Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 229 - Corporate

Good Ol' Andy here. At first they talked about me as "Good Ol' Andy," but now they like to call me that. I think it's a compliment, and I guess I like it. It certainly isn't a description that would fit Tim, or Hal, or Shel, or Auggie. But, Hell, it fits me. But let me tell you a little about my life with Fred as his number one for many years. I first came to Grand Forks in 1969 and was offered a sales job by Fred. I was soon an Assistant Manager of one of the Grand Forks stores, and before I'd had a chance to get experience as a store manager Fred brought me into the headquarters and started giving me more and more responsibility. He shocked me in 1972 by telling me that I would be his successor as president of the company. In the period 1969 to 1972 the stockholder profit of the company grew from just over a million dollars to a million and a half. In 1969 Fred had about twenty stores around the Dakotas, Minnesota, and out into Montana. It was a good, solid regional business.

Fred turned me loose and told me to move the business as fast as I was inclined. By 1986 Fred's Sports was in all fifty states, much of Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and a few other countries. We were the second largest sporting good store in the world. Our gross sales were well over a billion dollars, and the profit distributed to stockholders was just short of fifteen million. Most of that was shared by the university and the Gang. It's no wonder that Tim and Charlie never turned down requests to use some of the Gang money. Over the years they made some substantial charitable contributions with that money. Fred was always delighted to see the money well-used. He, personally, had more than he knew what to do with and enjoyed making people happy–especially at the time of the Olympic Games. In time Fred made me President of Fred's Sports and he began reducing his role in the business.

Fred died as the London Olympic Games ended. At the time of his death Fred's Sports had more than seven hundred and fifty stores in over fifty countries. We were far and away the largest sporting goods store in the world. We grossed over five billion in 2002 and distributed about thirty-five million to stockholders. Good Ol' Andy's been very good for Fred's Sports and Fred's Sports has been very good to Good Ol' Andy, my foursome, the Gang, and the University of North Dakota. The endowment that supports the university has become one of the biggest in the world. It's enabled the university to keep it's instate tuition low and to tempt good students from around the world with outstanding scholarships. And before you belittle the small profit on the huge gross, remember that Fred, and Fred's Sports believed in being fair to employees and customers. As long as it was black, Fred didn't pay much attention to the bottom line. That is one of the wonderful advantages of a private corporation, but not all private corporations behave that way.

Charlie stood over my shoulder as I tapped that into my computer, making me revise as I went along. I don't think I've ever laid out my personal successes in quite that way. I really prefer being Good Ol' Andy to being known as a wealthy and powerful CEO, but they tell me that's what I am.

Perry came into the business shortly after Fred died. He was flabbergasted at the suggestion that he might be my successor, and certainly not as soon as I wanted. However, he poured the same energy and dedication into learning the ropes at the Fred's Sports headquarters as he had in setting up and managing the sailing support team for Tim and Charlie, and then others.

Everyone in the headquarters knew, right from the start, that Perry was learning the ropes in order to succeed me. He and I had talked in some detail about whether or not that should be known from the start. Frankly, I thought that it was likely to be a bad idea, in that he would likely be resented by other senior employees. However, Perry insisted that having it out in the open right from the beginning was the right thing to do. Otherwise, people would quickly suspect the obvious, there would be a lot of talking and guessing, and when a formal announcement came it would no longer be news, but a confirmation of all the rumors.

Perry told me that he would deal with the issue of resentment in two ways. First, he felt that it was very important that I make it clear that Perry was Fred's choice. Fred was still a magic word around the headquarters, and the fact that Fred knew and chose Perry would sit well. Second, Perry realized that he was going to have to earn the respect of the rest of the staff, and that was his challenge. What he didn't want to have to deal with was a lot of rumors and guessing about just what his role was in the headquarters.

Well, guess what? Perry was right. He came into the headquarters and immediately put himself into a learning mode. He approached all of the senior people with the attitude that he needed to learn what they did and why they did it. He never mentioned his future role, nor that he might one day have the authority to change the way they did things. Rather he played the role of very interested student. Most people like to think what they do is important and like to tell others about it. Perry gave them every opportunity and they took it. And they took to him as well. Soon I was hearing comments around the office about how nice the new kid was and how smart he was at picking up the business. I didn't say much, just letting them figure out that that was why he was being groomed to be their next boss.

In terms of actual responsibility, Perry began by taking over top level management of our co-op ship chandleries. In that role he was Norman's boss, but those two never had any difficulty with that relationship. After all, Perry had come into Norman's life as his boss on the support team, so this wasn't really any different. For many couples it would've been quite difficult for one to be the other's boss. Not for those two, and certainly not for Perry; they got along fabulously!

I could see my retirement closing in. I was ready.

It was interesting to watch Perry grow into the job. He moved slowly, but with little hesitation. Very soon he moved headquarters responsibility for the chandleries to the woman who ran our European operations, being quite sure that she and Norman would work well together. He didn't move to directly manage any other aspect of our operation, but moved from exec to exec, learning their responsibilities, and very subtly asserting his authority as the top dog, without removing any of the authority of the exec to run his part of the business. Within a year he'd worked through all of the operations of the business. At that point he came to me and said, "I know that I'm skipping Vice-President for Operations, but I think I'm ready to become the Executive Vice-President of Fred's Sports."

I knew, and he knew I knew, that was he was really saying was that he was ready to be the President, and it was completely up to me when that would happen. In fact, he'd really been functioning as the Executive Vice-President for most of the time he'd been there. I watch closely, but stayed in the background. Rarely, if ever (I can't really think of a time), did I have to move out of the background to either change a decision he made or back him up with other executives.

I began to realize what it was like for Fred to watch me grow into my new role in the company. And I figured out what Fred had been doing with the time that became available to him as I took over. He became that man who kept track of the Gang. He had the time; he asked the questions; he listened carefully; he invited people to dinner; he picked Marty's brain; and he talked a lot to Shel who seemed to know everyone and everything. I began doing those things and it was exciting and fun. They Gang was simply a stupendous group of people and knowing what they were doing was exciting. I also began to understand Fred's greatest pleasure: Turning other people's problems into non-problems with the application of money. With Fred's Sports behind him, and now behind me, a lot of problems disappeared!

So, in my newly appointed role as the man who knows everything, I'll update you on a few of the things going on in the Gang.

OK, I'm sure you want an update on Dag. He's going like gangbusters. Shel is absolutely a miracle worker! Everybody, Marty, Tim, Charlie, everybody had Dag's problem misdiagnosed. Shel walks in and says, "No fire in the belly!" and, by God, he was right. Just exactly how a trip to Australia fixed it, I'm not sure, but it did.

I'll tell you one funny story; at least I think it's funny. One day Charlie stopped by the Marty Center and went down to the Cave to see how Dag was doing. He was working on the Iron Cross–Tim's disdain for that name didn't catch on in the Cave. After he came down he walked over to Dag who greeted him with a "Hello."

Charlie replied, "You know, Tim had a secret for the Iron Cross."

"What's that? Are you going to share?"

"Sure. The secret is concentration, or in this case the lack thereof. Usually when you're doing a routine you have to concentrate intently on what you're doing. But with the Iron Cross you aren't doing anything. Your concentration quickly goes to your muscles and the pain involved in holding the Iron Cross. The secret is to find something to concentrate on other than your muscles."

"And that would be?"

"Well, in Tim's case it was me. In your case it would be Darlene. And I might add, a completely naked Darlene."

"You're kidding me."

"Not in the least. As Tim developed his perfection of the Iron Cross, and his record setting holds, I'd be in front of him, quite naked. He loved it. And it worked. Later, and in competition, I'd simply arrange to be in front of him and he could concentrate on mentally stripping me. It worked. Just ask Tim."

"Well, we seem to be able to do things like that in the Cave. I'll talk to Darlene tonight."

I told Tim that night, and we both were around the Cave the next day as both Dag and Darlene came out of the locker room naked. Dag told us later that Darlene thought it was a neat idea and was certainly willing. The Cavers wouldn't be seeing anything they hadn't seen before. However, she added, "If you want me naked, you can damn well be naked yourself."

Needless to say Dag usually had an audience of other Cavers when he worked on the Iron Cross!

But the Rio Olympics were a little over three years away. Sochi would soon be upon us. Let's check out the Fred.

I need to pick up from the Vancouver Olympics. Randy and Sissy had retired from competitive skating. They lived a short while in Grand Forks, where they'd grown up, but soon moved to Minneapolis to seek their fortunes. Following Vancouver Fran had also retired from competitive skating. She joined her parents back in Bemidji and got a job teaching school.

Sean and Marco spent the four years between Vancouver and Sochi in love, in school, and in the Fred. They hadn't been sure that they could keep up with their skating and also do well in their studies, but that hadn't proved to be a problem They were ready for their third shot at Olympic medals in Sochi.

The four from The Icehouse, Fredie, Nicole, Ivan, and Rydia, were ready for their last Olympic go-around. They'd had eight years in Grand Forks and during that time had celebrated two marriages (Fredie and Nicole, and Ivan and Rydia), four undergraduate degrees, three master's degrees, and one law degree, a total of eleven Olympic medals including one gold, thirty-two birthdays, and one huge celebration when they'd all joined the Gang. Following Sochi they realized that they would have to start doing whatever it was that they were going to do for the rest of their lives. However, they all agreed that they wouldn't deal with that until they were home from Sochi.

Lew and Janie, the ice dancers who had had to be satisfied with a silver medal in Vancouver behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White, had just completed their college degrees and were ready to seek gold in Sochi. Tim was getting a little more tolerant of silver medalists seeking gold, rather than just a medal, in the next Olympics, but he always warned of the dire consequences that would follow any dissatisfaction with a medal other than gold!

Author's Note: It was, in fact, in Sochi that Meryl and Charlie were such sensations and got the gold medal. Their dates had to be shoved around to make this story work. Hey, it's fiction.

And, of course, Shel would attempt to dominate the men's singles figure skating for an unheard of fourth time. And, if you think of the pair, Brian and Shel, it would be for the sixth straight Winter Olympics.

If all of those nine skaters from the Fred made it through the trials and again became Olympians it would be a staggering success for the Fred. And, there were two new skaters coming on: Nancy Silversteen, a local girl who'd skated at the Fred during high school and now while a student at UND, would be seeking a place in women's singles. Norman Shaller, a young man from out West who'd been at the Fred for two years following his high school graduation in Oklahoma was an up and coming long track skater. It was in the realm of possibility that the Fred might have eleven Olympians in Sochi. But first, the Trials.

First up were the figure skating national championships in Boston. They would serve as the Olympic Trials for figure skating. Shel, Lew and Janie, and the new kid Nancy Silversteen would be competing, but not against each other, thank goodness. Shel was expected to be a shoo-in, and he was–no suspense there. However, he added little to his Vancouver performances, saving–and keeping secret–whatever new figures he planned for the real thing in Sochi.

Lew and Janie certainly had their hearts set on upgrading to a gold medal in Sochi. Things didn't look too good for that when the best they could do in the trials was a second place. While it earned them a trip to Russia, it didn't bode well for their chances of gold, or even medaling again.

Nancy was competing in women's singles. She took a fall in her short program, and we all feared she might not make the team. But she skated a very credible long program and captured the third position in the event. A medal would be a long shot. Shel was delighted. His take on the results in Boston: "Hell, we took four people to Boston and they're all going to Sochi. That's four out of four–a perfect score. That's all that Trials are for, to see who's going to be an Olympian. Just ask Tim, it's a bigger deal to walk in the Opening Ceremony that to stand on a podium. I'm not sure I really believe that, but I do agree that being an Olympian is, of itself, something really special. So we got four out of four. Bingo!"

When Tim was told about that speech his comment was, "I always loved Shel."

The Trials for both long and short track speed skating would be in Salt Lake City, at one of the three American ovals that can accommodate long track racing year-round. Because of the very limited availability of long ovals, the vast majority of the long track skaters that skated in the Trials, and especially of those good enough to qualify, came from Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, and Grand Forks, or made arrangements to live in one of those cities for most of the year. So it was not all that exceptional that all five of the long track skaters from the Fred, Ivan, Fredie, Nicole, Rydia and the new kid, Norman, qualified for the Olympic team and would be going to Sochi. What was exciting, depending on your point of view, is that the new guy, Norman, proved to be a superb skater, outperforming his practice bests in Grand Forks and both of the boys from The Icehouse!

Sean and Marco were trying to make their third Olympic team. Both had won medals in Turin and Vancouver. Sean had a total of four, a silver and three bronze. Marco had two bronze. As they headed to the trials they weren't sure whether this was the year they'd try to reach the top podium, or would be fending off challengers trying to stop them from repeating their bronze achievements. Based on the competition at the trials, it looked like any dreams of gold were behind them, and even hanging on to a team position might be difficult. In the end, both barely qualified for the team, each in a single distance. They were disappointed, but their spirits were quickly uplifted as Shel exhibited his usual enthusiasm for just being an Olympian. "Hey, guys, that's great. What an achievement. You'll be walking in the Opening Ceremony in your third Olympics. Very few people can claim that."

So it was off to Sochi. We were aware of talk of terrorist threats, the potential for our Russian hosts to be troublesome, concern about the weather (not cold enough), and the completion of buildings. Tim got everyone together and simply told them, "Look, there's a lot of talk about various problems that we might expect at these Olympics. I'll admit that some of the issues are real. But let me make it absolutely clear: they aren't your concern. Other people are being paid to deal with a wide variety of issues, only a couple of which are unique to these Olympics. However, your job is winning medals. Keep that in mind. Keep nothing else in mind. If you think you're going to have a problem with that, come and talk to me. Remember, keep your eyes on the prize; nothing else." Nobody ever came to visit Tim, and none of the athletes seemed to let any of the concerns about Sochi get to them. It's a good thing, too, since none of the potential problems seriously affected the games.

In this story you can't talk about the Olympics without talking about housing arrangements and all that implies. We had eleven competitors, seven men and four women. However, Lew and Janie were married and would be in the married section of the Olympic Village. That left six men and three women. Remember that the four from The Icehouse had been married since the last Olympics, however, they elected to room as singles because it made the housing arrangements work better. The six men were pretty simple to arrange; Sean and Marco were together, Shel made it pretty clear that it didn't make much difference how he, Norman, Ivan, and Fredie paired up, they were going to be mixing it up anyway. Officially, Shel and Norman were roommates, leaving Fredie and Ivan together. I won't bore you with tales of their evenings, but do understand that no one lacked for love and support. Nicole and Rydia split up so that Nancy wouldn't be with a stranger. Nicole and Nancy were together, and Rydia roomed with a woman skater from Canada that she'd gotten to know at various competitions.

As for the competition, I'll begin with the long distance skaters. We had the four from The Icehouse plus Norman Shaller. You're just getting to know Norman. He showed up at the Fred in the fall of 2013 on the second day of school at the university. He was a freshman from, of all places, Norman, Oklahoma. And, yes, his mother had named him for his birth city. He came into the Fred, introduced himself, and was introduced to the skaters present, which included Shel. Leave it to Shel to ask, "How in the Hell does a kid from Oklahoma think he's an ice skater? There ain't no ice in Oklahoma."

Norman endeared himself to everyone, including Shel, with his quick reply, "How the Hell does a kid from North Dakota think he knows anything about Oklahoma? And, there's ice in Oklahoma; we don't wait for it to fall out of the sky, we make it."

Shel said, "OK, if you can make ice, I guess that you can make haste on it. Let's see you skate. Since there aren't rinks with long tracks in Oklahoma, I guess you skate short track."

"I brought long track skates; let me get them on." He was soon ready and he took off around the long oval.

As he sailed by after his first circuit Shel whistled and said, "Jesus, that kid's fast." He looked at Fredie and asked, "Can you go that fast?"

Fredie was watching Norman pretty closely and responded, "I'd need a watch on him to answer that question. But you just added a great new skater to the Fred's stable."

It turned out that Norman had learned to love skating in elementary school and by middle school was spending summers in a youth skating camp at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, where he'd become a very good junior long track ice skater. Shel asked him why he didn't stay at the Pettit Center and go to college in Milwaukee.

"The best college in Milwaukee is Marquette, a Jesuit school. While I have great respect for Jesuit scholarship, a Catholic school is not for me. Nor is a Mormon school–Brigham Young being the choice in Salt Lake City. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a great name, until you get to the fourth word, Milwaukee. The University of Wisconsin it's not. On the other hand I've heard lots of good things about UND and about the Fred. So here I am."

Ivan had arrived as Norman was sailing around the track. He spoke up, introduced himself and said, "Well, Norman, here's the best advice I can give you, and it's all you'll need to skate right into an Olympic medal. You just latch onto Shel, follow him around like a puppy dog, do exactly as he says, and the only question will be the color of your medal."

Rydia added, "And expect to skate your ass off every day between now and the Sochi Olympics."

Shel said, "Somebody should tell the young man that we do take breaks for eating, sleeping, studying, and sex, but not much else."

It seemed that not much could rattle Norman. He responded to this from Shel with, "I know all about eating, sleeping, studying, but what are the arrangements here for sex?"

Shel answered, "I'm going to arrange for you to meet my good friend Max. That's his job, and he takes it quite seriously."

Norman said, "That sounds interesting. I'd be delighted to meet your good friend Max. Right now, I'd like to get back to skating." And off he went. Fredie and Ivan joined him on the ice and they skated together for the rest of the afternoon.

Rydia said to Shel, "You know, Shel, some day you're going to scare off some really good skater."

"If they scare that easily, we don't want them at the Fred. That guy is going to really challenge you four from The Icehouse."

The next day Max arrived at the rink while Norman was cruising around the oval. He chatted with Shel for a while, and then Shel headed out on the figure skating rink for his own practicing. This was Norman's first chance to see Shel skate and he quickly stopped his own practice to watch Shel. Max came up and sat beside him, introducing himself. Norman said, "The good friend Max, who is, according to Shel, responsible for sex around here. That's quite a reputation."

"Well, earned I might add. Do you like pizza?"

"Sure, but what does that...?"

"We'll grab a carry-out pizza and eat it at The Hideout."

"The Hideout?"

"My young friend, you have a lot to learn tonight. And I'm the perfect teacher. Finish your practice. Don't plan to come back after dinner. Then come with me."

Nicole mused, "This reminds me of a scene toward the end of Auntie Mame where Mame takes her grand-nephew in hand and tells him of the worlds they'll discover together. His father reminds Mame to have him back for school in the fall, and Mame more or less agrees that's what'll happen. In this case, Max, you better have the kid back in school tomorrow and here at the Fred for practice."

Max said, "I'll take that under advisement. Now, young friend, let's go get that pizza."

They ended up in the kitchen of The new Hideout (nobody ever agreed on how to capitalize those three words used in that way), with Max explaining as little as he reasonably could about the Gang, The Hideout, and the nearby houses: Icehouse, Roundhouse, and Lighthouse. "Shel got me involved in all of this because of sex. I'm supposed to be the expert on sex around here. Actually, I think that title should go to Tim's father, Norman, who gave Tim, then Charlie, and through them all of us, the freedom to deal with sex in a wholesome way.

"OK, where do we start? You bit on the bait Shel dangled in front of you, so I'm going to presume that you aren't a prude nor completely naive. So, let's start with two simple, but fraught, questions."

"OK, first question."

"Are you gay, straight, bi, or still figuring it out?"

"Wow, you don't pull punches, do you?"

"Do you want me to?"

"No. I'll answer the question. From what I've read about Tim and the university, I don't have any fear answering that question. If you'd asked the binary question, gay or straight, I'd have answered straight. But since you provided considerable flexibility, I'll answer that I'm still figuring it out, but I think bi may be the best descriptor."

"Well, I said two questions, but I think that's changed. There are still two questions to answer."

"And those would be?"

"Just what have been your sexual experiences with girls? And with guys?"

"I can't believe that question. I don't think my best friend would have the nerve to ask it."

"Sometimes it's harder to talk to a best friend than a relative stranger."

"You're right about that. OK, here goes. In my high school in Norman, sex was pretty common. And the only thing us boys knew about sex was how to fuck a girl. We did know about condoms, and the girls knew about the pill, so–at least among my friends–there were no pregnancies. Then, last summer at the Pettit skating camp I roomed with a boy from Philadelphia named Roger Myers. A really nice kid, and a great skater. We practiced a lot together and became pretty good friends. One night as we were talking with the lights out he asked, 'Norman, have you ever touched another boy's dick?' I wondered what this was leading to, but giving him an honest, negative answer seemed reasonable. However, I had a feeling that a lot more was coming."

"'Would you like to?'"

"'Where is this going?'"

"'Wherever you want it to and no further. But I'll be completely honest with you. I hope it goes beyond just touching.'"

Norman continued, "That gave me a lot to think about. I told Roger that, and he remained quiet while I lay there thinking. Finally I said, 'OK, yes, I think I'd like that. Where do we go from here? I'm totally inexperienced. If you want this to go somewhere, you have to lead.'"

"'I think I've given you the wrong impression. You think I'm experienced with sex with a boy. I'm not. I'm not even very experienced with sex with a girl. That's what makes me think I may be gay and am seeking to find out. My question to you was simply a shot in the dark. I didn't know where else to begin.'"

"I told Roger that I was willing to explore, and that I thought we should turn the lights on so we could see each other. He didn't object, so I turned on the light, and as I walked back from the light switch I dropped my pajamas on my bed and headed for his. He'd turned back his covers and was naked. I knew that he didn't usually sleep naked, so I guessed that he'd been thinking about this for a while. I reached down and touched his dick and tickled his balls. Then I lay beside him and let him play with me. One thing led to another and soon both of us had come in the other's hand.

"It's interesting, this pretty much described the activity for the next few nights. Then one night as we lay beside each other Roger rolled toward me, wrapped his arms around me and kissed me square on the lips. He was really passionate, and before long our tongues met. Up till that point, our relationship was pure physical sex–we liked having orgasms. Now it became emotional, and we began thinking in terms of love. A few nights later we actually talked about love, and whether we were falling in love. We finally decided that geography was the answer to that question. At the end of the summer he would go back to Philadelphia and I would go back to Norman. We emailed back and forth–we still do. He's studying at Haverford and is no longer serious about his skating. He is serious about a boyfriend at Haverford, and I've wished him all the best. Our sex never got beyond hand jobs, and I'm still trying to figure out what it all means. And you can't believe how wonderful it's been to tell this story to a sympathetic listener."

Max was silent for a while, and finally said, "Thank you. I guess that was tough, particularly deciding to tell the story. I don't think you could've come to a better place to deal with your sexual uncertainties. You're in the midst of a very sexy group. But they have some very important rules."

"Such as?"

"It's OK to ask, and it's OK to say, 'No.' Never push people beyond their comfort zone. Never mess with children. In this group that essentially means that the college kids leave the high school kids alone. And while it isn't a rule, it's a fact that we pretty much leave the new kids alone until we get signals that it's OK. That's why Shel brought the matter up. As to why Shel got me involved. That's simple. I'm called the matchmaker in this group. I have a pretty good sense of who might enjoy whom, and I make suggestions."

"Are you going to make a suggestion for me?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Damn right."

"Well, there's always me. I'm totally bi, unattached, and a great lover. On the other hand, you'd always have to share me; I'm not looking for a long-term relationship."

"Are you suggesting that we might have sex tonight?"

"Sure. There's an absolutely fantastic shower upstairs that's the world's best lead-in to a night of passion. If that's what you'd like tonight, just start taking off your clothes, and we'll head up to that shower. There's a great king-size bed just waiting for us to finish the shower."

Norman didn't hesitate long. He stood up and pulled his sweater over his head and started to unbutton his shirt. Max helped him with the buttons and then guided him up the stairs and to the master bedroom where the shower was. Max was naked first, but Norman wasn't far behind. When he saw the shower he exclaimed, "I don't believe this!" Just then the water from Max's hand-held hit him, first in the face and then in the genitals. What followed was a free-for-all which Max had to end before somebody had an orgasm. They dried each other off and headed for the bed.

Max pulled a sheet up over them and asked Norman, "You never had oral sex with your friend Roger; do you want to this evening?"

"That's the next step in the progression, isn't it?"

"Doesn't have to be. Some guys simply can't deal with cum in their mouths and they move on to fucking. To me, and most of my gay and bi friends, sucking is where it's at."

"I'm ready. Lead on."

Max didn't need any more invitation than that. Max was a skilled fellator and promptly went to work.

When Norman woke up the next morning he found himself naked, in bed with Max, and with a fond memory of a delightful new experience the night before. Max told him, "You were great last night. Now let's have another shower."

After showering they went for a McDonald's breakfast and Max provided this advice: "Take your time with romance. It'll come when it's ready. As for those sexual urges, may I suggest that your good friends Fredie, Ivan, Rydia, and Nicole would all be open to any suggestions you might like to make, individually or as a group. They're great kids, great in bed, and willing to explore. Don't be shy. And any time you want a rerun of last night, give me a whistle. I had a ball; I hope you did."

"I did. But, Max, I'm really confused about my own sexuality."

"Look, around here the manta is that there's a little gay and a little straight in everybody. Don't worry about it. You've had experiences both ways, and The Icehouse gang will continue to provide that. You'll figure it out when you need to. Come talk anytime."

Fredie reported to Max that Norman was great fun at the rink and in bed. And this definitely continued through the time in Sochi.

And now for those five long track skaters in Sochi looking for medals. They skated at different distances, except that Ivan and Norman found themselves up against each other in the men's 1,000 meter competition, but neither medaled. Ivan did earn a bronze in the 10,000 meter competition, the race in which he'd won a gold in Vancouver. Rydia got a bronze in the women's 3,000 meter, but those two bronze medals were it for The Icehouse. Norman managed a bronze in the 5,000 meter competition, but he just squeaked ahead of the fourth place racer. The fact is, the long track racing in Sochi was dominated by The Netherlands which took eight of twelve gold medals and twenty-three of thirty-six total medals. The three medals earned by skaters from the Fred were the only U.S. long track medalists.

Author's Note: In the real world, there were no American medalists. The figures for The Netherlands are real.

Let's talk about figure skating: A medal for Nancy was a long shot, and she didn't get one, but she came in eighth. Eighth place gave her a Victory Diploma which, while it didn't hang around your neck, looked nice in a frame on the wall. While not a medal, not many people have them, and Nancy was thrilled. She'd never really dreamed of a medal and was delighted with the success that she had.

Since the Trials when they'd only come in second, Lew and Janey had been practicing like mad, but also trying to adjust mentally to the fact that they weren't likely to upgrade from silver to gold, and, in fact, even medaling was in no way assured. They talked with Shel, Tim, Coach Gregor, and got a lot of advice, but it generally ran something like this: First, yes, you're up against some really tough competition. Second, yes, getting second in the Trials is both discouraging and challenging. Third, you don't have time to make significant improvement in either your skills or your programs between now and Sochi. Fourth, do your best. Fifth, you're great skaters regardless of the results in Sochi. The wonderful thing about Lew and Janey was that they were able to really deal with that. They headed to Sochi determined to do their best and accept whatever result that led to. I think that everybody assumed that it would be a Victory Diploma for something around fifth place. Nobody was prepared for the silver medal that they actually won, behind the Canadian team of Virtue and Moir. They'd skated their hearts out, landed everything perfectly, and while the programs of two pairs they beat would've outscored them, the perfection of what they did counted for more.

And then there was Shel. From the Trials to the moment his long program started he stewed about what he was going to do. As he headed out on the ice not even Brian knew. Shel says that he didn't know until it was time to actually begin the execution of his two critical jumps.

Shel had told Brian four years before that he wanted to end his skating career with a quad Axel–a jump that had never been successfully done in competition–the only one of the standard quad jumps that hadn't been successfully done in competition, by Shel or anyone. Shel had completed the qual Axel in practice, many times in fact. But not with the consistency he demanded of himself before he put it in a competition program. He told Brian, "I've never fallen in competition, and I always plan my programs to be sure to continue that record." Now he had a gut-wrenching choice: Leave out the quad Axel or risk falling on his ass.

In talking about this with many of us, he'd say, "You know, the gold medal is not at risk. Because of the incredibly stupid scoring system for figure skating a fall isn't the kiss of death. A number of medalists have taken falls in their medal winning programs. With the point system we have, you can actually earn more points falling executing a quad rather than completing a triple. In skiing, you fall, you lose. In slalom you don't need to fall, just miss a gate by an inch. But in figure skating the scoring is quite forgiving. I don't like the system, but it means that my gold medal is assured regardless of what I do with the quad Axel."

We could all listen to that and not even think that he was being overconfident. Shel was just that good. Any Olympic skaters that had dreams of beating Shel in Sochi were simply whistling Dixie. Shel had dominated the sport for a decade, and a lot of skaters would breathe a sigh of relief when he announced his retirement shortly after Sochi.

And then another mental crisis occurred. For the past few months he'd begun thinking about a quint. He'd get out his helmet and knee and ankle pads and attempt a quint. Then one day he made it. As far as I know he's the first skater anywhere to actually complete a quintuple jump, a toe loop. But he'd hit about two in ten as he attempted them in practice. One night as he and Brian were going off to sleep he mused out loud, "What a way to end a career–a quad Axel and finish with a quint toe loop."

Brian was instantly awake: "Are you out of your fucking mind? You can't possibly be thinking of attempting a quint in Sochi. A quad Axel, maybe. But not a quint. The risk is staggering."

All Shel would say was, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." He added, "And don't you tell Spivey, he'd have a heart attack just thinking about it. But I'll be honest, Brian, I'm thinking about it."

Brian shared that only with Tim and Charlie, who both said, in effect, that Shel was his own man, and would have to deal with this himself, and deal with the results. But Tim did say, "That would really be something: a quad Axel and a quint. What a swan song."

Brian told us that Shel was really vexed as to what to do. At the same time he remained calm, and his skating was as solid as ever. He hit the quad Axel about three-fourths of the time in practice, but the quint only about one time in three.

The program that he submitted to the judges before his long program indicated both the new figures, but he could back down to a triple Axel and a quad toe loop, a reduction similar to that many skaters took when their program wasn't going just right. That was the first Coach Spivey knew that a quint was even being considered. Shel had to calm him down and tell him to go talk to Tim–Tim understood.

The long program started with two of the easier quad jumps and a very difficult spin. Then Shel headed down the rink took a turn at the end and picked up speed for his Axel. He swears that he didn't know if he was going to do a quad or a triple until he made his final turn. He came up the ice, leapt into the air and spun, and spun, and spun, and spun, four and a half times around. Jumps go so fast that you can't really think about the landing until it's gone by. But this seemed like slow motion, with the crowd collectively holding its breath. And then we all realized that his skates were down on the ice and he was heading to his next figure. He told Brian and Dick Spivey later that things had just seemed right. As he made his final turn he simply knew that this was the day for the world to see a quad Axel.

It was a four and a half minute program. The quad Axel came at about one minute. If he did the quint it would be at the three and a half minute mark. By all rules, the difficult jump should be early in the program before you begin to tire. Shel had never paid any attention to that, but placing the quint late in the program simply made it more outrageous–and higher scoring, but Shel really wasn't concerned about that. But it meant that there were two and a half minutes between the Axel and the possible quint. During that time Shel did spins, three other quads, and spectacular combinations. None of us remember any of that. We sat, hardly breathing, wondering what would happen. Tim said, "He's going to do it. Everything is going perfectly, and the damn little kid is going to try it. And you know what? I'll bet he makes it." Nobody else said anything.

The final turn, a burst of speed, a leap of incredible height, and five blessed revolutions. Skates down. A little wobble. Hand out but it didn't touch the ice. He'd made it. The crowd was on it's feet. The noise drowned out his musical program. But the rest of his skating was simply routine. He'd done it; there was nothing more to prove. No gold medal had ever been won in that spectacular a fashion since Bob Beamon's long jump in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Incredibly it was his fourth consecutive gold medal, a streak that began in Sydney in 2002. And before that, Brian had won two consecutive golds. The pair now had six in a row!

Shel sat impassively in the box waiting for his score. But he didn't care about the score and didn't react to its magnitude, though it set a record that it would take a long time to beat. No, the score couldn't possibly capture the feat of his two jumps. There'd been a lot of speculation about the quad Axel, and quite a few commentator had predicted that he would attempt it and very possibly succeed. Nobody was prepared for the quint. When his score was posted he rose and waved to the crowd, but nothing more.

The worst part of the evening was the fact that a young Spanish skater had to follow Shel and finish the evening. He skated a very credible program, was fairly scored, and came in sixth. But hardly anyone but his teammates and the judges noticed. Shel had left the arena, but the conversation was all about his quad Axel and quint, not the performance before them. Later, at the medal ceremony Shel was all calm. After the anthem he invited the silver and bronze medalists to join him on the high podium for fellowship and photographs. He tried his best not to be seen as a cocky son-of-a-bitch, and he wasn't. But he'd just pulled off the sensation of the Games and couldn't help but be both proud and self-satisfied. Brian and Spivey were simply off the wall. But there was more to the Olympics:

Sean and Marco claim that they had a wonderful time in Sochi. Their races were early, but neither qualified for the finals in anything. It was disappointing for their families, coaches, Shel, the entire Gang. But it seemed to roll off their backs. Marco put it simply: We medaled in two Olympics, and were honored to compete in a third. Not many people, not many athletes, for that matter not many Olympians, can say that. Sean and I are proud of our record. And we aren't sorry that we competed in Sochi, going out losers and not winners. We don't feel like losers. We feel like competitors, and we have all good wishes for the athletes who are going to take home medals in the events we competed in–their hard work paid off. Now we're going home and are going to try to figure out what life after skating is all about. That was said at "Fred's Banquet" hosted by Marty and me. We didn't say that the banquet was in honor of Fred; it was, rather, on behalf of Fred. It's the banquet he would've hosted had he been in Sochi, and we know he was there in spirit. And he'll be at every Olympic games in which somebody from the Gang competes. And if you asked Fred, Tim, Charlie, Shel, me, or many others, there never will be another Olympic games without a competitor from the Gang.

Fred's banquet was to honor the Olympians from North Dakota and the Gang. As you know, we had eleven competitors. For God's sake we had six winners and five medals (Lew and Janey's silver was one medal for two people). And, of course, all six were from the Fred. Shel was very happy; not for his gold medal, but for the other four medals the Fred took home. There'd been better years, but every skating medal won by an American had been won by a skater from the Fred. The Fred was undisputably the top program in the United States. And, pending his imminent retirement, Shel would be its Director and Head Coach. He was ready.

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