Tension builds along with skills as two American swimmers prepare for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Journalist Mullen (Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, etc.) begins at the 1998 World Championships, where Kurt Grote and Tom Wilkens finish first and seventh, respectively, in the 200-meter breaststroke. Soon after, the two former walk-ons at Stanford begin their Olympic training schedules. Friends and rivals, they lead different lifestyles. Grote, a naturally gifted swimmer, balances his athletics against the requirements of med school and a new marriage. His protégé, Wilkens, more workhorse than prodigy, has no life outside the pool and is uncertain which events are his best. Both young men entrust their careers to Dick Jochums, the new head man at the Santa Clara Swim Club: a Bobby Knight–like coach fired from his job at the University of Arizona—abusive, self-righteous, burning with a redemptive fury to reestablish himself as an elite coach and restore Santa Clara to the national prominence it last held in the 1970s. Mullen uses other SCSC members to dramatize the world of the top-level swimmer. Dod Wales, son of an Olympian, evaluates all coaching suggestions with Spock-like rationality. Tate Blahnik’s immense talent is tempered by his bitterness about past coaching exploitation. Dara Torres’s feminine presence cheerfully alters the atmosphere of the macho club. Assistant Coach John Bitter is brilliant on the pool deck, but dangerously careless with the club’s cash. Olympic stars Lenny Krayzelburg, Jenny Thompson, and Tom Dolan make cameo appearances. A journalist and former collegiate and professional swimmer, Mullen confidently covers the design of a “fast” pool, swimming physics, collegiate and Olympic politics, and race strategy as his deftly constructed story moves through the exciting 1999 Pan-Pacific meet at midpoint to the climactic Olympics.
Merits a spot on the top step of the podium. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)