Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 232


The Olympics had been to every continent but two–South America and Antarctica, and who knows, with global warming Little America may host the 2104 Olympics? Rio would be the first city in South America to host the Olympics, and Brazil was the first Portuguese speaking host country. The big issue leading up to the Olympics was fear of the Zika virus. Some scientists even urged that the Olympics be moved from Brazil. A few athletes stayed home, including a few men with pregnant wives that feared getting the virus and then transmitting it to their wives and their babies. In the event, Zika infections had peaked by the time the Olympics arrived in Rio, and it became a non-issue. Brazilian efforts to "clean up" the city prior to the Olympics–which fell almost exclusively on the poor of the city–were protested vigorously by both Brazilians and advocates from around the world. I'll have to admit, to participate in the Olympics often requires blinders–certainly it did in Mexico City. Tim and I have talked about that and reluctantly agreed that the positives of the Olympics outweigh the negatives. We also believe that if the athletes get too involved in those issues, the athletics suffer. So while we supported the protests against some of the actions of the Rio government, we reluctantly put on our blinders and joined in the Olympic fever. Tim will insist that at this point I note his continued unwillingness to forgive Jimmy Carter for injecting politics into the Olympics. He will, however, admit that Carter was neither the first nor the last politician to do so.

So just who would be in the Fred's Sports Olympic pantheon? What sports would we be focusing on? Sailing, for sure; our two sailing pairs, Josh and Greg and Hunter and Dan, would make it, we were assured by Auggie. Diving, less sure; but Liam and Woody were doing their damnest to be ready for the Trials. Gymnastics, pretty sure; Marty was certain to have at least one or two top level gymnasts, and perhaps more. Cycling, a long shot; Owen and Jay had continued with their cycling, but Liam had dropped out of their trio because it was getting in the way of his diving. In the other sports that Gang members or their friends had medaled in–archery, fencing, marathon, swimming, and wrestling there was little hope of anybody making it to the Rio Olympics, though some would surely make it to their Trials. However, sports are unpredictable, as are potential Olympians. Mix in the power of Tim's love and support, and who knew?

This episode consists of a lot of little stories of would-be or actual Olympic athletes, as well as some fairly mundane listing of events and medals. If I simply start with the athletes already known to my readers, you will slowly lose interest as the episode moves on. So, I thought, why not go through the sports following the order of their Trials. That would be great if each sport held simple Trials like gymnastics, which does it all in three days at a July meet in California, or diving which does it all in a little over a week in June in Indianapolis. Alas, a number of sports have much more complicated ways of selecting their teams. These selection systems aren't necessarily better, fairer, nor more likely to have the U.S. represented by the athletes most likely to win medals, but they are what they are, and trying to use Trials dates to organize this episode is, shall we say, a trial. But, that's what I will do.

First up is cycling. In particular we're interested in the road race where JoJo had such wonderful success. The selection process included the America tour which involved races throughout the hemisphere in 2015, as well as a final meet in Richmond, Virginia, September 19, 2015. Cyclists didn't have to be in every race to qualify for the team, but results throughout 2015 were the basis for final selection. Owen and Jay were now students at the University of North Dakota (where else?); as much as possible in 2015 they participated in races that would qualify them for the Olympic team. They were able to get in a number of races during the summer, and missed some school for others. But they reached three conclusions. First, to try to go to college and qualify for the Olympics under the present qualification procedure was virtually impossible. Second, they were doing well in their races, but there were more American competitors better than they were than there were slots on the U.S. team; they weren't going to make Rio. Finally, they decided that they'd really push hard to make Tokyo in 2020; that would be possible because they'd be out of college by then.

I will note that the NTAC cycling program was hugely successful, even though it would send no Olympians to Rio. The road racing program was popular, but for many of the young people participating it was more recreational than competitive. In fact, NTAC began organizing road trips that were purely recreational, but very popular. I'll have to say that changing styles of parenting certainly aided NTAC in making this program successful. In 2016 most parents wouldn't dream of allowing their cycling children the freedom that the Marauders had growing up in Eugene, Oregon, or that Owen, Jay, and Liam had in Grand Forks. NTAC provided adult chaperones for the teen cycling trips–chaperones that modern day parenting requires!

Cycling in the velodrome was popular as well, but thus far none of the NTAC cyclists had had the dedication to the sport that was required to be nationally competitively. However, the NTAC velodrome was one of a very small number of indoor wood velodromes in the country, so it became a popular center for competitions and organized non-competitive gatherings for U.S. cyclists. It had become the only really profitable aspect of NTAC.

In terms of the selection process, the next Olympic sport up was archery. Selection began in September of 2015 with a big competition at Texas A&M University which narrowed the field down to sixteen men and sixteen women, competing for a maximum of three men's and three women's slots on the U.S. Olympic team. The Texas A&M event was open to all Americans archers and 272 competed, including two women and one man from NTAC

Natalie Richards was one of the two women from NTAC who competed in Texas, and damned if she didn't qualify for the next round, coming in sixth. With a maximum of three Olympic slots available, sixth place didn't hold out a lot of hope for going to Rio, but Natalie was delighted with the opportunity to compete in the next qualifying round in April in Chula Vista, California. There the field would be narrowed to eight, so Natalie figured she had a good chance of making it to the final qualifying event in May in Newberry, Florida.

Natalie was a native Grand Forker, graduating from Central High School and the University. She'd first joined NTAC while in middle school and had stuck with her archery till college graduation. At that point she was a very good archer, and decided to continue after college. She got a job at Fred's Sports (where else?) and spent most of her free time at the velodrome where the NTAC archery courses were laid out. With the increased practice time, her skills improved, and by the September 2015 Trials she was ready to test her skills in the big time. Actually, she had a lot of experience in archery meets, and had done well. She was beginning to be recognized as a top national contender. But the Trials at Texas A&M were her biggest meet yet.

In Texas she'd been one of a mob of 272 archers. In California she was one of 32, and only 16 women. All eyes were on everyone, and she held up to the scrutiny very well, raising her finish position to fifth. On to Florida.

With only eight women the format changed to one-on-one matches. As I have complained in the past, I think this is a very bad format, but it's the format now used in the Olympics. Who knows whether I would've gotten my Olympic medals with this format–it's such a matter of luck as to how you do in a single pairing, rather than looking at your total performance. But somebody has decided, I think, that it makes for a better "show." In any rate it's what we've got.

I noted above that there were a maximum of three slots open for the US women. One was automatic, but the other slots had to be earned by the performance of US women at events leading up to the Olympics. Regrettably, by the time the final Trials in Florida were held, it was known that the US would only have one woman's slot. The top woman in Florida would go to Rio, and the woman she defeated in the final pairing would be the alternate. That made Natalie's prospects slim to none. But she never gave up hope.

Natalie won her first pairing, putting her in the top four. She would have to win the next two matches to win a trip to Rio, and both of her opponents were archers that had beaten her before. The evening before her second match she had dinner with Tim. She'd been surprised that he'd come to the Trials, but he assured her that supporting Olympians was one of the great joys of his life, and he wouldn't miss this for the world. I don't know what else Tim told Natalie at that dinner, but we can all guess. There would've been no pressure, just assurances that she would be equally loved whether she won or lost either of her matches on the next day. And he would've listened; listened to her joys and fears, her concerns about the next day, her plans if she lost (would she try for Tokyo?), and much else. And he would've smiled and said, "Natalie, you are loved. By everyone here. Loved for you, not for your archery skill. If we were in the theater I would now say, 'Break a leg,' but please don't. Just do your best."

I've had dinners like that with Tim. So have almost all of the North Dakota Olympians. They work magic. That dinner worked its magic with Natalie. Both of next day's matches were squeakers, but Natalie squeaked through and became the holder of the sole woman's archery slot for the US in the Rio Olympics. I don't think anybody was as surprised at Natalie. Tim gave her a victory kiss and said, "I knew you had it in you." Natalie couldn't respond she was so teared up.

The next Trials were fencing in October in San Jose, California, but tournaments in the year leading up to the final Trials in October were necessary to qualify. Our lone qualifier was Johnny Lord, a fairly new member of NTAC, who'd joined when he came to the University of North Dakota from high school in Montana. He'd taken the beginning fencing course at the university and decided that he wanted to pursue it. Master Marc had urged him to join NTAC, where he could develop as a serious fencer, which was impossible with the limited university program which consisted only of a beginning and an intermediate course. He soon became entranced with the foil. And he got very good, very fast. He was a university junior when he qualified for the October Trials in San Jose. He secured one of three individual slots in foil and would be a member of the four-man men's foil team.

The selection process for sailing had changed slightly from Tim's and my time. The American participants would be selected at two races: January 2016 in Miami and February 2016 in Clearwater Lake, both in Florida. Our American sailing pair, Josh and Greg, would, according to Auggie, walk away with the selection for the American 49er pair.

Hunter and Dan would have to participate in the Australian selection process, which would take place in Sydney at about the same time. Luckily, the dates did allow the entire team to be in Miami, then Sydney, then Clearwater Lake all together. While they wouldn't be racing in each other's races, they did like the idea of all being together for the two months of January and February. It did make for a lot of flying!

I haven't really told you much about the adventures of the sailors and their support team since they added Hunter and Dan to the group and set their sights on Rio. Hunter and Dan had proven to be very skilled sailors, and they displayed the exact same aggressive style that Auggie employed and demanded. After very little time with them, Auggie realized that, "Push it, Push it, Push it," wasn't needed in their case; they were always pushing it. Auggie was able to make a lot of small suggestions for improvement, and soon Hunter and Dan were as likely to win a race as Josh and Greg–though Josh and Greg still got Push it reminders from Auggie whenever he was with them.

The four sailors got along remarkably well, both in sailboats and bunks. It quickly became routine for the four of them to share a king-size bed. Out of bed they sailed and sailed. They decided to make Darwin their southern summer/northern winter base. Australia made sense, but everyone agreed that Sydney was a bad idea. If Hunter and Dan were in their home port, friends, old sailing chums, and various hangers-on would distract them. In Darwin they avoided that. Furthermore, in Darwin they were staying in the Darwin Central Hotel, managed by Mr. Alston Gidding and his partner Jeremy Foster. It made for quite a home base. Do I need to further tickle your imagination as to all of the non-sailing activities that horny bunch might have gotten into. I thought not.

Flint and Pam, as reported to me later, were aware of much of what was going on and simply smiled to themselves. As Pam told me, "Charlie, my generation missed a lot! The kids are having a ball, and we're enjoying watching–and that's literally watching when we get to the nude beaches."

As for the sailing, the entire world of 49er sailing was watching these two teams. One or the other was winning almost every race/regatta they entered. I asked David what he thought their secret was. His answer was simple: "Charlie, two things. First, Auggie is a great teacher, and he's spent quite a lot of time with them. But the second is just as important. All four of them know that Auggie is a great teacher and really knows what he's talking about. And they listen. And they follow his advice, rather than argue with it. It took Dan and Hunter a little while to figure that out, but with Josh and Greg's guidance, they got the message."

As for qualifying for the Olympics, both teams were shoo-ins, Josh and Greg for the United States and Dan and Hunter for Australia. Bookies in Vegas and London were giving even odds on who'd win the gold, and you could get fantastic odds betting on any other country to do better than bronze. Greg was very honest when he said, "It's scary to be in this position; it's a long way down if we fall." Auggie heard that and simply said, "So.... Don't fall."

The Olympic Trials for the marathon were in Los Angeles on February 13, 2016. It'd been twenty years since Hal and Jody had their spectacular one-two finish in the Atlanta marathon. They were fully retired, but that hadn't kept them from running, nor from running marathons. In fact, Jody still competed in a race from time to time to bolster his bank account. Hal ran every day and Jody usually joined him. Every so often, rarely more than a week, Hal would get restless to run a marathon. Jody seemed to be able to sense when it was time, and he'd suggest that they run one of Hal's neighborhood courses either that afternoon or evening, or the next day. Jody could beat Hal these days, and Hal knew it, but Jody seldom did. They raced as they always had, with Hal setting the pace and Jody staying right with him. They were getting older–Hal was sixty-nine; Jody was sixty-four–but no one in Grand Forks could keep up with them; in fact, it's doubtful that anyone in the Dakotas or northern Minnesota could keep up with them.

There was one exception to that. One of the boys whom Hal coached in cross-country at Red River High School had started running with them in the morning. It began during the cross-country season of his freshman year, but he was fairly irregular. The next fall, however, he began showing up on a fairly regular basis. Since Hal and Jody's strength was the long distance of the marathon, the young man didn't slow them down much at the shorter distances of their morning runs. His name was Dink Ringgold, and it would be several years before we learned the origin of the name: he had a truly tiny penis and he'd acquired the nickname in the boys shower following gym class in his first year of middle school. Dink was no dummy; he realized that if he fought the nickname the teasing would never end. So he embraced his new name and the subject of the size of his penis became a nonissue.

Dink was a star cross-country runner throughout high school. He was eager to continue in college and chose UND, I think largely so that he could continue running with Hal and Jody. By his senior year in high school he was running marathons with them, and was almost able to keep up their pace. By college he was able to keep up, and as his junior year arrived so did marathon times that were shorter than Hal and Jody could run. His junior year was 2015-2016 and he was beginning to think about the Olympics. His times were good, but it wasn't at all clear that he even had a chance to make it to the Trials in Los Angeles.

In September of 2015 Hal picked up on Dink's Olympic dreams. As the three were running one day, Hal said, "Jody, the only way that we can sufficiently challenge Dink here is to run tag team against him."

Dink said, "What do you mean?"

Jody understood immediately and answered, "Hal means that you have to be challenged quite a bit more than we're able to if you're going to make it to the Olympic Trials. He means that one of us will run with you for the first ten miles of a marathon, the other the second ten miles, and we'll all run together for the brutal last six miles–brutal for you, but not for us because we'll just have ten miles, instead of twenty, under out belts."

Dink said, "OK."

To which Hal replied, "You may regret that, Dink."

"Bring it on."

They did. Dink hardly knew what hit him. They were running two or three marathons a week; Hal insisted, with Jody in agreement, that you practiced running marathons by running marathons. Dink found himself setting a personal best in almost every race. But would it be good enough to get him to the Trials?

Only time would tell, but the time passed fairly quickly. They took Dink to several marathons that would allow him to establish qualifying times for the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in February. It was at this point that Hal and Andy decided to have a conversation with Dink's parents. Of course, Hal knew them as he knew all of the parents of his Red River High School Cross-Country Team. Further, they'd talked from time to time as Dink started running with Hal and Jody. However, Hal realized that as Dink got more and more involved with Olympic level running, things would change. That was the reason that Andy was along when they called on Donna and Scott Ringgold one evening.

Donna met them at the door and invited them in. Scott and Dink joined them in the living room. Scott asked, "Hal, what brings you here this evening?"

Hal began by introducing Andy, and explaining that as Dink moved toward becoming an Olympic athlete he'd be supported by Fred's Sports.

Donna said, "Dink's not an Olympic athlete yet. What make you so sure he's going to be one."

Andy replied, "In Grand Forks, Fred's Sports supports all athletes that make it to the Olympic Trials in their sport. In fact, it's been our policy to invite every North Dakota athlete who makes it to the Trials to be our guest at the Olympic Games, regardless of whether they qualify. If they're going to be competing in the Games, we invite their families to be our guests at the Games."

Hal piped in, "Being the guest of Fred's Sports usually means charter flights, first class hotels, fantastic meals, and tickets to many of the events. Fred used to be the host, but with Fred gone, Andy here will be the host."

Scott said, "That's quite extraordinary. It seems that Dink has made some remarkable friends, and we thought he was just off running with his coach early in the morning. Of course, we knew his morning running was important to Dink, because it was why he decided to stay home and go to college locally; that's not usually the choice of a high school senior."

Dink said, "You mean that if I make it to the Los Angeles Trials, you're going to take me to Rio, even if I'm not running in Rio. That's incredible."

Andy said, "That's our policy. Fred loved to host a big crowd at the Olympics, and I'm very pleased to carry on his tradition."

Hal added, "By the way, your times are already good enough to go to Los Angeles. Your parents, Jody, and I will be going with you as your support team. There'll probably be a few others as well. I'll bet Tim and Charlie will come."

Donna looked puzzled, "Tim and Charlie? Why would they be going?"

"Tim likes to keep track of all of the potential Olympic athletes from the university, really from any program in Grand Forks. And I'll bet he and Charlie would like a trip to Los Angeles."

Dink said, "Something tells me this is getting out of hand. I'd better run my ass off (sorry Mom) practicing. People are going to expect me to qualify for the Olympic Team."

"We don't expect you to qualify; it's very possible that there are three runners in the United States that are better than you. We do expect you to, as you say, run your ass off and do your best. If you do that, everybody will be happy."

Andy added, "And, if you do that, there's a good chance that you'll make the Olympic team."

It was a great trip to Los Angeles. Andy charted a ten-passenger jet for the trip, loading it with Dink, Jody, Hal, Donna, Scott, Tim, Charlie, Shel, Brian, and himself. How did Shel get on that list? Shel is Shel; he figured that Andy would be taking a group with Dink to Los Angeles, and he simply said, "If there's room on that plane, Brian and I are really great at providing love and support." He didn't even need sad, puppy dog eyes, just his boyish grin, to win the invitation from Andy.

Who knows what impact Shel had on the outcome in Los Angeles? But it was Shel that took Dink out to dinner the night before the big race, and neither Shel nor Dink talked about their conversation. But Dink set a personal best, once again, in the Olympic Marathon Trials the next day and captured the number two position on the team. It blew everyone's mind, except Shel's and Dink's! Dink, and his family, would be off to Rio in about six months!

The diving Trials would be at the Natatorium on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus in Indianapolis, Indiana in June. Liam and Woody would be attempting to qualify in four events. It happened only once before–the year that Tim, Billy, and Willie scored their Grand Slam. It was interesting to watch Liam and Woody. They were both outstanding divers, but Liam seemed to be slightly better. But it was Woody who exuded confidence that they could actually qualify in the four events. The impact of their actually doing that would be enormous. There are ten possible slots for male divers on the US team: Liam and Woody were talking about taking eight of the ten!

The first event was synchronized diving from the 3-meter springboard. Their first dive was the easier of the two required dives, but nothing at this level is less than challenging. They followed the pattern of Willie and Hardie, by starting at the bottom of the ladder and climbing up in tandem, waiting in a mirror image pose for their names and dive to be announced, and then executing the dive as if one person. I'll have to admit that over the years more and more tandem pairs were looking like one brain controlled two bodies. The competition was getting tougher. But nobody that day could touch what Willie, Billy, and Tim had accomplished years before. In fact, that evening the TV people were dragging out videos from the year of the Grand Slam and comparing them to what we were seeing in 2016. Only one pair came close: Liam and Woody. Those of us that had been watching them in Grand Forks had no idea that they were as good as they were proving to be. After all, Tim, Billy, and Willie, and Hardie as well, were diving all the time in the UND pool. We all had a feeling that Liam and Woody were not yet up to that level, and they weren't, and still aren't. But nobody else in the world is as good as Tim and Billy, except maybe Willie. These new kids had been constantly compared to the best ever. Now, out on their own, with Billy, Willie and Tim as cheerleaders and not competitors, Liam and Willie were clearly top dogs. They easily secured the springboard tandem positions on the US Team.

Liam and Woody were the only tandem pair that was entered in both the springboard and platform tandem competition. The arrangements didn't consider the need to accommodate that combination. So they found that they'd be in the prelims off the springboard, then the prelims off the platform, then the springboard semifinals and finals, and last the platform semis and finals. It was a very intense schedule, and should've been a killer. But the intensity of Liam and Woody's practice schedule made this seem effortless. They won the platform slots on the team as easily as the springboard.

There were two days off before the individual events began, as the women divers took the pool. It gave time for all sorts of speculation about who, if anyone, could keep these two young whippersnappers (I actually heard that term more than once) from capturing two more slots each.

Willie commandeered the two divers for dinner two nights before their first individual diving–off the springboard. His message was very simple. First, he noted that Tim would want to take them to dinner the night before their dives and they shouldn't even think about not accepting. Willie told them, "That dinner with Tim the night before you compete is often the key to success. I could introduce you to any number of Olympians in the Fred's Sports group here in Rio that would tell you that winning a medal only became a realistic goal after my (our) dinner with Tim. I want you to know, Tim is magic."

But telling that to the boys wasn't really Willie's main purpose; he knew that Liam and Woody would never decline a dinner with Tim. He had a more important message. "Boys, you're going to win this thing; between you, you're going to capture four more Olympic diving slots. Everybody here that's been able to look at your diving realistically agrees. Those that disagree are holding onto the unrealistic dreams of some of your competitors. But what does that mean for you two?"

"Where's this going, Dad?" asked Liam.

"There's only one thing more dangerous to a competitor that overconfidence."

"What's that, Dad?" asked Woody. On arrival in Grand Forks Woody had had to figure out what to call Willie and Sally. Clearly they couldn't be Mr. and Mrs. Carson. Another option would've been Aunt Sally and Uncle Willie, which is what they were called by a lot of the aerie. But he decided that he'd call them what Willie called them, Mom and Dad. He was lucky, he called his own mother, Mother, and his father, Pop. He told us that he was the only boy he knew that called his father Pop, but Pop liked it and encouraged him to use is. Thus, Dad for Willie was simple. We're all certain that in the back of Woody's mind was the idea that he and Liam would be a couple, get married, and Sally and Willie would be his parents(-in-law).

Willie continued, "Not having a realistic understanding of your own skills is even more dangerous than overconfidence. The key to all of this is the word over. You can be realistically confident that you're going to win a gold medal, without being overconfident. You guys proved how good you are in the synchronized diving. Nobody's going to beat you. But, you have a really important match out there. Which of you is going to be number one and who is going to be number two? If you both take that battle seriously, there won't be any questions about being number three."

Woody said, "That's settled, Liam's clearly number one."

Willie said, "Woody, if you accept that you're in real danger of being number four."

"I thought we talked about this a while ago."

Liam said, "Woody, you asked me to accept that I was a little better than you. It had a lot to do with our relationship, our practicing, our strategizing as we planned synchronized dives. I had to stop pretending that you were as good as me. But you can never stop trying to be better than me. Maybe Rio is that time and place."

Willie said, "I couldn't have said it better. Liam meet your toughest competition. And I'm not sure who I'm going to bet on."

Tim got his chance at the pair the next night. As usual, nobody talked much about that conversation. But over the years we've learned that Tim's main message, tailored to the individual, was, "Win or lose we love you." And he meant it.

In the prelims for both springboard and platform, Liam came out on top, by a very tiny amount. Number three wasn't close. But prelim scores don't carry into the semifinals and finals, so Woody and Liam started over even. It was an incredible battle. Almost every commentator or reporter said something like, "This is what we expect to see in the Olympics, not the Trials. These guys are giving no slack."

Those that had done their homework noted that the two were best of friends, lived together with Liam's parents in Grand Forks, and were amazed that best friends could be so relentless in pursuit of first place–especially since first or second didn't make any difference, both, along with third place, would go to the Olympics with no advantage. But the battle raged until the last dive off the springboard and the platform. Two firsts for Liam by the tiniest of margins. It's hard to have an exact tie, because if each gets one 9.9 and the rest 10s, the winner is the one who screws up the easier dive. Extend that over seven dives, and a tie is very unlikely, but very close scores are likely. Woody's comment to Liam was, "In Rio I'm not going to let you win." Liam just smiled; he knew that both had given their all.

They'd done what they set out to do: the Grand Slam was within reach.

Billy Carson was sixty-five years old, and beginning to consider retirement. Actually, he was beyond considering it, he had made up his mind. He would continue coaching at UND as long as his grandson, Liam, was an active competitor. If Liam was going to continue to dive and compete in 2020, Billy would stay to coach him. But if Liam retired from competitive diving before the Beijing Olympics, Billy figured he'd go out as well. He doubted that he'd last until he had a great-grandson heading for the Olympics.

So, it was quite possible that this would be Billy's last Olympics as a coach. He was, of course, thrilled to see Liam and Woody accomplish what they had accomplished. But he also knew that Tim and Willie were as much their coach as he was. However, he was delighted to be taking six swimmers to the Olympic Trials that opened in Omaha at the CenturyLink Center the day after the diving Trials ended in Indianapolis.

When Andy had looked at the schedule he'd called Billy and said, "Looks like you have a timing problem with the Olympic Trials. You have to be in Indianapolis to see Liam and Woody dive on the last day of the Trials, and your swimmers have to leave for Omaha a few days ahead of that."

Billy had replied, "It's a problem. I simply have to be there for Liam and Woody, and I need to lead my swimmers to Omaha."

"As Good Old Fred would say, it's not a problem if it can be solved with money. Your guys...."

"Four of them are gals. In today's world they're women."

"Your swimmers don't need to get to Omaha early. They can practice as hard as they want right here in Grand Forks. Then about noon we'll load them onto a charter jet, serve them a great lunch on board, fly them to Indianapolis to they can watch Woody and Liam in their finals, put you and them aboard and fly them to Omaha, feeding them a great dinner on the way. It's less than three hours flying time for both legs, and with the meals to eat they won't be fatigued at all by the flight. The next morning they can knock 'em dead at the pool."

"UND doesn't have the money to charter a private jet for that."

"Of course not. And you're just being funny, anyway. We're going to send the bill to Fred. Since he can't pay it, we'll find someplace to charge it in that bureaucratic mess that Perry calls efficiency at Fred's Sports."

"Good Old Andy. By the way, how is Perry doing at Fred's Sports?"

"Making Fred and me look like pikers. The kid spends money like he was running a sailing team for Fred. But damned if he doesn't know how to turn it into gold. We've had to hire two extra stevedores just to shovel the money. But you know, Billy, the kid really takes seriously Fred's determination to be good to his employees, his customers and his community. Perry is even more so. And, as he likes to point out, quite justifiably, doing that is profitable."

"I guess we need to say, Good Old Perry."

Billy didn't hold out much hope for his six swimmers. The two boys (men) were both competing in freestyle and one in backstroke (two distances). The girls (women) were in a variety of events, but Billy didn't have much hope of their winning Olympic slots. You would never have known that watching Billy work with the six of them. He was always upbeat, always pointing out that if they improved their personal best just a little they could qualify. Tim, who had flown from Indianapolis with Billy and the team, had discussed with Billy whether he thought his little dinner meeting should be before the prelims or the semifinals. It was the obvious problem, if the swimmer wasn't going to make the semifinals, then no dinner with Tim. But if he/she was going to make the semifinals, then the dinner with Tim the night before was better. They finally made two decisions: first, that each swimmer had to be treated the same. Second, they finally decided that everyone deserved a Tim dinner, so it would be before the prelims. Because the schedule was tight, Tim had three swimmers to dine with on one evening. Because he wanted each swimmer to have his or her own time, he had three dinners one night, early, normal, and very late. He reported to Charlie, "I had salad with the first, a small steak with the second, and a slice of key lime pie with the third. They all had normal meals."

There isn't a coach anywhere that wouldn't love to have a Tim around at just the right moment. Five of the six made it into the semifinals, and the sixth set a personal best, but it was just a fraction slower than he would've needed to make the semifinals. But these were the top swimmers in the United States, and there weren't a whole lot of better swimmers in the world. Making it to the finals was damn tough. Only eight swimmers in each event, of which three would go on to the Olympics. Billy was both incredulous and delighted when two of his swimmers, one man and one woman, made it into the finals; Jimmy Acton in the 200 meter backstroke and Cindy Markum in the 100 meter breaststroke.

At dinner between the semis and the finals–scheduled for the evening–Ralph Billings joined Billy, Sara, Tim, and me. With a rather evil smile he pointed out that IU had five swimmers in various finals, compared to two for UND. It was an old rivalry between Ralph and Tim, and Tim was quick to fire back by pointing out that diving and swimming were all part of aquatics, and that North Dakota had just sewn up eight of ten diving slots. Billings shot back with, "Yeah, but those kids are high school seniors, not UND students."

Tim replied, "They're committed to UND, have campus privileges, and practice with the UND team."

Billy smiled and said, "You two guys have been at this for most of a lifetime. We all know that IU is bigger and badder and sends more Olympians. But we also know that UND has a real claim on the Grand Slam, eat your heart out Ralph Billings."

Ralph said, "If those two high school seniors pull off another Grand Slam–granted it's a slightly different event with just two divers–I'll concede the war, even if IU has won a lot of the battles."

Tim fooled us all with, "I take that as abject surrender, because those boys are going to accomplish the Grand Slam. You can take that to the bank." Tim rarely made predictions like that, and I was amazed to hear him say it.

Billy was equally startled. He said, "Tim, are you really sticking your neck out like that?"

Tim said, "I know that I'm usually the guy that says to look out for the unknown from China, or the quiet little fooler from IU. But those boys aren't going to be beaten. The only question is which is going to get four golds, or whether they're going to get three each. The money's on Liam, but Woody could be a spoiler."

Ralph said, "And you're not going to make a prediction."

"Indeed not, I'm not that stupid."

Ralph continued, "OK, is either of your two swimmers going to make it to Rio? Their best times don't suggest that they're going to make it."

Billy said, "Oh, they'll all make it to Rio. Fred's Sports invites all North Dakokans that make it to an Olympic Trials to join the Fred's Sports delegation in Rio. The question is, will they go as Olympians or spectators."

Ralph said, "Why in God's name can't IU have a Fred's Sports?"

Billy said, "They're taken."

Ralph asked, "How did you ever develop the relationship you have with Fred's Sports?"

Tim said, "My first project on campus when I was a freshman was to find the money for a gymnastics team."

Ralph said, "You were a new freshman, and you were out raising money for a new sport?"

"It was part of the deal when I came to UND. I told them I needed gymnastics, that I'd get the money, but they had to support my efforts. Fred Milson was one of the first potential donors I called on. He gave us the money I asked for, and whenever I went back he seemed delighted to be asked and found the money. Eventually he became the largest contributor to the university in its history, and supports all kinds of sports in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and actually all around the world. Fred's Sports is sponsoring sailors from the U.S. and Australia in Rio this summer."

Ralph said, "You would've been stifled by the bureaucracy at IU. And you knew it. UND deserved to get you, they knew what to do with you: let you loose and stay out of the way. Now, are your two swimmers going to get to swim in Rio?"

Tim said, "Ask Billy."

Billy said, "No. But that's assuming no extenuating circumstances."

Ralph asked, "What extenuating circumstances might there be?"

"They each had a private dinner with Tim before their prelims. There's something magical about dinner with Tim before the big race. I guarantee you, in both cases, no dinner with Tim, no making the finals. Will Tim's magic get them to Rio? Hold your breath tonight."

Ralph said, "Well, there are no IU swimmers in their finals. I'll be rooting for them."

Jimmy was up that night and he got a hug and a kiss from Tim as he headed into the CenturyLink Center. He was a little startled to be kissed by Tim, but he got the message and give Tim a big smile and a, "Thanks".

We watched Jimmy dive into the water and take his starting position with his feet against the pool wall. He looked positively electrified. "Take your mark." He was ready. With the buzzer he was off with a spectacular start. For a short while he held the lead, but soon lost it. He was still in second place at the first turn. He did very well in the underwater dolphin kicking before breaking the surface and starting stroking. He lost his second position before the second turn, but got it back just as he broke the water again. But, going into the third and last turn he was in fourth place, and fifth was coming on strong. Our hearts sank, but not his. Again his underwater swimming gained him a little after the turn, but this race was going to be settled in the last twenty-five meters. Jimmy gave it all he had, but it wasn't quite enough. Then he got very lucky. The racer in third place got his strokes out of synch; as he approached the board his stroke left him about a foot short, and he needed an extra little push to the finish. Jimmy's stroke was perfect; he stretched out of the last stroke and his hand touched the board perfectly. He was two hundredths of a second ahead of fourth place. He was going to swim in Rio. I don't know who was more excited: him, his parents, or Billy and Tim.

Cindy's final was the next night and it wasn't as exciting, nor did it have the happy ending we had all dreamed of. Cindy came in sixth out of eight. Cindy had known from the beginning that she wasn't going to make it to Rio, but then we made the same assumptions about Jimmy. Jimmy's success fueled hopes for Cindy, but I think she was actually the most realistic among us. As we talked later she told us, "Sixth in the nation in the 100 meter breaststroke isn't a shabby ending. Getting to the finals was an unexpected thrill. I was on a pretty good team back in high school in Little Rock. My teammates laughed when I told them I was going to the University of North Dakota to continue my swimming. Well, I'm the only one among them here at these Trials, and I got to swim in a final. I'll be at Nationals next year and then I'll retire from swimming. Regardless of how I do at Nationals, this is the pinnacle of my career. I was certainly right when I chose UND, Billy, and Tim. I love you all."

Tim was almost in tears. His response was, "Nothing you could've said would've made me feel better. Billy has the best aquatics program in the nation, not because it produces great swimmers, but because it produces great people, like you Cindy. But, Cindy, you are going to Rio, as the guest of Fred's Sports."

That left gymnastics. Marty and the Cave had a full contingent at the Trials in San Jose, California in July. Over the years Seth and Nels had kept pretty close track of the Cave. They had a lot of their life invested in it, and really wanted to see it continue its success. In addition, they loved Marty, realizing that he'd made their Olympic successes possible, and wanted to help him in any way that they could. Their presence over the years had been a significant reason for the Cave's flourishing; they'd consistently pushed very high standards, and encouraged a continuation of the "rules." In regard to the "rules" it wasn't that they pushed for freedom from rules for the Cavers, but that they encouraged the Cavers to both enjoy their freedom and not abuse it. They understood very clearly that abusing the "rules" or talking about them outside the Cave would end the Cave as they knew it.

The days of the Cave being able to put nine Cavers on the Olympic team were gone. With team selection by committee, and only guided by the results of the Trials, there was no chance of a single club dominating the team as the Cavers once had. Moreover, the original Cavers were an exceptional group never since equaled by subsequent Cavers, though they were still a major player on the national scene. The details would take paragraphs, and since the new generations of Cavers hadn't been involved with the Gang I won't provide the details. However, Marty was delighted to have four Cavers, two men and two women, headed to Rio as Olympians.

Rio! As the Gang grew, as NTAC grew, as aquatics at UND grew, as Fred's Sports grew, so grew the Fred's Sports delegation to the Olympics. Andy and Perry had almost 300 "guests" in Rio, at a staggering cost. Andy just smiled and reminded us that Fred would have two comments: "The more the merrier." and "This is what money is for."

Andy and Perry's North Dakota contingent included fourteen athletes in seven sports, if you counted diving and swimming separately. It was also true that the connection of Australians Hunter and Dan to North Dakota was tenuous. That didn't bother anybody; they were part of us.

I won't keep you in a lot of suspense. Natalie was lucky to be an Olympic archer, but she knew from the beginning she wasn't going to be a medalist. She advanced from the first round, which made her feel good, but it ended in the next round. Johnny Lord advanced twice in the foil before he was eliminated. In both cases we were all delighted that they had some measure of success before being eliminated. Since they hadn't come to Rio with unrealistic hopes, they went home happy, not feeling defeated. However, Johnny did go home with a bronze medal as part of the four-man U.S. foil team.

Jimmy Acton did not win a swimming medal but he made it to the semifinals in the 200 meter backstroke, fooling a lot of us by even making it that far. He came in a smiling next-to-last in his semifinal, exhausted after really doing his best–he tied his personal best.

Our first individual medals came in Gymnastics where Mabel Crowell got a bronze on the uneven parallel bars, and Sam Lufton got a silver on the rings. It wasn't the spectacular success of the original Cavers, but Marty was happy, as were the gymnasts. Marty's comment to the club and to us was, "Any club that claims two Olympic medals can be very proud. I'm proud; of Mabel and Sam, and of all of the Cavers, who are carrying on the tradition of the Cave: love, support, and win a medal or two. Always remember, winning the medals is third on that list."

Then there was Dink in the marathon. Hal and Jody weren't sure what to expect, nor how best to support and encourage Dink. But Dink proved to be a strong competitor who took charge of himself. First thing, he departed a little bit from Hal's training rule and ran less preliminary marathons, and none the ten days before the race in Rio. Jody and Hal wisely didn't argue with him regarding his plans; they supported him completely, even though it wasn't their style. The three talked about race strategy, and Dink followed their guidance, except that he felt he could "pour it on" about a mile sooner than they did. Dink followed his own advice to the letter, and beginning at mile eleven started passing everyone in front of him. Except two, a Nigerian and an Englishman, who were battling it out for first, and it was clear with two miles to go that Dink wasn't going to catch either one of them. He was out of his mind deliriously happy with a bronze medal, a chance to stand on a Olympic podium, and I don't think he even noticed that the band played "God Save the Queen" instead of "The Star Spangled Banner." He was on a high and didn't come down until the plane trip home. Tim gave more credit to that performance that he would have to a graciously accepted gold medal.

Finally came Josh, Greg, Hunter, Dan, Woody, and Liam. Tim had to accept that nobody was talking about bronze medals. And the conversations about silver medals all assumed that others in the group would hold the golds. The sports reporters, TV cameras, other athletes, and countless fans made it clear that everyone expected nothing but gold and silver. The thing that made it exciting is that nobody was willing to stick their neck out and argue that Josh and Greg would or would not beat Hunter and Dan. Likewise, while the betting favored Liam for gold, the smart bettors hedged their bets with Woody.

There's more luck to sailing than diving: wind, waves, conditions that favor one style of sailing over another (think of Auggie in a light wind). But coming into the final race, which counted double, it would've taken a miracle for the third place Norwegians to overtake either the Americans or Australians. But the Yankees and the Aussies were so close that the medal was going to be decided in the final race. Racing took place at the Marina da Gloria near the mouth of Guanabara Bay the huge bay which was the location of Rio de Janeiro. There had been some controversy over pollution in the bay, but our four sailors simply announced that they were in Rio to sail, and didn't want to hear about distracting details. If they got sick, they'd deal with it later.

Race day dawned with a decent, but not Auggie-style, wind, and the bay kept the waves reasonable. Auggie assured us of two things: the race would be boring, and the winner would be the team that made no mistakes, didn't lose a second in coming about, and put spinnakers up and down flawlessly. Then he turned to our four sailors and said, "OK, that describes all four of you. Get out there and produce the first photo-finish in Olympic sailing."

They almost did. It was almost as if the two 49ers were being sailed by robots. They had a spectacular start, with Hunter and Dan getting perhaps a two-second lead. They rounded the first buoy and headed into a long upwind sail with Hunter and Dan tacking to the east and Greg and Josh tacking west.

Auggie, watching from the launch, said, "It was smart of Josh to head west and not follow the Aussies. That way the boats will be widely separated and not bumping into each other or getting in the way." It also made it difficult to tell who was in the lead, but Josh and Greg rounded the next buoy in the lead and just ahead of Hunter and Dan. It was neck and neck until the end. Auggie sat very still and watched them closely. Any time anything wasn't executed perfectly he flinched a little, but that was rare. And the flinches were fairly well divided between the two pairs. It got to the end and it wasn't a photo finish, but as close as anyone could remember in an Olympic race. Josh and Greg had managed to hold their slight lead since the second buoy and crossed the finish line first–by three seconds. They'd come into the race one point behind after twelve races! But since this race counted double they were now one point ahead. The Fred's Sports sailing team had just captured gold and silver. The four sailors were jumping around, hugging each other and everyone else. As you watched you couldn't have told who had gotten gold and who silver. As far as that group was concerned they'd all won silver/gold. Just so you understand just how much of a victory this was: there were three seconds between first and second; the third place New Zealanders were more than two minutes behind. It was Josh who came over to Auggie, hugged him, and said, "You know, this is all your fault. It started with you, and you have inspired every Fred's Sports sailor, from Tim to Hunter and Dan. Without your inspiration, your 'Push It, Push It, Push It,' all those medals would've gone elsewhere. Thank you." Auggie just hugged him back, and then hugged the other three.

While all of the 49er racing had been going on, a spectacular series of competitions was taking place in Rio's Maria Lank Aquatics Center which had been built for the 2007 Pan American Games. For this Olympics it hosted diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming. Swimming and the water polo finals took place in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, a temporary building which was dismantled right after the Games.

Synchronized diving went first, beginning with the women's springboard. The first men's event was the ten meter platform. It was all done in one day. By the end of the day we'd know whether these boys were dreamers or doers. By the second dive we, and all the diving world, knew the answer. Liam and Woody were the top of the heap. I heard one diver say to his partner, "At least in synchronized they can't take gold AND silver."

One of the biggest problems for young divers is consistency. A boy will do an absolutely perfect dive and follow it with a sloppy dive–that's too strong, nobody at this level does sloppy dives, but one that's clearly less than perfect. Not these boys. Perfection, perfection, perfection. Not all perfect scores–with nine judges that's not going to happen, at least very seldom. But their scores were fantastic and consistent. Except for the Trials, which of course were not international, this was the boys first really big meet, and the first major international one. They were new on this grand stage. And even those that had seem them in the Trials were seeing something special. It certainly looked like the Grand Slam was possible, and the TV sportscasters began to use the term.

Two days later it was the springboard, and a repeat performance. Two gold medals each.

But now they'd be competing against each other. Everyone, even Tim, Billy, and Willie, was speculating one how well they'd do competing against each other. The springboard was up first. Somebody had to accept silver. Whoever that was, would it be considered a victory for the pair to get gold and silver, or would it be a defeat for the someone who got silver? What would be the impact on the grand finale: the ten meter platform?

We knew it would be close, and it was. But somebody had to get gold and it was Liam. It hadn't been decided until the last dive, and it was so close nobody could predict the final result until it was announced. The two boys took it wonderfully. They hugged–and kissed–and ran over to their moms as soon as they could break free of the crowds and hugged them. You couldn't have told who got the gold and who the silver from their behavior.

The next two days would be filled with women's diving, as the boys waited for the final contest, the ten meter platform. One thing happened during those two days that's worth telling. Tim, Willie, and Billy got Woody off by himself so that the four of them could talk privately. Woody told me later, "I wondered if they were going to suggest that I let Liam get his four golds, but I didn't think that would come from them. In fact it was just the opposite. They were afraid that I'd let Liam get the gold by not trying my hardest."

Tim had said, "Woody, Liam knows you inside and out. If you do anything less than your best you'll spoil his medal and his Grand Slam. It's up to you to either take that fourth gold away from him, or make sure he earns it the hard way."

Billy was even stronger, "I may not be the right person to be saying this; you know my story. Tim and I have lived with that mistake for a lifetime. Somehow we've remained best friends. But I didn't fool Tim back then, and I have the medal on my wall to prove it. And you won't fool Liam. Maybe he can beat you and maybe he can't. That's his problem. And he'll live with gold or silver whichever way it comes out. But don't cheat him by trying to make it easy."

Woody had replied, "I've thought about it; you know I had to have thought about it. It would be easy. We're so close it would only take one or two tiny slips to take me out of the running for gold. But Liam would know. You guys would know. And Liam couldn't live with that. What scares me is that I'll really slip, that it would be a complete accident, and that it would look like I gave away the gold. Don't worry; he won't come by the gold easily. But listen up: I told you a long time ago; he's better than me. I'm not good enough to deny him his fourth gold. But I'll try, by God, I'll try."

I don't think anybody understood the pressure on those two boys as they came into the final contest of the meet. For Liam this was the culmination of a decade long dream. No one else may have believed that this dream actually began at age five, but Tim did–and to be honest so did a few of his close friends, including Woody. But when a reporter would ask, and they did, "How long have you been thinking about the idea of a Grand Slam?" a reply of, "Since age five" would produce laughs and the follow-up, "No, really?" He had given up. It was the culmination of a dream, and he was up against the one diver on earth that might deny him his dream.

For Woody, it was worse. He knew all about Liam's dream. They were now at the stage that the Grand Slam part of it was almost certainly going to come true. Woody would share in that. But then there was that damn fourth gold medal. Woody didn't really give a damn whether he got gold or silver. He could insure silver by simply mistiming one of his difficult dives. But the people around him, including Liam, wouldn't be fooled. Woody didn't screw up the timing of his dives. He didn't slip and get 9.7s. Damn, he just might beat Liam. If Liam screwed up the timing on one of his dives, that would be all right, Liam wouldn't want a gold after a screw up. But what if they both did their damnest, did a long series of spectacular dives, no goofs, but in the end the mathematics and randomness of scoring left Woody on top? Shit.

Well, Woody knew what he had to do. Tim, Billy, Willie, and Liam had all told him. And they were right. He'd do his damnest and hope to God it wasn't good enough to beat Liam.

I won't hold you in suspense, though we were all in suspense from the first dive to the last, on which Liam scored ever so slightly higher. Liam took gold and Woody took silver. The cherry on top of the whipped cream was that the United States took the bronze medal for a sweep of the top three positions. The U.S. hadn't captured the springboard bronze, so it hadn't been the total sweep of the Grand Slam of Tim, Billy, and Willie, but this was Liam's version of the Grand Slam. He and Woody had done it!

That night as Liam and Woody lay in bed, cuddled up with each other, Liam said, "You know, that Grand Slam didn't change us. I still love you, and you love me. The world still turns. I hope to God I, we, can stay on a even keel and not let this go to our heads."

Woody replied, "Keep your eye on Tim. Our success pales in comparison to the successes he's had, and not just in the Olympics. But he's remained the most wonderful person on earth–just ask Charlie. We learned to dive from Tim, now we need to learn to be men."

Liam gave him a huge, sloppy kiss, and they drifted off to sleep.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead