Athletics Is A Trip

By David

A few years ago, I spent several summers touring the European track series with my wife, Alison. She competed in middle distance events from 800 meters to 3000 meters. She was ranked seventh in the world over 1000 meters. There were some good runners around in those days. From New Zealand, there was John Walker, Olympic Champion and World Record holder, Dick Quax, Olympic silver medalist and World Record holder and Rod Dixon, Olympic bronze medalist and winner of the New York marathon. You may recognize some of the other names on the circuit, Henry Rono, Don Quarry, Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Renaldo Nehemiah, Tatyana Kazankina and Irena Szewinska.

One of the best athletes was the American James King. He was ranked fifth in the world at 400 meters hurdles and certainly one of the nicest guys I came across on the circuit. In 1979 we visited the Berlin Wall together. Eager to see what was on the other side we climbed a tree close to the wall. I noticed an East German sentry peering at us through his powerful Weiss binoculars. He seemed to be paying us close attention. I looked at James and was horrified to see my mate giving the East German guard the middle finger.

A notable feature of the track world back then was the number of attractive young ladies who followed the circuit providing home comforts to the world’s best runners. Two of the best known were from London. I even saw them at a World Championships, sitting comfortably in the VIP section of the stadium. One world class athlete told me he knew he’d made it to genuine world class, not when he’d broken his first world record or won his first championship, but when he was propositioned by one of the London ladies.

At the end of the Coke Meet in London’s Crystal Palace I was talking to James King when he was called over by the same young woman. He excused himself and walked over to where she was standing. After a short conversation he wandered back. Now, I have no idea what they discussed. Indeed I am not the slightest bit interested. All I can tell you is he came back to me, smiled and said, “Athletics is a trip.”

There are occasions when swimming too can be a trip. Our team is going through an interesting period. Last weekend we had a junior regional swim meet at our home pool. We had a record number of entries, made 20% more income than expected, had four swimmers qualify for senior competition and enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve mentioned before how well coaches are treated in the United States. Well, if you are a coach, you should have been at this meet. The food was fit for royalty and was served by a senior American Airlines flight attendant. Now that’s got to be hard to beat.

This past weekend, three of our master’s swimmers competed in the YMCA National Championships in Fort Lauderdale. Darcy swam the 1650 yards yesterday and was second. She wasn’t too happy with the swim, but second in the United States is never a bad result. Bonnie and Bob swam today: in five swims, they won a gold, two silvers and two bronze medals. There are two days to go and with an ounce of luck they may well improve their medal tally.

Next weekend, we will once again swim at the Swimming Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale. This time, the event will be a Florida Gold Coast championship meet. Skuba and Andrew are our best chances of success. They will both swim the men’s 50 and 100 meters freestyle. Skuba’s parents are parking their yacht in the Hall of Fame marina as our accommodation for the weekend. Can you imagine that? Where else in the world can you stroll in one minute from pool to yacht just in time for a steak lunch and a nicely chilled New Zealand Chardonnay? This swimming thing, it’s a tough life.

(From Jane, who edits Swimwatch for the minimal price of nothing: By Christ, that’s a change from the Blue Beast, parked in front of the Flaxmere Aquatic Centre. Can I remind you of how we got to Waipukurau on the day I broke that 200 breaststroke record? I sure as hell don’t remember any yachts ;) In fact, I remember having a can of V in the Blue Beast on the way down from Napier. And true to form, I’m as jealous as all can be! My New Zealand swimming memories are remembered through chlorine burn and the smell of heavy chemicals in the locker rooms. Enjoy yourselves; I’m willing to admit that you deserve it! I’ll just have another martini and look at the Space Needle!)

The Thursday after Fort Lauderdale, Andrew and Skuba head off to Europe for the Mare Nostrum series. They will swim in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Canet. I’ve been a couple of times before and it is a great series in three wonderful towns. From high up on the French motorway, it is impossible to tire of that first view of Monte Carlo. They call the place a millionaire’s playground and it is a title well earned.

Most of Barcelona, like many of the world’s big cities, is sprawling and ugly. Not as bad as somewhere like Mexico City, but heading in that direction. What Barcelona does have though is a waterfront heart of plazas, arcades, squares, shops and cafes. Barcelona also has a heart of history, reminders of the adventures of Columbus and the struggle of the Catalan people. Canet is one of this world’s truly lovely places. It is a small Mediterranean coastal village, close to Perpignan and the Spanish boarder. Little restaurants sell fantastic French food along a wide sandy beach. It’s just so incredibly French. Old men play boules and smoke pipes and talk about how bad things are in Paris. Young women swim with far too little on for sensitive eyes. Best of all, it’s not on the foreign tourist trail. It’s more a place where the French go to holiday. All this and some of the world’s best swimming. We are looking forward to it.

At the end of all this I am hoping Andrew and Skuba swim well enough in Europe to qualify for the US Trials in Omaha, Nebraska in the first week of July. It is a lofty goal. But that’s a good thing.

So that’s what the next month has in store at our place. James King was right: “Athletics is a trip.”