About 3 years ago Amanda lent me her copy of Gold in the Water by PH Mullen. I pretty much only ever read now on my Kindle so I read about 8 pages and then gave up. Books are just too big to carry around and I ended up returning it to Amanda 2 and a half years later unread.
Gold in the Water has however recently been published on Kindle so I gave it a second try and I am so glad I did as it is magnificent.
The book tells the tale of the once glorious but now a bit down at heal Santa Clara swimming team in California and its swimmers as they prepare for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. This is a time when no one has even heard of Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe was still referred to as a promising teenager! Both are now comfortably retired after glittering careers which shows you how long ago 2000 is now.
The book opens by depicting a showdown between rookie Tom Wilkens and veteran Kurt Grote as they race the 200m breaststroke at the 1998 Pan Pacs. This thrust you right into the action and the drama giving you a taster of what is to come in the remainder of the book. This time the experience of the veteran prevails.
Gold in the water focuses on the stories of 5 or 6 swimmers and their old school, unbending coach Dick Jochums as they individually strive to reach the same goal – a place on the Olympic team.
You have the all American Tom Wilkens, Kurt Grote who is combining swimming with a medical degree, the analytical Dod Wales whose father was an Olympian, the reluctant and depressed Tate Biancci and Moldovan refugee Serghei Mariniuc who trains a few times a week for fun. You even have a brief guest appearance from Team Mermaids hero Dara Torres as she prepares for her first comeback.
The book draws such a vivid, insightful picture of the ups and downs of the swimmers’ journeys that you can almost smell the chlorine and feel the lactic acid in your blood as you read. It is not just a the story of the swimmers though as it also tells that tale of their coach Dick Jochums as he searches for redemption through them. Jochums promising early coaching career hit the skids after he over trained his first prodigy Tim Shaw and after allegations of financial irregularities at his former swimming club. Jochums returns to Santa Clara aiming to return it and through it himself back to its former glory. Jochums is a coach of basic principles. He doesn’t believe in any of this modern technology rubbish and gives the swimmers the same few basic work outs on rotation with a firm focus on race pace speed every day. He is an anti-hero, deeply flawed but passionate man. He wants desperately for his swimmers to succeed even if he doesn’t always do the right things to make that happen.
It is such a page turner that you forget that this is not just a story but a depiction of real life. **spoiler alert** This makes is even more heart-breaking when not one of the swimmers get their fairy tale ending. Grote, after taking a year off med school injures his knee and can barely train. Wales falls victim to his old flaws of a too conservative first 50m and touched third in the 100m fly at the Olympic trials. He is not destined to follow in his fathers’ footsteps. The saddest of all in Tom Wilkens who after all the thousands of kms swum and all the stellar times posted, cracks under pressure at trials and fails to qualify for his favoured event the 400m IM. He does qualify for the 200m breaststroke and 200m IM in which after a race of epic determination he wins a bronze medal in Sydney.
We would both thoroughly recommend this book to everyone whether you are a fan of swimming or not.
You can buy Gold in the Water here: