanette Cole from Central High, and a high school junior from Red River High, Amy Rollins. They were good all-around gymnasts, but hadn't developed a high skill level in any single event, except for Amy who was the first female Caver to display special skills in the vault. If they made the team they'd compete for all-around individual medals and in the team event. A medal in an individual event wasn't in their future, except for Amy on the vault; maybe in four years.
Marty, Frank, and Tim discussed the possibilities for the six, four boys and two girls. All agreed that all six had a chance, but just a chance, of making the U.S. team. Medals were probably out of reach for any, but Gil, Ray and Amy seemed to have a chance. It was now October; the Trials would be in March. The six of them had to work their asses off between October and March. At Marty's request, Gil spoke with Roger and gave him a feel for life in the Cave. Roger's response was unexpected, "Gil, I have been so involved with gymnastics, and tennis as well, that girls simply haven't entered into my life. I'm completely inexperienced, but I don't see any reason why I couldn't deal with your description of the Cave. In fact, it might move me along a little."
Gil responded, "Well, we think that you should become a Caver, since you're headed to the Trials, and the six of us ought to practice together. You can also get longer hours in the Cave. The official invitation will have to come from Marty, but all of the Cavers have talked, and you're welcome." Marty followed up immediately and gave Roger a tour of the Marty Center, including the Cave, and gave him the combination to get into the Cave. Roger was the first Caver who didn't come up through the beginning program of the Marty Center. On his first trip to the Cave to actually practice, Gil came with him. Gil warned him again about the locker room, bathroom, and showers. Roger replied, "I have been thinking about that ever since Marty gave me the combination and you told me about your rules."
Gil went on, "OK, you have two choices. If we just walk into the locker room and I show you your locker, all eyes, girls' and boys', will be on you. And they'll remain on you until you have stripped down and gotten you gym clothes on. There will probably be a few comments about the size, shape, or hardness of your penis, and this'll continue until you have your jockstrap on and probably your shorts up. When you make it through that, it'll all be behind you. Alternatively, I'd be glad to go ahead of you and ask everyone to be gentle. That would be completely respected, and you'd get through the first meeting with greater ease. But it'd put a distance between you and the others which you'd have to break down over a period of time. If you can deal with the first scenario, that's your better plan."
Roger said, "I'll deal." They walked down to the Cave and into the locker room. Most of the Cavers knew Roger, as they practiced together at UND, and even the high school students knew all of the good gymnasts on the university team.
Amy smiled and said, "So, you're a Caver now. Welcome. And welcome to Little Roger was well. We're all anxious to meet him."
Roger told Gil later, "I knew right then and there that this was the test. It was up to me to pass it, and I was determined to." Nobody else was naked at the moment. Some were still in street clothes, as least some street clothes, and the closest thing to naked was Ray, who'd just put on his jockstrap. After Amy's comment, all eyes were on Roger. I'll have to admit that Amy was being a little forward in her comment, but it did hasten the process for Roger, who handled it like a champ. He threw all of his stuff into his new locker, stripped to the waist, took off his shoes and socks, faced everyone and said, "Little Roger is ready for his coming out party." In one swift motion his pants and underwear were off and he was facing them with a glorious hard-on and a huge grin on his face. He slowly turned around, bent over, let them get a good look at his ass, then faced directly at Amy, and said, "Little Roger would like to meet Fuzzy Wuzzy, is Fuzzy Wuzzy shy?"
Amy got red in the face, but quickly stripped naked and stood facing Roger. She said, "OK, it's meet and greet, but they don't shake hands."
Roger said, "I agree." With that he put on his jockstrap, shorts, tee, and gym shoes and headed to the mats.
Amy looked after him and said to the others who'd been watching, "That's one Hell of a hunk, one Hell of a Little Roger, and one fabulous guy."
Somebody said, "Go get him, Amy."
Gil thought he heard her mutter, "Damn right."
In view of the fact that Amy was a junior in high school and Roger was a junior in college, Gil thought it'd be a good idea if Marty were alerted to what might be coming down. After all, part of the commitment the Cavers had made to Marty and their parents was to keep them informed. Without identifying his source, Marty decided that it would be a good idea to pass on the information to Amy's parents, and he talked to her mother, Jen. Jen responded, "Marty, tell me something I didn't know. Amy came home the other evening and announced that there was this fabulous new gymnast in the Cave, a student–junior I think–at the university. I'm told that he's a real hunk (Amy's word), was simply wonderful as he stripped down in the locker room for the first time, and Amy was going to get him if anyone was."
"That's about the way I heard it. Well, it proves that our deal with the kids is paying off. They really have kept the lines of communication open."
"Yeah, but we have a little problem. Amy is a junior in high school and Roger is a junior in college. She isn't quite seventeen and he's presumably about twenty. Assuming that this goes beyond the casual dating stage, just what is the law, and regardless of the law, how do the rules of the Cave apply here."
"Well, the kids would simply say that the rules that apply are: (1) no secrets from your parents, and (2) no intercourse while in high school, unless you're engaged. Amy's already followed the first, and I'm certain she'd respect the second. But there's a big distance between dating in the Cave and having intercourse. Charlie's a lawyer, I'm going to talk to him."
"And I'm going to insist that Amy bring her hunk by for dinner, and we're going to have an interesting conversation. But I'll wait until Amy lets me know that her infatuation is reciprocated, at least a little."
Marty came by my office the next day, and that's how I know so much about what had been going on in the Cave. I had to tell him that in North Dakota the age of consent, regardless of gender and regardless of whether it was a homosexual or heterosexual relationship, is eighteen. I had to warn him that North Dakota law was very strict about what it called sexual contact. Virtually any touching of the sexual organs by another person would count, and be forbidden at any age less than eighteen. And I noted, while I was at it, that the fact that the other partner was also under eighteen and the same age, didn't make the contact legal. In other words, any high school boy that got his hands inside the pants of a high school girl was violating North Dakota law. Groping on top of her clothing was, as I read the law, legal. Of course, if done in private, there's virtually no enforcement mechanism.
Marty said, "In other words, virtually all of the Cavers, and probably almost all of the students at Red River and Central High Schools routinely violate North Dakota law almost every weekend."
"That's right. And because of the broad reach of the law, it's hard to separate acts that should be illegal from those that shouldn't be. It's like putting a fifty miles per hour speed limit on a high speed road. Going fifty-five is reasonable on that road, but illegal. Going ninety-five is unreasonable, and equally illegal. We depend on the police to pull over one, but not the other. Likewise with sex, we'd like to keep fifty-year-old men away from fifteen-year-old girls, but it means using the same law that says that two fifteen-year-olds can't fondle each other in a parked car. When the police become involved, you can get both reasonable and quite unreasonable results."
"You're not much help."
"No, the law in North Dakota isn't much help. It forbids things that're reasonable, common, and impossible to enforce, while it also forbids things that're unreasonable and should be enforced whenever possible. That's a bad law. But forget about trying to change it; these aren't discussions that the state legislature is likely to engage in."
"So what do I tell Amy, Roger, and Amy's parents?"
"You start by explaining the law. An understanding of the law may not change their behavior, but it should instill in them an understanding of the need for privacy. And that, of course, is the beauty of the relationships between the Cavers and their parents. The parents can, and do, provide privacy."
Marty said, "Moving beyond Amy and Roger, just how much sex can we allow in the Cave?"
"Well, first of all, you don't allow anything. The kids make the rules. So I think your question is more about what things are likely to get the kids, or the Cave, in trouble, and what can they get away with? Right?"
"OK. First, is the question of their being naked in front of each other. The Cave is a private place, so indecent exposure must involve a minor. It they're naked in front of a minor (under eighteen) it's illegal if the intention is sexual arousal. Their getting dressed or showering doesn't imply the intent to arouse. But some of the play you know goes on down there could certainly include an intent to arouse. But it would be terribly hard to enforce or prove. An interesting sidelight to the indecent exposure law in North Dakota: It lists two things under indecent exposure: masturbating and exposing the genitals. Since it's hard to imagine masturbating without exposing the genitals, clearly the underlying intent is that masturbating is in a class by itself. Touching the genitals, including the anus, is illegal, with no caveat regarding intent to arouse. So, if one of the kids gooses another kid who's naked, or tweaks a dick, or rubs the outside of a vulva, a law is broken.
"Given all that, what advice can I give you? Well, I'd give myself a few rules: (1) make sure that the kids are aware of the law; (2) make sure that nobody is fucking anybody down there–I mean boy-girl fucking; (3) make sure that the kids know to keep it private, both in terms of who sees what goes on and who is told about what goes on; and (4) do your best not to personally observe anything illegal. Remember that nudity itself isn't illegal unless arousal is intended, so you're seeing naked kids isn't a problem. If it seems to be going beyond that either break it up or leave. And you can break it up without being heavy-handed; simply say, 'Kids, leave that until I'm back upstairs, I need to talk to you about something or other'."
"Charlie, I won't ask you to answer this, but I take it that you're telling me that I shouldn't worry about what's going on, as long as the kids are consensual and discrete."
"Consent is assumed; if that's ever in doubt you have a serious problem that must be immediately resolved."
"I know, and I don't think it's ever been a problem. They don't even allow pushing. One of the kids told me that somebody'd dared some boy to stick his finger in a girl's vagina. The girl was standing there and willing, but the boy wasn't. The other kids immediately stepped in and explained that daring somebody was pushing too hard, and wasn't acceptable. They're willing to do a lot, and it would shock a lot of people, but they enforce their own rules, and they're good rules. And created entirely by them."
"And the result can be seen in your lobby with those pictures of sixteen Cavers each wearing their Olympic medals. Seven have their pictures there twice, because they medaled in two Olympics. They're wearing a total of forty-one medals, earned over four consecutive Olympics–Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens. It's an unbelievable record; and don't tell me that your 'rules' aren't at least part of the reason."
"How did you just pull those numbers out of your head?"
"I counted the pictures and medals the other evening when I visited. I like to count things. How many medals; how many pictures; how many this; how many that. It intrigues me. Ask Tim."
Enough of the gymnasts, but I have to follow up on Amy and Roger. They fell in love quite rapidly, and got married right after the Beijing Olympics. As with Auggie and Lynn, that solved all issues of age. They did share one thought with Tim and me: The rules of the Cave, subscribed to by Amy's parents as well as Amy and Roger, meant that they never had the experience that many teenagers have of slowly progressing with illicit sex, from petting in the car, to finding a place to take off their clothes, to experimenting with different levels of sex, and finally reaching the pinnacle–a good fuck, if they could find a decent place to do it. In Amy and Roger's case they were naked the day they met, and were welcome in Amy's house and bedroom from the beginning. Things moved so fast that they hadn't gotten beyond hand jobs when they headed to the Olympics, and that was where things stood on their wedding night! Their status had changed by morning.
I need to insert a brief note. Roger and Amy did not follow the strict rule of the Gang about adult-child sex. Well, they weren't Gang members, and they did act very responsibly in my opinion, and in the opinion of Amy's parents who are the really important players in this case. In any case, neither Marty nor I thought that any intervention on behalf of the Marty Center or the university was called for. As well all know, adult-child rules get very squishy just above and just below age eighteen. And, as I noted to Marty, North Dakota law isn't very much help. However, Marty did mention to Roger that crossing the river into Minnesota with Amy was a no-no if any sexual activity of any kind was contemplated.
Billy, Willie, and Tim didn't have any rabbits to pull out of their hats in Beijing. Their grand slam in Athens was the end of three spectacular Olympic careers. In Beijing, and in all future Olympics, they would be spectators. But it was hard for them to move around because of all the ticket stubs, programs, books, and pieces of paper thrust at them for autographs. They were very generous in giving autographs, but tried to be very careful to sign those of people who were polite about asking, and the younger they were the better. If you don't believe that they were generous with their signatures, just ask Milt. He'll tell you that a Tim autograph isn't worth much–there are so many out there. You have to combine it with some other person or persons, especially Gang members, for a Tim autograph to have value. Nobody outside the Gang knew how many members there were, but they all knew the names of the original seven campers and one counselor. True autograph collectors worked hard to get all eight signatures on a single item. Every now and then someone would come up to me and ask for an autograph, extending some kind of paper with two, three or four, maybe even seven, other signatures already gathered. I'll have to admit, I really enjoyed signing those.
Chet Thompson would be the only North Dakota diver at the Trials. He and his disabled partner, Jimmy Lawson, were both Juniors at UND. Chet, with Tim's encouragement, had targeted the Beijing Olympics for his Olympic debut. When he'd first visited UND, as a high school junior, people had been telling him that seeking to be an Olympian was a realistic goal, but they were thinking that he should aim for the London Olympics, not Beijing. Tim had re-aimed him toward Beijing, and the rest is history. Tim and Billy were pretty certain that he had a reasonable chance of qualifying off the platform or the springboard, maybe both. Chet, whose brother had been an Olympic diver, took it in stride. Jimmy was simply beside himself at the idea that his partner might go to the Olympics–in China no less. And he hadn't yet realized that Fred's invitation to join the crowd in Beijing would include him!
NTAC had several new athletes that would at least make it to the Olympic Trials in their sport. These included a cyclist, Tom Velly, who'd joined NTAC three years before when he moved to Grand Forks to teach following college at the University of Iowa; two archers, Verda Dunn and Orval Watkins, both students at UND; and two fencers, Pete Claus, a UND Sophomore, and Gus Shavitz, a Red River High School senior who'd been in the first group of sixteen NTAC fencers in 1997–he had then been in second grade, and had loved working with the foam swords they started with–now he was the only one from that group still at NTAC, and he was very good with the sabre.
Qualification for archery was a three stage process, in which the largest number of slots were settled at the 2007 World Archery Championships in Leipzig in July 2007. Verda had qualified, but Orval hadn't.
Billy's UND aquatics team had two swimmers who'd earned an invitation to the Olympic Trials: Hilda Evans, a freestyler, and Mark Baldwin, who swam all four strokes and hoped to qualify in one of them, and perhaps the medley. Mark qualified in backstroke and breaststroke; sadly Hilda did not qualify.
Of course, thousands get invitations to the various Olympic trials, but the U.S. Olympic Team that went to China consisted of 310 men and 286 women for a total of 596. Based on its share of the population, North Dakota would have been expected to send one or two athletes to the Beijing Olympic Games. Instead it was sending thirteen: Verda, archer; JoJo, Als, and Tom, cyclists; Chet, diver; Michelle and Gus, fencers; Gil, Amy, and Roger, gymnasts; Auggie and Freddie, sailors; and Mark, swimmer. And Ray qualified for the Australian team. Unbelievably fourteen of the nineteen athletes that had headed off to the Trials would be going to Beijing. That really should be thirteen of eighteen, because Freddie didn't really have a North Dakota connection, though Fred and Tim claimed him. Of course, all the athletes that'd gone to the Trials, whether qualifying or not, would be part of Fred's contingent in Beijing. In Beijing, Fred's Sports would be truly international in scope, sponsoring two British sailors, two Bahamian sailors, one Australian gymnast, and thirteen American athletes in seven sports.
We'll leave the sailors for the next episode. Let's check out the others, and head to Beijing for the opening ceremony. I should note that Beijing was predicted to be the Olympics of Michael Phelps. Nothing coming from North Dakota had any chance of upstaging Phelps, or even seriously competing with him. Tim and others'd had their Olympics; this one would belong to Michael, if he raced true to form (and as you know, he did, getting eight gold medals).
For JoJo and Als, this would be their third Olympics, but the first in which there was no other Marauder racing. Tom Velly from NTAC had qualified and would be racing as well, competing with JoJo. When the got back to Grand Forks after the Trials Rod Silverman, the NTAC cycling coach, talked with Tom. He explained that JoJo had a good chance of getting a medal, and Tom, as the fifth U.S. qualifier, had virtually no chance of getting a medal. Tom should cut the wind for JoJo, as Jinx and Jake had done in Athens. Rod realized that this would be a real test for Tom, as it would have been reasonable to expect that they'd draft each other. But the love and support ethos of NTAC, preached by Nels, Mary, and all of the coaches, clearly said that in this case the support needed to be given to JoJo. Tom's reply convinced Rod, and Nels and Mary when they heard the story, that the theme of love and support was getting through in NTAC. Tom had replied, "Coach, we didn't need to have this conversation, I've already told JoJo that, but I'm not sure he'll accept."
Rod replied, "I'll talk to JoJo. Part of love and support is knowing when to accept as well as when to give." If he'd been more familiar with the Gang he would have told JoJo to "Buy the damn shoes." Regardless of how it was worded, JoJo got the message and bought the damn shoes.
JoJo and Als had a real competition going between them. In Sydney, Als had silver and JoJo had gold. But in Athens, Als had silver to JoJo's bronze. Secretly, I think they both hoped that this time around they'd both get the same color medal, but in their public face they were highly competitive.
In addition to JoJo and Als, NTAC had one other athlete returning to the Olympics: Michelle Raditz, a fencer specializing in foil. As new Olympians, in addition to the cyclist, Tom Velly, they had archer, Verda Dunn, and Gus Shavitz, the fencer specializing in sabre. The NTAC kids knew each other very well, but weren't too well known to the rest of the North Dakota Olympians nor to the Gang. The trip to China, led and hosted by Fred, would quickly change that!
From UND, but not connected to NTAC, there were Chet Thompson, the diver you have already read about, and the swimmer, Mark Baldwin, who is new to this story. And from the Cave came Gil Stevenson, repeating from Athens, Amy Rollins, Roger Wunderlick, and Ray Carter, competing for Australia.
Look at the place of the Gang in this. Three, Auggie, JoJo, and Als were members of the Gang. Billy coached the diver and swimmer. Nels and Mary ran NTAC that coached the cyclists, archer, and fencers. Auggie coached his crew, Freddie, and was pretty much the spark behind the success of the British and Bahamian boats. Marty ran the Marty Center which hosted the Cave. And Seth and Connie had joined the coaching staff at the Marty Center. Without the Gang, not a single one of these athletes would have gone to the Olympics.
After retiring from competition Seth and Connie had gotten jobs in Grand Forks, but their jobs didn't amount to anything; they simply enabled them to continue living in Grand Forks and enjoy being members of the Gang and living in the Cave, where they continued to come, and always were glad to offer guidance and support to the younger Cavers. Marty talked with Fred right after the Athens Olympics, and asked about hiring Seth and Janice as gymnastics coaches at the Marty Center. After getting the standard lecture that Fred was no longer the decision maker in matters like that, Marty was assured that Fred thought it was a good idea. It did solve one problem for Seth and Connie. As Cavers who still practiced with the group but didn't compete, they used the changing facilities of the Cave. But as they aged into their twenties and thirties, that moved them into the potential forbidden area of adult-child sex. They'd been very careful to avoid any kind of games (you know what kind of games I'm thinking of) with the young Cavers, and a couple of times they'd had to hurry and get dressed to get out of the locker room. Now, as coaches they could use the adult change room and shower upstairs, and stay out of the unisex facilities in the Cave.
Tim got Marty, Nels, and Mary together–because of my living arrangement with Tim I was present as well–to talk about roommates in Beijing. It was evident right from the start that Roger and Amy would be the problem. They weren't married, and couldn't room together. But they would want to be together, especially the nights before their competition. That meant congenial roommates who could pair up elsewhere to give them a room to share. Marty said, "That isn't a problem. We'll just have them room with JoJo and Als. JoJo knows and likes Roger, and Als will, I'm sure, like Amy. But JoJo will be very glad to invite Als to his room, letting Roger head to Amy's room. JoJo and Als sleep together every night now, why should the Olympics be different?"
"What about the rest?" asked Marty.
I said, "Well, Auggie and Freddie'll be rooming together down in Qingdau. Perry'll take care of all arrangements down there."
Tim said, "Well, let's start with the obvious ones. I'd think that Billy's two men, Chet and Mark, would want to be together. Chet'll be with Jimmy until they move into the village. I'd guess that then Jimmy'll be with his parents and Chet's brother, Chuck."
Nels said, "We have the two women from NTAC, Verda and Michelle. They get along together, and I'm sure they'll want to be roommates, before and during the games. I think that Tom Velly might like to room with JoJo, but I think the decision to put JoJo with Roger is wise. I'll explain to Tom, and I'll also talk to JoJo and make sure he spends quality time, and maybe a night, with Tom. I don't know anything about Tom's interest in spending a night. That puts Tom with Gus, our male fencer, and again I have no idea of their nighttime inclinations. That also puts Gil and Ray Carter together, if Ray can work that out with the Australian team. I'm sure he can. And Gil's prior experience in the Olympics will be good for Ray."
Marty and Andy put their heads together to work out arrangements for inviting, transporting, housing, feeding, and entertaining the Gang, various assorted hangers-on that Fred always included: all the Cavers, everyone that had competed in one of the Trials, families of Olympians, etc. etc. It looked like it was going to be about 325. There'd been bigger groups, but this was to China, and that certainly seemed to suggest more problems than usual. Andy said, "Perry'd be the obvious person to sent to Beijing to work things out, but I wouldn't pull him from Auggie no matter how little time it'd take. I think I'll ask Gary if he'd like a trip to China. I really think this is a two-person job, so I'll ask Joan to go along with him, as our employee. I know they're trying to have a baby, but it hasn't happened yet, and until it does Joan is traveling a lot with Gary. This time we can justify paying her."
So Gary and Joan had headed to Beijing a year before the Olympics to make arrangements for Fred's impossible group. It turned out that the group would have to be in two hotels, but that could be worked out. The buffet wouldn't happen, but people would be told to sign their checks with their room number and meals would be taken care of. A 747 charter flight on Northwest Airlines would get us there and back, but it had to be scheduled two weeks before the Olympics (which suited us fine), and three days after the closing ceremony (which was all right as well).
The four skaters in The Icehouse were surprised to get an invitation to go to China, since they were winter athletes. They were, however, Gang members and they were learning that going to the Olympics was routine and expected for the Gang. Regardless, they were delighted as well as surprised and offered to be of service to Fred, Andy, or whomever, in any way they could. Andy assured them that they might be called upon, particularly if one of the Olympic athletes needed some kind of special support.
With that background, we all arrived in Beijing about 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 27, 2008. To do that we departed from Grand Forks at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 26, 2008, the date having advanced when we crossed the International Date Line. We settled into our hotel rooms, having been told by Marty and Andy that a group meal would be served in a private dining room of each hotel at 5:50. Then we were advised to go to bed and try to catch up on sleep and get the ten hour time difference behind us. That, however, took several days to accomplish.
JoJo and Als were together in their hotel room, where they'd stay until they moved to the Village. JoJo told her about the conversation he'd had with Tom Velly. "He says he's going to have me draft him so that I'll be less tired at the breakaway and will have a better chance at a medal–which he thinks he has no chance of getting. And Rod's told me that I must accept his offer, which is consistent with the love and support ethos of NTAC, and I might add, the Gang, to which we now belong."
Als said, "My God, that's generous. Of course, Jake and Jinx did the same for you, but they're Marauders and are completely tuned in to our racing ethos. Tom isn't a Marauder, but he's been cycling for quite a while. Is it true that he can't get a medal?"
"He qualified fifth in the U.S. and there are a lot of other countries. I think it's true that a medal is beyond his reach."
"You need to get to know him better. He's rooming with Gus at the Village, but I think he's with his parents here in the hotel. I'll bet he'd like an excuse to move around. Invite him to bunk in with you tonight. I'll go bunk with Jinx and Adrian; I'm sure they're already starved for straight sex."
So Tom bunked in with JoJo on Tuesday night. They cycled around a designated practice course in the afternoon, and JoJo suggested that they should just have dinner in his room; that way they could relax. JoJo could be very blunt when he thought the situation required it, and he thought that was the case that evening. As soon as their meal had been brought to the room, he asked Tom, "So, tell me about your sex life."
"Wow, not many people have enough nerve to ask that question."
"Just ask the people I cycle with; I have lots of nerve. Too much according to some."
"Well, you know I teach at Central High School. Students are off limits; single teachers are either scarce or not worth thinking about. I don't have much sex life. However, I hear lots of rumors about you."
"Just what do you hear?"
"Well, the Marauders all live together in that big house. But those that've visited enough to get upstairs tell us that there are only two bedrooms. That could make for some interesting combinations."
"People talk too much. Oh, well, I guess we have to expect it. I share one of those rooms with Adrian, Jinx, and Als. Does that help sort things out?"
"Not really; three boys and one girl certainly is intriguing. May I assume a certain level of bisexuality in that group, at least for the men."
"A reasonable assumption."
"OK, let's cut to the chase. Did you introduce the subject of sex because you hoped something might happen this evening?"
"Only if you want it to."
"In high school and college I dated girls and had a good time with several of them. We were careful; we didn't make babies, but that was because the condoms didn't break. I've never done anything with a boy. However, all the talk about gay rights, gay marriage, and so on, has certainly intrigued me. Yes, I think I'd like to explore a little this evening."
"Take your clothes off; a little nudity can be arousing." Saying that, JoJo calmly stood up, stripped naked, and sat down again to continue eating. More slowly, Tom followed suit. They ate for a while in silence and JoJo said, "You know, we're spoiled. We spend almost all of our time with very dedicated athletes, all of whom have very trim, muscled bodies. Yours really turns me on. I don't know what I'd do in the real world in which most of the people I'd be with were at least starting to get flabby and overweight."
"You body is even better that mine. And it really turns me on."
They were quiet until they'd finished eating, when JoJo stood up, walked over to Tom, extended his hand, and walked him to the bed. They turned down the covers to expose the sheet, and lay beside each other. They kissed and hugged for a long time, until JoJo took the lead and moved them through a variety of sexual expressions, all of which Tom couldn't get enough of. They ended, fully spent, by pulling up the covers and sleeping soundly through the night.
The next morning JoJo told Tom, "Now you know what this group means when they talk about love and support."
"My God, last night was out of this world, but you want to be with Als, and Jinx and Adrian."
"Tom, let me explain something. Fred, Andy, Marty, Nels, Charlie, and Tim are the prime movers for this group in China, more than 300 of us. As far as anybody is concerned, especially those six movers, the whole purpose of moving all these people is to foster success in the Olympics. You and I, and Als, are Olympians. The rest of the Marauders are not, at least not this time. Everything the group does is designed to support the Olympians. Right now, I think my time spent with you is achieving that goal. And, believe me, last night was just what I needed to boost my chances in the road race that's coming for both of us. And, there's one more thing: The road race is on the first day of competition. We'll have just two nights in the Village before the race. So any support that I can give you is going to have to be before the move to the village. That's why I invited you here last night."
"What about Als?"
"Als is getting plenty of support. But her race is the day after ours. She and I'll be spending the night together before that race, and several nights before we move to the Village. But I think you and I need to spend a lot of time together between now and them."
I'm going to jump ahead to the morning of the race. I'm sure that you can fill in the gap that leaves! Tom and JoJo slept together in JoJo's bed the night before the race; Als was in the next bed, and there was some shifting before they all were spent and asleep. The next morning JoJo and Tom had breakfast together. JoJo told Tom, "I'm not feeling real well. I am going to race, but there's no chance of my winning. I'm not even sure I can finish. So you draft behind me as long as I can keep going. Then you're on your own."
Tom answered, "No way. We have a deal; I break the wind for you."
"That's a lose-lose arrangement today. It might've made sense another day, but not today. You stick as close as you can to my rear wheel. A number of people will break from the peloton too soon. You wait until I signal you; then go with the next breaking group. And good luck; you're going to need it."
Tom told me later that it was with great reluctance and a heavy heart that he agreed with JoJo. JoJo hadn't really given him any choice.
My God, what a race! The Spaniards were the favorites, along with a number of other Europeans and Australians. The United States wasn't expected to be contenders, though some people had pointed out that JoJo couldn't be discounted, with two Olympics medals behind him. The course was the longest Olympic course ever, at 152 miles. It began near the Yongdingmen Gate and proceeded about fifty miles through relatively flat central Beijing heading into the countryside. Then the course went through seven times around an approximately fifteen mile loop, involving serious hills. There were several individuals and small groups breaking away early in the race, but the key break was toward the end of the fifth loop, when a group of seven, including Tom at JoJo's urging, pulled ahead of the peloton.
JoJo remained near the front of the peloton as Tom moved ahead. JoJo slowed a little to try to slow the peloton so that it'd be difficult for others to try to catch the seven who were now leading. JoJo thought, "My God, he's got at least seventh place for sure, if he doesn't fuck up, and he should be able to move up. And Tom was a complete unknown coming into these Olympics. What a coup!"
Tom was thinking, "I don't believe where I am. My God, what a gift JoJo's given me. Shit, I don't think he was sick at all. This is a complete gift. Now I've got to pay him back by doing my damnest to move ahead."
As Tim, Nels, I, and others heard JoJo and Tom share their thoughts of that moment, we all just smiled and thought, "Love and support." Nobody was ever able to get JoJo to admit that his not feeling well was fiction, but we all believed it was, and that made JoJo as much of a hero to us as if he'd gotten a medal.
Tom was a demon, a man possessed. By the end of the long hill on the sixth loop he was in fourth place and not tiring. By the top of the hill on the seventh loop he was neck in neck with third place, and they were inches behind first and second. They crossed the finish line in a pack, so their times are all considered equal: Six hours, twenty-three minutes, and forty-nine seconds. How'd you like to ride a bicycle full-out for that length of time? It blows my mind. Samuel Sánchez from Spain was first, Davide Rebellin from Italy was second, and Tom Velly from the United States and the Northern Tier Athletic Center was third, just inches ahead of fourth place. The cycling world was shocked that a virtual unknown had claimed a medal. Tim just smiled; it was North Dakota's first medal, but it wouldn't be the last. JoJo had led the peloton for most of the rest of the race, but a racer from England, who'd been drafting for most of the race was able to get ahead of him on the last loop, letting JoJo finish in ninth place.
I think this is the place to add this footnote. The following April the IOC announced that Davide Rebellin was disqualified for doping. He was asked to return his silver medal and he did. That medal was awarded to Tom at a simple ceremony at the NTAC velodrome the following December. Tom returned his bronze medal and it was passed on to the fourth place cyclist, a Russian. I particularly felt sorry for him, because he was denied a chance to stand on an Olympic podium. Tom did have that chance, though he stood on the low podium, not the middle one. He was so dazed and shocked that he'd made it at all, that I don't think he remembers much from that ceremony: except, of course, that it happened. It certainly never would've occurred to him to be disappointed that he hadn't gotten gold!
Als race the next day was much less exciting. Als stayed near the front of the peloton until the leaders made their final break. She broke with them, drafted behind them until the final loop, and then made her move. Regrettably it was too little, too late. She managed to move up to sixth place, but couldn't get further ahead. She, like JoJo finished out of the medals, and I think both were happy. It was clearly the end of their Olympic careers, and with two medals each, and a place far enough to the front in their third Olympics to get a Victory Diploma, they were happy and content. Since Als shared in the near unanimous belief that JoJo's illness was a figment of his imagination, she never taunted him that her sixth place finish was better than his ninth. She believed that his sacrifice for Tom was worthy of a medal on its own.
The only other really exciting thing regarding the North Dakota Olympians didn't happen in Beijing, but in Qingdau, but we'll get to that in the next episode. Of course, the real excitement at these Olympics was Michael Phelps collecting eight gold medals, a simply unheard of performance.
The Cave had four gymnasts competing in China: Gil who'd medaled in Athens, Amy who'd been a Caver for years, Roger who was on the UND team and had been invited to be an honorary Caver as they prepared for these Olympics, and Ray, the Australian who'd been an exchange student for three years and been a Caver most of that time. Oh, yes, Roger and Amy had fallen in love and would be married shortly after the Olympics. Roger and Amy were roommates with JoJo and Als, specifically so they could trade off with Roger and Amy together and JoJo and Als together. That worked, and to the extent that we believe that love and support, especially love, is crucial to outstanding athletic performance, we can show Roger and Amy as Exhibit A. Roger qualified for the finals in the parallel bars and the pommel horse, and got the bronze on the pommel horse. Amy made the finals in the all-around and the vault. By some miracle she managed to get the bronze on the vault, far beyond anyone's expectation. She insists that it was love and support, from all of us, and especially from Roger, JoJo, and Als. We had a feeling that there might be a little more to that story than she was telling, but we didn't ask, and she didn't say.
The other competing Cavers were Gil and Ray, the Australian. Marty was sure eager to have every Caver medal, and he was especially eager to have Ray get a medal for Australia. He relished the idea that the Marty Center could take full credit. Gil and Ray didn't disappoint. Gil got into the all-around finals, but didn't do that well, except on the rings which was his speciality. In the rings individual event he was spectacular, and moved from silver in Athens to gold in Beijing. Ray was the Australian hero by getting that country's first artistic gymnastics medal, a bronze in floor exercises. Four out of four Cavers got medals; one each.
Michelle and Gus were NTAC's fencers. Michelle raised her seventh place finish in Athens to a fourth in Beijing. Gus, experiencing his first Olympics, was delighted with a tenth place. Mary and Nels would've loved a fencing medal for NTAC, but were very proud of their program sending two to the Olympics, regardless of their standing. They, that is NTAC, also had an archer competing: Verda Dunn. The U.S. only had two women qualifying, so they wouldn't have a team entry. Verda did amazingly well, making it to the semi-finals where she was beaten. However, the two losers in the semi-finals face off for third and fourth place. It a one-point squeaker, Verda won that match to secure third place and a bronze medal.
Billy had two water rats competing: Chet the diver and Mark the swimmer. Chet had shown that he warranted the faith that Tim and many others had in him by qualifying on both the springboard and platform. In Beijing he managed to get into the finals of both. He was rooming in the Olympic Village with Mark, but spent most of his free time, whether diving or relaxing, with Jimmy. Jimmy had been sort of adopted by the U.S. Diving Team, and he frustrated some of them because he could do some dives that they couldn't. They all were jealous of his one-handed handstand, and not one could do it. Jimmy was in Beijing, not only as Chet's significant other, but as an invitee of the International Paralympic Committee. Diving wasn't a paralympic event, but the Committee had seen TV reruns of Jimmy's performance at the UND pool and had asked him to repeat it as an exhibition event at the Beijing Paralympics–with one change, the synchronized dives with Tim would be eliminated, since Tim wasn't disabled. That was fine with both Tim and Jimmy, and Jimmy was eager to have a larger stage to perform on. That would occur the next month using the same Olympic facilities.
Mark had qualified in both butterfly and backstroke at the 100 and 200 meter distances. He made the finals in both of the backstroke events, barely missing the finals in butterfly–he lacked the abnormal upper body of Bernie Frederickson and his father Karl (read Karl's story in Episode 41-Surveys and Bernie's story in Episode 125-Seoul). Getting into two finals was more that Mark had hoped for, just getting to the Olympics in China had been a real coup for him. Being part of the Fred's Sports group which meant having his parents along to cheer for him simply made it more special. He understood, without having to be told by anyone, that the way to repay Marty, Fred, and all the others was to do his very, very best in his races. He knew that he'd be fully accepted in defeat, but not if he hadn't does his damnest. And he did do his damnest. The 100 meter qualifying heats in the breaststroke started the second day of competition, Sunday, with the semifinals Monday morning. Mark failed to make the finals, which may not have been bad for him, because the backstroke qualifying heats were Monday afternoon, and he could concentrate on just that competition. He made it to the semifinals and then to the finals, where his time was 53:21 just 3/100 of a second behind third place. He was happy and excited by his fourth place finish.
However, he had no time to rest on his laurels, as the qualifying heats for the 200 meter breaststroke were that afternoon, Tuesday. Again he made it to the semifinals on Wednesday morning, but not the finals. And, the qualifying heats for the 200 meter backstroke were Wednesday afternoon. Again, with breaststroke out of the way, he could concentrate on backstroke. He made it through the semifinals and had a time of 1:54:33 in the finals: good for a silver medal behind Ryan Lochte's world record setting performance of 1:53:94. It was an upset of staggering proportions. Mark was a relatively unknown swimmer, and to earn this silver medal was stunning. I think that the most stunned of all was Mark, or perhaps his parents. Tim, Billy, and Willie, refused to be stunned, simply pointing out that they knew that he had it in him, and, of course, that love and support is the key to everything.
Tim, Billy, and Willie were congenitally incapable of thinking that a diver that they'd handpicked and coached could possibly come away from an Olympic Games, backed by the love and support of the entire Gang and many others, without a medal, and probably a medal in every event entered. Chet didn't disappoint. He wasn't able to dominate the field as his three mentors before him, perhaps that might come in London, but in Beijing he captured a silver off the platform and a bronze off the springboard. Most impressed of all was his brother, Chuck, who could hardly believe the performances that his little brother had given. Later, at dinner, when Chuck complimented his brother on his diving, Chet floored him with, "Chuck, you were as good a diver as I am. Come to North Dakota, dive with me, and we'll get the U.S. slot for synchronized diving, in springboard or platform, maybe both."
"You have got to be kidding."
"Not in the least. Tim and Billy kept you from the synchronized competitions, but they're retired now, for sure. But they also showed that age isn't a barrier. You can be back up to speed in four years, but you have to move now."
"I have a good job in St. Louis, you know. Are you suggesting that I quit my job?"
"You've been to the Olympics. You came close to winning a medal. Wouldn't you trade your job for another chance? And with Billy as coach, Willie as competition, and Tim as cheerleader, your chances for a medal are a lot greater."
"How would I earn a living?"
"You have to get used to this group. That isn't a question that's even asked. It always works out. You'll get a job offer, or you'll be told that you don't have time to work, you need to practice, practice, practice. They made it all work for me, they'll make it all work for you."
"Who is 'they'?"
"Fred Milson, Tim, Charlie, Auggie and Lynn, the Lighthouse Keepers, the Circle, everybody."
"Do they know you're inviting me to join you in North Dakota?"
"No, but as soon as I suggest it, they'll think it's a wonderful idea. Either they'll say they wished they'd thought of it, or, more likely, they'll simply appropriate it as their idea. If the latter, we don't suggest otherwise."
"What'll Mom and Dad think?"
"That we're crazy as loons, just like they thought we were crazy as loons when we talked about me moving to Grand Forks. But they love their loony sons."
"Let me think about it."
"OK, but expect somebody to issue a very public invitation unless you tell me, 'No,' before that happens."
"You don't give a guy much choice."
"You're right about that."
The invitation came from Fred, at the grand banquet he hosted in honor of all the North Dakota athletes. As he introduced Chet and lauded his two medals, he introduced Chet's synchronized diving partner for the London Olympics, his brother Chuck. "Stand up, Chuck. Welcome to Grand Forks Aquatics. You'll be living in The Hideout until we can make more permanent arrangements. That will, however, be your second home. Your first home will be in the natatorium."
Chuck stood when told, but then almost sank down in his chair as Fred continued. He remained speechless. You can't bet his parents weren't speechless when they got Chet and Chuck aside after the meal. "What's this all about?"
Fred was nearby as Chet said, "You heard Fred's invitation. Chuck's going to dive with me for four years, and we're going to win medals in London. Right, Chuck?"
Chuck knew that an answer of, "Well, we'll have to see," or, "I'm not sure," would've been meaningless. It was now or never. His answer was, "Grand Forks and London, here we come."
His mother said, "Oh, my God."
His father said, "I know what Tim would want me to say, so that's what I'm going to say: We'll see you all in London." They all hugged each other, both for emotional support and physical support. Fred looked on and smiled.
A little later Tim came up and said, "Fred tells me that he thinks it'd be a good idea for you to dive in Grand Forks. I'll solve two of your problems. We'll give you a half-time job working in the university natatorium–coach, maintenance, jack-of-all-trades; we'll work it out. That'll give you some income, and make you part of the university staff so you'll have full use of the facilities, including the natatorium. How much coaching you get is the personal decision of Billy, but I don't think you need worry. North Dakota needs another synchronized diving medal or two."
Jimmy had joined the group, and he was as excited as any of them. He said, "Oh, Chuck. You are just going to love living in Grand Forks. This group of people are simply out of this world fabulous."
Chuck's mother turned to Chet and said, "I suppose this is your idea?"
Chet said, "I'd admit to it, but Fred's claiming it as his own, and you don't want to dispute Fred."
"It's going to take some getting used to. What about your job, Chuck?"
"I'll resign as soon as I'm back. I'll stay on as long as they'd like me to, while they sort out the staffing situation. Wholesale jobbers move people around with some ease. I think they'll just want the standard two weeks."
His father said, "It seems that an awful lot of details have been worked out. How long has this been under discussion?"
Chet looked at his watch and smiled. "About forty-six hours. The arrangements took about an hour. The rest was to give Chuck a chance to change his mind. I'm glad he didn't."
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