I have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to tell this story. In fact, it was originally drafted over a year ago, and outlined in my mind a year before that. This is the story of Tim's greatest tour de force, and you cannot imagine my delight as I watched it unfold before my eyes over a period of three years.
My story begins with Willie coming by Tim's office at the university, poking his head in, and asking, "Got a minute?"
"For you, Willie, always. What's up?"
"'Platform or board?' and, 'How much of a prude are you?'"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"You got a phone call from Dad earlier this morning, didn't you?'
"And he told you the big news?"
"Make sense, Willie."
"Dammit, Uncle Tim, don't be so dim. Dad called and told you that it was just announced that synchronized diving will be an Olympic event in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta."
"And just why is this such big news?"
"Uncle Tim! You and Dad are going to dive in the Atlanta Olympics! You two practically invented tandem diving, even though they've changed its name. I know that Dad wants to go back to the Olympics and compete with you instead of against you. It's been his dream for years. And now its come true. My question was, and is, do you want platform or springboard?"
"Why is that so important?"
"Because Hardie and I are going to compete, but not against you and Dad. If you take platform, we take springboard, and vice-versa."
"Willie, I'll be 49 years old during the Atlanta Olympics; just the age to enjoy watching you young kids capture the tandem diving, or synchronized diving, medals."
"What do you mean, 'Bullshit'?"
"Bullshit. You and Dad are the best tandem divers in the world. You always have been. Screw your ages, you're the best. You've never let yourselves get out of shape or out of practice."
"And you think your Dad and I are just going to pick up our Speedos and head to Atlanta, and come home with medals."
"It's wonderful to hear you talk like that, Willie, but your father didn't."
"What do you mean, my dad didn't? Why do you think the first thing he did when he got the news was call you?"
"He thought I'd be interested."
"Interested, Hell. You're supposed to be so eager you piss your pants."
"They aren't wet."
Willie walked over and slipped his hand inside Tim's belt and cupped his balls through his underwear. "OK, they aren't wet. But you can't tell me they aren't eager."
"Maybe for you to play with them, but not for diving."
"OK, Willie, get your hand out of my pants and I'll stop teasing you. Yes, Billy called; and, yes, he wants to dive in Atlanta, and, yes, I told him I'd love to dive with him."
"So back to my question, platform or springboard?"
"Does your dad know that you and Hardie are thinking of competing?"
"Hardie doesn't know it yet. I haven't seen him. I came directly over here when Dad told me the news."
"How do you know that Hardie wants to tandem dive?"
"Is the pope Catholic?"
"Hardie's better off the platform, isn't he?"
"That's where he got his medal."
"Then you guys take the platform and Billy and I'll take the springboard."
"We want you to choose for yourselves. Don't think about Hardie and me."
"I certainly will. Of the four of us, Hardie's the one for whom choosing his best venue is most important. I really think that you, your Dad, and I can hold up well on either the platform or the springboard. Now, what was your second question? Something about me being a prude? I'm not usually accused of that."
Wille paused, was silent for a moment as if engaged in some kind of internal debate. He finally said, "OK, here goes. There are going to be four tandem divers from the Gang. They're going to lean on each other for love and support. In that foursome is a father and son pair. If that father and son never pair up in bed, then you and Hardie will never pair up, and Hardie's going to need all the love he can get, including from his Uncle Tim."
"And if I'm sleeping with Hardie, that leaves you and your dad sleeping together. Am I going to be upset by that? Am I a prude in matters like that? Is that the question?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"What makes you think that your Uncle Tim would be a prude?"
"Oh, Uncle Tim. I've heard you talk a lot about how the Gang avoids incest. I'm almost scared to be talking about this."
"Willie, never be afraid to talk to me, or others in the Gang, including your parents, especially your parents. You know, if I think back to the conversations we've had in the Gang about parent-child sex, it's always been that the individuals wanted to avoid it. I don't ever remember it being condemned as wrong, evil, or immoral. I think there would be some real problems with couples trying to make babies that way. But what do you think your Dad would say to this conversation?"
"I don't know. It hasn't come up. But if the four of us are going tandem diving together, it's going to come up. You know, the younger generation doesn't give the old folks as much credit as we should. I really was afraid that you'd find it very upsetting to even talk about it."
"I think I should send you off to have this conversation with my father. He's been the cool one when dealing with the changes in mores of subsequent generations. As I think about you and your dad, I guess it could be a problem. You're absolutely right that if there weren't a father-son issue, the four of us would be pretty loving, physically, as we approached the Olympics. But I think you need to have this conversation with your dad."
"Honestly, Uncle Tim, talking with you worried me more than talking with Dad. I know the story of his eighteenth birthday. He pushed you pretty far. He went a lot further than you would've; admit it."
"OK, I admit it. Your father is more of a sex maniac than I am. I'm still not betting on how far you two might go in bed the night before tandem diving finals. But let's talk a minute about a number of issues relating to the diving aspect of all of this."
"Well, first of all, Billy and I have to get to the Olympic Trials. We have no standing. We'll have to start with regional tournaments, and go to Nationals. Finding time for all of that could be a problem. You and Hardie haven't established yourselves as tandem, unh, synchronized, divers as yet either."
"Leave those considerations to me. You know, there are some advantages to being the current National Diving Champion, platform and springboard. If I make a telephone call to the offices of USA Diving, I get through to the President, usually on the first try!"
"Don't let your ego weigh you down too much, Willie."
"Uncle Tim, as you've often pointed out, there is a difference between ego and simple reality. We need to get you qualified for the Olympic Trials without a lot of nonsense. I know that you can get an invitation upon the decision of the Committee for Competitive Excellence (CCE) of USA Diving. We need to get that process started."
Willie did talk to the President of USA Diving, Alice Archer, and shocked her completely with the idea that Tim and Willie might like an invitation to the Olympic Trials for 1996. "Willie, are you serious that your dad and Tim might like to compete-and that their diving would be good enough to compete? We'd love to have them at the Trials-it'd be incredibly newsworthy. But we can't invite them to make fools of themselves."
"Honestly, if there are two divers in the world that're better than me, Dad and Uncle Tim are the two. You know, Ms. Archer, Dad and Uncle Tim virtually invented synchronized diving."
"I know the history, Willie, but I can't imagine that they're still proficient."
"Take my word for it, when you see them dive it'll knock your socks off. I don't want to compete against them. They're going to dive from the springboard and Hardie and I are going from the platform. I expect the four of us to represent the United States in the Olympics."
"Willie, I can't ask the CCE to issue them an invitation unless one of that committee sees them dive-even with your saying that they're as good as you."
"Well, come on up to Grand Forks. They'll show off any time."
"Willie, the trials are almost three years off, surely you aren't suggesting that right now, without time to prepare, you would want someone to come and watch them dive?"
"Sure. You'll be impressed."
Willie walked into Tim's office about a week later, bringing his dad along. He told them, "OK, guys, the Committee for Competitive Excellence of USA Diving wants to watch you two tandem dive off the springboard. They want to make sure that if they issue you a gold plated invitation to the Olympic Trials that you won't make them look like fools. How about next Friday?"
Billy looked a little surprised and said, "Willie, how did you arrange all this? And what makes you think that Tim and I could be ready for that by next week?"
"I told Uncle Tim that I could get the ear of USA Diving. As for your being ready next week; you're ready now. I watch you guys dive. You're great. Two run-throughs of your show from Georgetown and you're ready. That show has always wowed everybody. It'll wow the CCE."
Tim and Billy did exactly what Willie told them to do. They reviewed the routine, which they hadn't done in a couple of years, and ran through it two or three times. They replaced a couple of dives with ones they'd been practicing recently, and they were ready to go. The Friday arrived, the CCE along with President Archer were greeted by Willie, Larry Knudsen, and me, and taken to lunch in the President's Dining Room. Billy and Tim weren't there because they were getting ready. We wanted the show to begin right after lunch. And we thought it might be best if the group from USA Diving didn't meet Tim and Billy until after they'd seen them dive.
We went from lunch to the natatorium. It was very obvious that, except for Ms. Archer, the group wasn't expecting to see much in the way of quality diving. It was simply beyond their imagination that a 46 year old and a 42 year old could possibly be considered potential Olympic divers, and they'd pretty much implied that at lunch-at least to the extent that good manners allowed them to.
We got everyone seated in the natatorium to the side of the diving pool. Then Tim and Billy entered and started with a speed climb up the ladder to the platform. They shared the single ladder and their feet worked exactly together: the two outside feet hit a rung, and then the two inside feet-touching-hit the next rung. They hit the top and their movements were exact mirror images. And then they were off into the air. A one and a half with a full twist-Billy twisted to the right and Tim to the left-exact mirror images. It was exactly the way the program had begun at the University of Maryland natatorium twenty-three years before. If fact, they duplicated the routine, right down to the clowning around in some of their tandem dives. After the intermission, they got completely serious about the dives they were doing, and they emphasized the springboard which is where they wanted to compete in the Olympics.
They were dazzling. I swear that I could've closed my eyes and been taken back more than two decades, and the diving hadn't changed a bit. Willie was absolutely right-these two were probably the only divers in the world that could compete at Willie's level, and they might very well be better than he was.
The visitors from USA Diving were, quite simply, shocked. It'd never occurred to them that these two divers, Tim retired since the Mexico City Olympics, and Billy since the Montreal Olympics, would have, or could have, maintained their skills. To us who watched them regularly at the UND pool, it was nothing special. We all knew they were virtually as good as they had ever been. And we hadn't been shy about telling people. Being believed was another matter. If you told the diving coach at the University of Iowa that Tim, retired for two decades, could make his top diver look like a rank amateur, the response was likely to be, "Yeah, sure." We'd long ago given up trying to convince people. Now, our visitors were convinced!
Ms. Archer immediately realized that Tim and Billy were going to be one of the biggest stories of the Olympics, and it wasn't going to bother her in the least that the story would begin at the USA Diving Trials. She got Willie aside after the show and said, "Willie, I think it would spice up the obvious hot story of your dad and Tim going to the Olympics if the world didn't really know how good they are before the Trials. What do you think?"
Willie had replied, "That's precisely why we wanted the special invitation. You folks are going to be criticized for extending the invitation to a couple of has-beens. I would respond that you're honoring them because it was their early tandem diving that really created the sport as we know it today. Tell the press you will let the quality of their diving speak for itself."
"Right you are, Willie. And thank you for your part in making all this happen. Are you and Hardie going to be competing in the synchonized diving?"
"Yes, off the platform-we certainly aren't going to compete against the performance you just saw!"
"If you continue as national champion off the platform, your invitation to the Trials will be automatic as well-since there aren't any current synchronized diving Olympians."
"I think it'll be quite spectacular to have two synchronized diving teams from the US featuring a father on one and the son on the other. That'll be a good addition to your news story."
"Are you and Hardie so good that you can count your chickens before they hatch?"
"Not yet, but we will be in two years. Just watch."
Ms. Archer, Tim, and Billy met together privately before the group from USA Diving left. She reported that the CCE had agreed unanimously to authorize the invitation to Tim and Billy to compete in the Olympic Trials without further qualification-on the basis of their previous standing as Olympic gold medalists in the event closest to synchronized diving, and of a review of their current abilities. The three of them discussed the publicity that might surround the announcement of the invitation. They all agreed that there was no reason to rush the public announcement; it would be best to wait until closer to the time of the Trials. It was also agreed that neither party-USA Diving nor Tim and Billy-would speak to the press without first discussing it with the other, hopefully with the plan to make a joint announcement. That suited Tim and Billy perfectly, because they didn't want a lot of people, public or reporters, hanging around the natatorium watching them dive, and they didn't want to have to ban spectators from the natatorium.
The story now jumps ahead two years. During that time Tim and Billy didn't particularly increase their practice schedules, but they did arrange to practice together as much as possible, rather than singly as they often had before. Willie and Hardie, on the other hand, worked their asses off, not only on their individual diving (especially Hardie), but also their synchronization. They were constantly hounding Tim and Billy to watch them and give advice. It was fairly obvious to the rest of the UND diving team what Willie and Hardie intended, and it didn't take much imagination to believe that Tim and Billy had similar ambitions.
It was now January, 1996, and the trials were scheduled for Indianapolis in June. The lineup of divers was being discussed as the various meets that would qualify you for the Trials were completed. Tim got a call from Alice Archer, saying that it was time for USA Diving to release the names of those with special invitations to the Trials. The only special invitations in men's synchronized diving would go to the teams of Tim and Billy and Willie and Hardie. There would be a number of other such invitations in other diving competitions, so she didn't think the two North Dakota invitations would upset people. Besides, she thought there would be considerable excitement about the idea of the "old men" reprising their Maryland show that really started synchronized diving. She was hoping that, after the Trials, Tim and Billy would be willing to do that-regardless of how the Trials turned out.
Tim and Billy discussed that invitation at some length. In their thinking, they had hoped not to show too much of their hand at the Trials. Just be good enough to win the American springboard slot (there's only one men's and one women's pair allowed from any country), and hold off their best possible performance until Atlanta. However, if they were going to reprise the Maryland show again, it would, in Tim's words, "Blow our cover."
They invited Sara and me, as well as Hardie and Willie, to join in the conversation about doing the show. In the end we all agreed that they should give it their best in Indianapolis, do the show, and let the press have a field day. It wouldn't detract from any medal that they won in Atlanta. With the power of Chinese diving, no level of performance at the trials could assure victory in Atlanta, and the press would have a field day speculating on how the "old men" would do. Tim and Billy also decided that they liked the moniker "old men" and would encourage its use! They'd be the "old men" of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The announcement that Tim and Billy had been invited to compete in the synchronized springboard diving trials was met with a wide range of response. All of our favorite reporters were tipped that they should be at the USA Diving news conference in mid-January. Mick's story in Sports Illustrated suggested that the "old men" had a good chance of showing up the "young squirts" among the divers and representing the United States in the Olympics. He'd talked to Tim and Billy in advance and they had agreed that it would be OK, well not just OK but very good, to call them the "old men." Having appeared in SI the term stuck. It was just the kind of catchy phrase that endeared them to the public and added to the mystique they were trying to foster.
The Trials couldn't have gone better if we had written the script. Tim and Billy's top competitors off the springboard were two young divers from Indianapolis who were diving in their home pool. This created intense interest in the synchronized diving Trials, and gave Tim and Billy a huge audience-a sellout. I am, of course, a biased observer. But to me it was clear from the first dive that Tim and Billy were going to walk away with the contest. The scoring backed up that opinion, as did all of the commentary from the press. The competition involved two assigned dives and four optionals that could be as difficult as the divers chose. Tim and Billy had simply let the difficulty levels of the available dives do their picking for them. The two of them weren't really aware that no one had even attempted that level of difficulty in a synchronized diving program before. Even though it was clear from the beginning that Tim and Billy were the best divers, there was some concern that might have selected dives that were too difficult and might do them in.
Do I even need to write this paragraph? Tim and Billy would never have listed a dive on their diving cards that they weren't certain they could execute flawlessly. Their four optional dives were no exception. It really did appear that one brain was controlling two bodies. Synchronized diving is judged by a panel of nine judges. Two focus on the left diver. Two focus on the right diver. These judge the dives on the same basis as individual dives are judged. The last five judges focus on the synchronization. In theory, at least, if one diver does well and the other poorly, the synchronization score should be low, because they didn't match their performances. On the other hand, two poor scores from the first two judging panels would be compatible with a high score from the final five judges.
Tim and Billy did present one problem for the judges, reflecting a problem that the two of them had in practicing their dives. There was more than a seven inch height difference between them, making a clear matching of moves difficult. One of the synchronization judges did comment, when interviewed after the meet, that the height difference had been somewhat of a problem for the judges, and that it might've cost them a tenth of a point.
It made no difference. Their scores so dominated the meet that it was never necessary to wait for the computer to calculate the standings, Tim and Billy would've won without the advantage of their greater degrees of difficulty.
Then came the questions: How on earth had they maintained their form over a period of almost two and a half decades while being a full-time diving coach and university president? No one was really ready to believe them when they outlined their practice schedules. When Tim noted that he maintained a similar schedule in gymnastics, the incredulity level rose dramatically. Mick's article in SI, which accompanied Tim's fifteenth cover picture, went into some detail of what Tim's day looked like, and the time that he spent in the pool and gym. Mick concluded, "Tim should be an inspiration to all of us 'old men,' but who among us could even contemplate, much less follow, his training schedule?"
And so it was on to Atlanta, with Tim and Billy representing the US in men's synchronized springboard diving; Willie and Hardie representing the US in men's synchronized platform diving; Willie representing the US in individual springboard and platform diving; and Hardie representing the US in individual platform diving.
The media hype about the "old men" was amazing. It was as if there wasn't any other Olympics story. Even better, or worse depending on your point of view, was the fact that the other big story the media was all over was the North Dakota gymnasts who seemed poised to do even better than they had four years before, when each of them had taken home some kind of medal. Mick's coverage in Sports Illustrated was the best-in my humble opinion. [Note: The acronym IMHO had not yet become popular at that date-thank goodness.] Mick insisted that there was a link between the stories and that the link was not North Dakota, not UND, but Tim; Tim pure and simple. He inspired people. He inspired Billy, Willie, Hardie, the Cavers, and many, many others. As far as Mick was concerned, if you had the talent, rose to the needed level of dedication, and came under the influence of Tim, you were headed for Olympic metal. Tim would have, of course, removed himself from the equation and inserted love and support, but Mick wasn't buying that. Without denigrating the importance of love and support, Mick insisted that the magic ingredient was Tim's love and support-which he gave freely to those willing to accept it and willing to meet his expectations of dedication.
The SI letters column had a field day with that argument, but never settled it. Tim remained above the fray, simply saying that Mick was right when he said that his love and support was available to those willing to accept it. He might've added that it didn't hurt if you matriculated at a certain university of which he just happened to be president.
I might note that Hal and Jody had their usual battle over who was going to race in the Olympic marathon. Hal had just assumed that the matter was settled and that it was simply a matter for Jody to decide whether two gold medals were enough, or whether he was going to try for a third. Jody, on the other hand insisted that it was Hal's turn for gold. Hal simply laughed at the idea. "Jody you beat me fair and square eight years ago. The race is yours if you want it."
"Nonsense. This is the year of the 'old men.' If Tim can dive you can run. You run marathons regularly, and you often beat me."
"I only beat you when you let me, or when you're having a bad day."
"Hal, you know you can still be competitive on a world level. Come on, Old Man, run with me. If you won't race in the Trials, I won't."
That stand off lasted until three days before the Trials! Hal finally realized that Jody was serious: he wouldn't race in the trials unless Hal did; and Hal didn't want Jody to miss his chance at a third gold. He figured that there was no way he'd qualify for the team, so what the Hell, a good race in the Trials, up against the best in the country, would be fun. He didn't have to qualify to have a good time.
As former gold medal winners, both Hal and Jody were entitled to race in the trials without any preliminary qualifications. Of course, Jody, as the most recent gold medalist, was more or less expected to run. Hal's entry was greeted with less enthusiasm. Somebody suggested that Hal had entered in order to race ahead and tire other runners, making way for Jody. I don't think that I've ever seen Hal so mad as when that suggestion got back to him. He called Mick immediately and told him to gather a few key sports reporters, he had a statement to make. He got with a group of about 8 senior reporters, including Mick and another from SI, and vented his anger for about fifteen minutes. Then Mick said, "All right guys, all that was off the record. Now, Hal, please respond more calmly to the suggestion that you're in this race to somehow help Jody."
Hal said, "In the marathon, everybody runs their own race. If you're foolish enough to race ahead because some fool spurts ahead-whether as part of a malignant plot, or simply bad strategy, then you're too dumb to be running marathons, and Jody certainly doesn't need my help beating you. Those of you that know me know that I would never be a part of a such a plan. You also know enough about the top competitors in this race to know that such a plan wouldn't affect the outcome one bit. However, I am in this race because of Jody. He insisted that I race this year because of the love and respect that we have for each other, and have had for many, many years. He truly believes that I have a chance at qualifying and running another Olympic marathon. I have no illusions that I'll qualify; but I won't be embarrassed either. I've been in constant practice since my first year of high school, and the past four years have been no exception. Marathon times keep getting lower and lower, so I am falling behind the pack. But you had better be mighty fast if you want to go to Atlanta and leave me at home!"
There were a few questions, but Hal had really said it all. Mick asked one key question, however, "Hal, does it bother you to be referred to as one of the 'Old Men' of these Olympic Games?"
"If it doesn't bother Tim, it doesn't bother me. We're the same age, and we'll be old men together."
Another reporter followed that with, "You make it sound like you really expect to be in Atlanta with Tim, and be one of the 'Old Men' of the Olympics."
"OK, I'll have to admit, dreaming is pleasant. It would be fun. But guys, it's not to be."
But it was! Hal's Trials time was 2:09.10, one second off his time in the Olympics eight years before. It was an unbelievable performance. He crossed the finish line 2 seconds ahead of Jody and 8 seconds ahead of third place. It was a tour de force of unprecedented proportions. Hal crossed the line, fell down, rose enough to look at the clock, and fell to the ground. It was a full two minutes before he spoke a word. Then he looked straight into Jody's eyes and said, "Jody, you taught me a lesson eight years ago. You may be sorry. I didn't hold anything back. Not a bit."
Jody smiled and said, "Neither did I, Hal. This win is all yours. And that time could be gold in Atlanta." Then Jody, who had been so concerned about Hal that he'd forced himself to stay conscious, collapsed right beside Hal. Herb came up and assured everybody that they were fine, please just let them alone. Within five minutes they were alert, and besieged by reporters. "Was Hal really going to run his fifth Olympic marathon? Did he expect gold? Why hadn't he raced four years ago?" The questions got sillier as they went along. All Hal could say was that this win and this time were completely unexpected. Going to Atlanta was completely unexpected. And he had absolutely no expectations whatsoever for Atlanta. He would do his best, and that would be that."
Then he and Jody helped each other up-Jody pushed Hal who turned and pulled Jody-and walked off the field arm in arm. Even the pushy reporters seemed to understand that they needed to be alone together. When they were finally alone, Hal said, "I'm sorry, Jody."
Jody had tears in his eyes as he replied, "I know why you said that, Hal. But don't be sorry. This was the happiest race of my life. I gave my all. So did you. That's sport at it's best, and Tim, I, and the whole Gang are so proud of you that we can hardly contain it. Tim's right you know, there's nothing embarrassing about being second, if you can truly say you did your best and the other guy's best was better than yours. I can." Hal kissed him-and not a single camera clicked, such was the respect that the press corps had for Hal Bruder.
Not a whole lot of the Gang had been at the trials. Since Hal and Jody didn't know they were going until three days before, we simply didn't have time to organize the trip. But Tim and I were there, along with their wives and children. And Herb, of course. He was no longer actively coaching, but was always there when Hal needed him, and it'd been clear to everyone before the Trials that if Hal was going, Herb was needed.
And so the North Dakota group heading for Atlanta was remarkably similar to the group that had gone to Barcelona. Archery was replaced by synchronized diving, and Billy and Tim returned. Hardie and Wille qualified the same as four years before, except that this time Hardie could no longer be the sleeping giant. Everyone knew what he could do, and were hoping that he could earn another medal for the U.S. on home soil.
Willie had a shot at taking an unprecedented three diving gold medals. However, the Chinese favorite, Xiong Ni, who had, like Willie, been in the 1988 Olympics as a fourteen year old, getting a silver to Willie's bronze, was a significant threat. In 1992 they had again competed against each other and Willie had beaten him in Barcelona, taking two golds. They'd be meeting head to head in all three of the diving events. It promised to be an intense competition. Tim and Billy would not face Xiong Ni.
As the Olympics approached the press had a field day trying to predict the relative successes of Willie and Xiong Ni. They had met at World's once since the last Olympics and had each taken a gold medal. Those of us that knew Willie were convinced that he hadn't really given a damn about the World's and hadn't really practiced as he should have. He'd only been to one of the World Championships that took place between the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics, supporting our belief that at this stage in his career he really only cared about Olympic medals. So Xiong Ni came to the Olympics in Atlanta better known in the world of international diving. Only really keen Gang watchers, like Mick, were predicting Willie's success. Mick had gone out on a limb and flat out predicted Willie would be the first three-gold Olympic diver-this being the first Olympics at which such a feat was possible.
Sports Illustrated had declined to print that prediction, because not a single editor thought it even approached reality. Mick's prediction crept into a sports column in USA Today, generating a lot of heat-and great publicity for all concerned. Despite all of that, the big story as the world approached the Olympics was the American OLD MEN: Tim, Hal and Billy. Ages 49. 49 and 46-not records for the Olympics, but virtually all competitors of those ages were riding horses or sailing boats. Diving was becoming a sport for teens and just barely post-teens and marathons for 20's and 30's-not almost 50. Furthermore, these OLD MEN were not simply barely qualifying for the Olympics, with getting there an end in itself-all three were serious contenders for gold.
Their public performances were exciting, and I'm eager to tell that story, because it's one of the highlights in the history of the Gang. But let's pause for a minute and talk about backstage nights! Willie and Hardie roomed together in the Olympic Village, as did Tim and Billy. Tim had always insisted that athletes should be in the Village, regardless of marital status or athletic stardom, and every member of the Gang had always followed that guideline. It was so ingrained in all of us, that it was never questioned. I can assure you that over the years I've heard a lot of comments from Tim about athletes who think they're too good to live with their peers-that is, they didn't think that the other athletes were their peers. The comments were not flattering.
It comes as no surprise that Tim and Billy loved each other physically at night, and the same of Willie and Hardie. However, Willie insisted that Hardie needed Tim's love and support as well. Tim and I suspect that Willie may have had an ulterior motive, in that it left him and his dad together. We both think that Willie was eager to test the taboo. He'd begun the first conversation about these Olympics by making sure that Tim wasn't going to be offended by that course of events. And he'd had some preliminary conversations with his Dad as well. We learned later that the conversations had actually started with his granddad, Bill, who shared the conversation with us. Willie and his granddad had had long talks about father-son incest. They'd concluded that the arguments against incest were essentially two-fold: the realistic issue of genetics, and the social taboos which seemed derived from the genetic issue and the evidently inherent dislike of sex with family members. They talked about how it was difficult for children to imagine their parents having sex, and thought that was consistent with the social taboo against incest. Willie had said, "Granddad, I love my dad, and we certainly aren't going to make babies. Why can't that love be physical?"
Bill had replied, "It can, if you're comfortable with it and your dad is. Your dad has always been willing to push the envelope, especially sexually. I'll bet he'll be open to this."
Billy had responded to Willie's invitation by saying, "I agree that Hardie needs a few nights with Tim. That leaves us together. Of course, we could do some trading with the Cavers, but I know that isn't what you want. So we'll be together. Let's see what we're comfortable with."
Willie had the good sense to know that was a, "Yes," answer, and he was, of course, correct. The second night in the Olympic Village Hardie and Billy traded places. In bed that night Hardie wrapped himself around Tim and felt the famous wiggle that he had only heard about up till then. He had ventured below Tim's belly button, and before long they were doing 69. Hardie told me later, when he thanked me for sharing Tim, that he had rarely felt so loved. "Charlie, you can't imagine how wonderful it was to have Tim give himself completely to me."
"Yes, Hardie, I can imagine, because he does that for me every night we're together. I'm glad that I'm able to share the experience with you."
It wasn't quite so simple for Willie and Billy. Their bodies came together in Willie's room, and they stood there kissing. This wasn't new for them, even with lots of tongue. Billy had then said, "OK, son, this was your idea. Just how comfortable are you going to be if I take your clothes off and suck your dick?"
Willie had replied, "Dad, I don't know of any father who so deserves the love of his son. You've been the best damn father in the world; loving you is so easy. But as lovers let's be equals. We'll undress each other, and then explore each other together. Soon they were naked on the bed, kissing and fondling each other's genitals. Both came quickly, and they slept without further ado. In the two weeks of the Olympics they spent five nights together. By the fifth night they fucked each other. Both agreed that their love and respect for each other deepened as a result of those five nights. We don't know if it helped their diving, but events proved that it certainly didn't hurt! The same can be said for Tim and Hardie's relationship.
What public shows the four of them put on! Platform diving was first and Willie and Xiong Ni duked it out from the first dive to the last. Both gave the performances of their lives. Both had known going in that it was going to be a tough battle and that neither could afford to give away the slightest advantage by selecting any other than the most difficult, highest value dives. That meant that they were doing exactly the same dives, but not in exactly the same order. Willie did have home pool advantage-the audience was largely American and was eager for gold. However, the international diving community knew Xiong Ni better than Willie, because he dove regularly in those circles. Had he had command of a language other than Chinese, he might've been able to establish a lot of relationships with international divers. However, without a common language, that hadn't happened. So, as was often the case with Chinese athletes at the Olympics, he tended to seem aloof from the other divers. Tim and I are convinced that that might've hurt him enough to cost him a medal. In any case, he and Willie were neck and neck from beginning to end, each of them running up a point total never before seen in Olympic competition. It came down to the last dive and Willie dove after Xiong Ni. You'd think, partnered with a diver, that I would know one dive from another. Nope, I tend to put the dives that Tim does, and Billy and Willie and Hardie, into three categories: barely possible, virtually impossible, and completely impossible. Tim has laughed at this for years, but has failed to teach me to discriminate more carefully. Well, every dive that Willie and Xiong Ni, and Hardie for that matter, did from the time the semifinals began till the end of the finals was in the category of completely impossible. You simply can't do all that they do in the time it takes a body to fall ten meters! But they do, and people actually think they can watch those falling bodies and make judgements on things like keeping the wrist turned in the right direction.
Tim will read that and say, or at least think, "Charlie, Charlie."
Well, let me just say that not a single judge of Willie's last dive could find anything to complain about. All tens. Willie had gold. Xiong Ni had silver. And almost as an afterthought, Hardie repeated at bronze. The fourth place diver wasn't close, so very little attention had been paid to any divers but Willie and Xiong Ni. Even Willie had had to admit that he was completely focused on Xiong Ni, and paid little attention to Hardie. When he said that at a late dinner following the finals, Hardie had replied, "Hell, I didn't pay much attention to Hardie's diving. It was you and Xiong Ni that were putting on the show. I'm lucky I didn't forget to take one of my dives."
It wasn't that close off the springboard. Willie had a good lead at the end of the semifinals, and Xiong Ni couldn't close the gap at all in the finals-in fact, he slipped a little further behind, but not far enough to give any hope of silver to those contending for bronze.
Other things were going on at the Olympics, honest. Those things included the efforts of the North Dakota gymnasts. But with Willie holding two golds and headed for an unprecedented third in the platform synchronized diving-and the OLD MEN appearing off the springboard, all breaths were being held until the diving duos made their appearances.
All the serious contenders seemed to hold back in the prelims. They weren't choosing super difficult dives and weren't performing to perfection. None of the divers that were expected to be in contention for gold were leading at the end of prelims. But all qualified for the semifinals, and the world seemed to move in slow motion as two of the most highly anticipated contests of the games prepared to unfold. Willie and Hardie versus Xiong Ni and Wan Kwan off the platform were first. You could tell from Xiong Ni's face that he was determined not to let this American rob him of a gold medal for a third time. He was fierce, determined, and breathtakingly perfect with his partner. But they slipped a little on the second dive, one of the required dives, and of less difficulty than the optionals they'd chosen. Though they both did an excellent dive, they weren't quite in synch, and it cost them. They couldn't make it up in subsequent dives because Willie and Hardie gave no quarter.
Everyone but Tim and Willie was absolutely amazed at the way Hardie rose to the occasion. He'd been bronze to Willie's gold in the individual competition, but in the synchronized diving you couldn't tell Hardie from Willie. Where had this come from? Tim simply said, "Love and support; and what better way to express it than in synchronized diving? If you want to give credit to someone, give it to Coach Harry Wilson. If he hadn't risen to the occasion and let Hardie and Willie love each other, you wouldn't be seeing today what you're seeing."
Tim was exactly right. And Willie got his third gold diving medal in a single Olympics. But in the eyes of the Gang that was nothing compared to the fact that Hardie became an Olympic gold medalist. That was something that was so far beyond his dreams when Willie arrived in Iron River that his dreams of being president someday were more realistic! My God, Hardie Hassett wearing his gold medal back in Iron River was an event we could only dream about in Atlanta. But there he was, on the top level podium, listening to "The Star Spangled Banner" played in his honor-well, Willie's too. I've never seen a young man stand so tall, so proud, and so handsome. And it didn't hurt that his swimming suit covered almost nothing, especially with his zipper pool jacket hanging open!
People that hadn't seen Tim and Billy dive in tandem before, those that hadn't seen their "show" in Maryland or in one of their subsequent performances, didn't realize that the Olympic rules and procedures limited their performance dramatically. As Tim and Billy conceived and executed tandem diving, each dive started on the ground. They mounted the ladders in tandem, moved directly into the dives in tandem, dove in tandem, came out of the water in tandem, walked around the pool in tandem, and proceeded with the next dive in tandem. The routine wasn't broken for over 12 minutes. In the Olympics each dive was separate. They had to stop at the top of the ladder for the dive to be announced. The tandem dive only started with their first step down the board. That didn't stop them from doing their own show, starting together at poolside and climbing the ladders in tandem, standing through the announcements in tandem poses without moving, and starting together, seemingly without any cue or signal from one to the other.
On two of their preliminary dives they hammed up the routine, by inserting scratching an itch behind their ears in tandem as they approached one dive and, in a routine that would've done Laurel and Hardy proud, slipping in tandem on the fourth rung of the ladder, almost falling, catching themselves at the same instant and maintaining their tandem performance to the top and through the dive. Because they were afraid that some judge might not appreciate the levity, they left all of that out of their semifinal and final performances, much to the disappointment of the television announcers. The routine on the fourth rung became one of the most repeated shorts from the Olympics, and earned Tim his sixteenth SI cover.
What can I say about their actual performance in their dives? I'll simply note that a large segment of the press started saying what Willie and the rest of the Gang had been saying for years: every male diver that had gotten an Olympic medal in the years since Tim and Billy retired needed to know that they got the medal that they got only because Tim and Billy hadn't been competing.
The awarding of the gold medal was almost an anticlimax, except for one thing. When the medal was hung around Tim's neck it was the 19th time that such an event had occurred. With that medal Tim claimed the record for the most Olympic medals ever won by any Olympian. At 18 medals he'd been tied with Larissa Latynina, of the Soviet Union, who'd taken six women's gymnastics medals in three successive Olympic Games, 1956, 1960, and 1964. Now Tim stood alone at the top of the list, with 19 medals, in two sports, earned at four different Olympic games, spread over an incredible 28 years! It would've earned him another SI cover, except that he was already on the cover for the wrap up issue on the Games, with the picture of Tim and Billy fooling around on the fourth rung of the platform ladder. So there were two images of him in the Olympic cover collage, the second showing him having the 19th medal placed over his head.
The SI story, written by Mick read: "When Tim and Billy finished their bravura performance as synchronized divers, everybody knew that they had just witnessed the best diving ever seen in an Olympic Games. We all knew, with certainty, that had they wanted, they could have walked home with gold and silver in the individual events, and both synchronized diving golds. There was no one in Atlanta who could have stopped them, including Billy's son Willie. They were simply that good. If you weren't there to see it, if you missed it live on television, buy the video tape as soon as it is available. Those that witnessed it will be telling their children and grandchildren for years. Stare at the still pictures on these pages. They can't do diving justice, but try to find differences between they two images. Other than the fact that their bodies are shaped a little differently, and there is a seven inch height difference, you simply can't say how the images differ. It was like a single brain controlled the two bodies. It will be many Olympiads hence before we see the likes of these performances-unless, of course, they return in four years!"
I don't think that I've ever read such effusive praise in Sports Illustrated before. Mick swears that his editor's only comment was, "If I knew how to puff this up, I would, but I don't know how. I saw them on TV and it was truly unbelievable." Mick also swears that he's never heard his editor talk like that before!
Author's note: Once again this story warps the fabric of history. Synchronized diving did not become an Olympic event until 2000.
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