Perhaps it is the pagan in all of us, the wish to exult joyously in the physical, that makes us respect - and in moments of fantasy envy - athletes. Especially champions. The way they let go and hurl their bodies at something is proof of a freedom, a simplicity, a purity that the rest of us seek. We envy the wildness, and we envy that they are the best, the very best, at what they do. Few of us are willing to pursue such a goal; instead we settle for the comfortable and secure, avoiding defeat. But we also avoid victory. So we vicariously run with them, leap with them, win with them, and up close to them are a little frightened by their intensity.
The athletes care little about our vicarious thrills.They do no pursue excellence for us. They seek it for themselves. This story profiles the four "best" amateur athletes in metropolitan Washington. What they have to say is perhaps not what one might expect, and their circumstances vary widely. For example, one is virtually an indented servant to sport; another is as close to anyone in this country gets to being a fully subsidized athlete. What they share is a desire to be the best in the world. They also share a respect for other athletes, for others who are willing to make the sacrifices and stand revealed.
I was the sole decider of who is "best." The selection necessarily involved subjective prejudices and judgments. How does one compare Albert King, a Maryland basketball player who can score 30 points and is descended upon by a dozen sportwriters, with Chris Shea, who sets a world record in the woman's mile walk and says, when a writer tells her he doesn't have time to interview her, "I understand."
The criterion was, first, excellence. Each of the four athletes chosen has had success in international competition. But the quality of athletes in this area is such that 10 or more will likely be in the 1980 Olympics, and perhaps two dozen are legitimate contenders for the Olympics. So another factor was added - skill. Pole vaulting requires more skill than sprinting, and in my selection I weighed achievement in some sports and more heavily than others.
So here let me name of they truly outstanding active athletes in the area not included in this article. Among women: Paula Girven, a University of Maryland undergraduate who high-jumped in the Montreal Olympics; Jenny Rapp, who has competed against the Russians in swimming; Robin Takemori, a national judo champion; Nancy Leahy, a 1972 Olympic kayaker; the above-mentioned Chris Shea, who just finished her first year at Georgetown University; Elizabeth Young, a sprinter and strong contender for the 1980 Olympic team; and Jackie Cassello, who is 13 and has won the national championship in gymnastics.
The men in the area are led by Scott Bozek, an epee fencer, who has twice won national championship and competed in two Olympics; two brothers, Mark and Fred Borchelt, who began rowing at T. C. Williams High School and competed in Montreal, along with another '76 Olympic rower, Chip Lubsen; Clay Britt, who is ranked third in the United States in the backstrokes and may rank as high as third in the world; and Bish Cullins, the youngest - just turned 16 - ever to win a national AAU boxing champsionship. There are also many outstanding track performers: Fred Sowerby runs middle distances and represented Antigua in the 1972 and 1976 games; Maurice Peoples, in the 400-meter dash, and Christopher Person, in the 400-meter hurdles, have excellent shots at the 1980 Olympics.
Now for those people who are being profiled:
Outside the gym at Ft. McNair the rain is coming down heavily, a steady drenching rain, the kind that makes people run, as if their haste could keep them drier. Inside the gym Dragan is arguing with the attendant to let her stay. Dragan has no military identification, and her training partner, who does, is late. The attendant orders Dragan to wait outside, in the rain. Dragan refuses angrily.
The attendant threatens to call the MPs. Dragan says go ahead. She is 26 years old, a broad-shouldered woman just stubborn enough to dig in. The attendant calls the Mps.
Three arrive. They take Dragan outside - not into the rain but into their patrol car - and start to interrogate her. Just then her partner arrives, flashes his ID, and the MPs let her go.
"Look," Dragan says, "I was happy they didn't handcuff me."
Such are the tribulations of a member of the 1972 and 1976 Olympic teams (she finished 10th each year but expects to do better next time) who is trying to use Ft. McNair to train for the 1980 games. Reaching the Olympics requires a long and tortuous route for any athlete; for those in the less-publicized sports the route is longer, and more tortuous.
Dragan races kayaks - she paddles narrow skins of mahogany through the water. It is not a new sport; every Olympiad has included it. It is simply one of those sports so unknown that it escaped even the catholicity of the weekend network sport shows.
Getting into a gym to train with weighting equipment is not dragan's biggest problem. Nor is time, although she is a graduate student at the University of Maryland trying to wrtie a master's thesis, train two or three hours a day, and work as a waitress. Her biggest problem is money.
Early in March she went to Florida for a training camp with the rest of the national team. She was given $5 a day for expenses. Last October she was one of a four-member U. S. boat team that won the Pan America championship in Mexico City and broke the course record held by the 1968 Olympic champions.
"That trip cost me $500," Dragan says. "I was told it would be refunded. I haven' seen a penny of the refund yet. I borrow the money from my granny. I only have granny. How much can I borrow from her?
"Last December I didn' have money hardly to eat on. I lost my car. I didn' t have anything.When i went to the training camp in March, i lost my job. I don't tell employers anymore that I'm an athlete. If they know, they won't hire you. I wondered back then, especially in December: What am I doing this for? I know there's no future in it. If I had any brains I wouldn't be doing it. But I haven't reached my goal yet. My goal is to win an Olympic medal."
She got intl kayaking late. As a child she was a swimmer who won her first medal at the age of 5, and at 10 placed third in the breast stroke and fifth in the backstroke in national competition. "When I was in grade school, I could no more pull-ups than the boys. I always thought it was neat to be strong."
Two of her brothers went to college on football scholarships, and all through school she swam, or played basketball, or ice-skated. But she did not paddle. In college she was not on the swim team and no longer had her face what had to her becomes drudgery. She did not paddle either. She partied.
"I got thrown out of school. Nothing much, just for a semester." But that left her hanging around Washington in September 1971. "One day my father put me in the car and told me I going to the Olympics.
"A kayker, Nancy Leahy, needed a partner. Dragan's father her into the Washington Canoe Club, after he had talked to Nancy's father.
"Nancy said the idea of me going to the '72 Olympics was ridiculous. The trials were only 10 months away, and I had never even been in a kayak. But she said if I wanted to go out on the water, she'd go out with me."
Both of them made the team, in a two-person boat.
Dragan also made the 1978 Olympic team with another partner. For 1980 she plans to compete by herself, in singles, races adn trains with partners.
She talks casually of her accomplishments and plans.No hints of effort, of the pain, leaks out. She calls herself "lazy", says she doesn't train "very hard, and certainly not as hard as I should." She jokes about her size - 5 feet 6 inches and 160 pounds: "After workout we go to Georgetown for ice cream." She makes it all seems so simple, so matter-of-fact. "I always thought if I talked about it I was showing off."
She makes it sound simple, but beneath her accomplishments lies a hardness. Two hardnesses actually. One, an awareness of how pointless and ephemeral her athletic experience may seem to that part of the world called "real." The future is a recurrent theme in her conversation, and she believes hers is in teaching and coaching.
Dragan wants to be like everyone else. Yet she talks of pushing on the 1984 Olympics, knowing that each day she trains, each delay in finishing her thesis, each interruption of the normal career progession, separate her from everyone else. When will she start teaching? When can she? And in her talk of the future - of being like by everyone else - is an undercurrent of fear that she may by left behind. It is not yet a desperation.
It is as if she knows she should give the sport up, but will not. "Practically everyone else my age still paddling is either rich or has a sponsor." She smiles. She shrugs. If she has neither money nor sponsor, what of it? The world owes her nothing. She can take care of herself.
Which is her second hardness, her toughness. When she misses a lift in her weight workout, she is silent, intensely silent for a moment. For that moment she has gone inside. Then her face relaxes. Her smile returns.
Perhaps all the athletes in her sport are like this. The sport itself is so isolated from the mainstream of athletics in this country. But Dragan has isolated herself beyond that. She and her current partner train by themselves even though other kayakers train train with a coach at her own club. ("Well," Dragan says, "He's a great guy and doing a lot for the sport, but let's just say we use different methods. Mine work for me. Maybe his work for him.")
The David Taylor Model Basin is a Navy facility where warship hull designs are tested secretly in a tank half a mile long. The Navy allows the Washington Canoe Club to use it, and that is where Dragan is training because the weather is still too severe to use the Potomac River. It is dark inside, dimly lighted, and the water is black and still. Her kayak is a thin silver of molded polyster resin and cloth weighing only 26 pounds. In international competition she races in a wood boat, but it requires a lot of maintenance so she uses a fibreglass boat for training. It is a feat of balance simply to sit in the kayak without rolling it over. But as soon as Dragan takes her seat, both she and the kayak seems to transformed. Her wide powerful hips and shoulders seem smoothers, and the kayak seems suddenly alive, though gentle. When Dragan starts a move, she and the kayak become . . . sleek.
In the dark, in the silence, the only sound is that of her paddle breaking water. There is not even the sound of a splash, only a lap-lap-lap as the kayak skims across the surface. Dragan seems at home. Dragan is at home. The financial problems, the future, all that slips into her wake.
"When I race," she says, "I start out counting strokes, concentrating on technique. Twenty-three strokes is 100 meters. The course is 500 meters. But about halfway through I always lose count. I become aware only of my arms - how they hurt! - and my breathing. Then I'm not aware of anything. Not even of the water. All there is in the world narrows down to faster! faster! faster!"
She is sitting in the kayak looking up. The kayak continues to glide up in the dark water. "The Hungarian coach believes in me. He thinks if anyone can beat the East Germans, I can."
She smiles modestly, and then returns her concentration to the paddle, and regains her rhythm and grace. There is no worry about, no thought of, the future.
Renaldo Nehemiah is simply the best there and is the best there ever was. "I was doing things," he says, "no one has ever done. I'm the first person to break 6.9 indoors. No one else has come close. I'm the first person to unheard of feats more of less consecutively."
This 19-year-old sophomore hurdler at the University of Maryland has set new world records five times in five months. He ran the 55-meter hurdles indoors in 6.89 seconds and then the 110-meters hurdles outdoor in 13.00 seconds. In the track world he is king. Emperor. At the pinnacle of all amateur sport, and famous.
His coach, Frank Costello, points to a stack of envelopes quests for interviews that won't be granted - including Newsweek. They've been cutting into school. There are tons more (requests) than you can comprehend."
"The pressure's so much," Nehemiah is saying, shaking his head. Not to perform in the hurdles, but to reveal himself, to fulfill the role of a celebrity. "People wanting to know everything. Indoors I got really upset. I came to practice two days before a big meet and there were five or six TV stations . . . It got to the point where I almost dreaded coming to practice."
Yet he demands recognition at the same time. "I'm selfish. When I run I'm representing myself - different people get credit for it. The University of Maryland. But I represent myself."
He complains that his world records haven't made the cover of Sport Illustrated and wonders what he has "to do to get more outright attention. I was the best hurdler in history, and it's so low-keyed. I ran so well week after week it just sort of died. Like if I didn't break the world record, people thought i had a bad meet."
Nehemiah doesn't want Warhol's 15 minutes of fame to go away.
There are two types of great athletes. The first seems to melt into the sport and become one with it: long-jumpers who love to get up, into the wind and air, and to whom each contact with the earth is a regretful reminder of mortality; basketball players who have soft hands, the soft touch, who long for the ball and without it seem not quite complete.
Nehemiah is not one of these.
Then there is the second type who conquer the sport, who dominate and smother and defeat it. Such is Nehemiah. He is an ego demanding a place. A very private person, described as a "loner", he is an intruder in the world outside and wants not to join with it but to conquer it. His sensitivity, his awareness, is to and of his own body. All else is external. The hurdle is the enemy.
"I think of the hurdle," he says, "as a barrier that's in the way. My main objective is to get over it without hurting myself. A lot of hurdlers fear that barrier . . . I don't feel inferior to the hurdle. The hurdle has a lot control over the race - it's 90 percent of it - but I don't feel inferior to it."
When he set world records, "everything was at my control. I planned everything I did - weightlifting, training, everything . . . I consider myself a technician. I try to stay in control of myself at all times, knowing my every move, my every reaction."
Nehemiah, says his coach, "knows what he wants and what sacrifices he must makes to get it."
That firm direction and control is perhaps the most dominant aspect of his life. It does not leave him. Everything is a system. He hurdles precisely and dresses neatly. He is unrelentingly courteous, and courtesy defines patterns; when someone holds a door for him, a "thank you" always follows. Never does he talk of "school" or "college" or even "Maryland"; always it is "the University of Maryland."
He considered himself "a student at the University of Maryland," and "the University of Maryland track team is" going to this or that meet. His answers to questions are considered carefully before he speaks - even for the automatic answers, and many answers are automatic. He has been asked so many questions so many times, been probed so constantly, one has to have sympathy for him. Everyone wants a piece of him. He is reluctant to give it.
The courtesy, the carefully defined patterns of speech and behavior, protect his privacy and soften his aloofness. It allows him to reconcile his desire for attention - even adulation - and still keep the world at bay. He is in a splendid and glourious isolation; his contact with the world comes at precise points, rigidly defined, as comes tangent to a circle.
Yet there are gray areas. There are insiders - other athletes, a few friends - who seem to have penetrated the courtesies. Without question Nehemiah is well-liked by his teammates. There are casual, easy-going friendly exchanges and acceptance of each other.
"You go to that party?" he is asked.
"No, but I heard about it."
"You coming over then?"
"I think so."
With them he has an easy grace and a quick smile. It is not that success has gone to his head. Rather, one reason for his success is that same sense of self, that same control. Besides, there is a girl. The isolation is not absolute.
It is only the rest of world that is outside. It is only the rest of the world he wants to beat.
It is as close to an off day as Nehemiah has. He is jogging languidly around the track in tandem with another runner. Their strides mirror each other's, their feet land side by side simultaneously, like a drill team in perfect step, and moving so slowly tha ta jogger in street clothes and sneahers easily keep pace. Even when they accelerate and run hard for 300 yards, leaving the jogger far behind, their strides remain matched. They glide.
Nehemiah is running with grace and power and fluidly, yet so is the other athlete. It would be untrue to say Nehemiah stands out, is clearly superior, when he only jogs of strides or even runs hard. Oh, he is good. Yet others look as good. But then, while he strides around the track, he casually, almost as an afterthought, whips his rear leg up high and tight to his buttocks as though clearing a hurdle.
The suddenness of it! The quick power of the move and the quick return to a smooth rhythm! As easily and quickly he has separated himself from everyone else on the track. Suddenly he is not like everyone else.
He doesn't want to be like everyone else. He wants everyone else to make way. He likes the pressure. Last year he ranked number one in the world. Even so, this year, he says, "I had to prove myself all over again. I have to prove it to the media, to people - I know I'm best, but I have to prove it to them. After 1980 there'll be nothing left to prove. Then they'll know."
When I started wrestling," says Jeff Simons, "I was a 6-foot, 138-pounder. Boy was I terrible. I just kept getting better.
Now Simon is 26 years old, 6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds, and a Marine lieutenant on detached duty at Quantico to train for the World Champioships. He is strong and quick, but possible his greatest asset is a relentless persistence. Like a bulldog, when he sinks his teeth into something he won't let go. He keeps after it. Until something gives, and he is determined that is won't be he.
"I don't stall. I like to rack up points. I like international rules better than college. They make you stay active. That helps me. I've always been able to outcondition my opponents. Wear them down, just be attack, attack, attack. . . .
"I think I can win the gold medal in the Olympics. I really do. I wrestled the gold medalist. I know he can be beat. I know.I just got to go out and do it."
Simons sees things in straight lines. He likes to get from here to there. The day after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1975 he married his high school sweetheart. If you're going to do something, he figures you might as well do it.
His sport lends itself ot that kind of approach. It too is simple and direct, not ib the sense that it requires little technique but that it is basic and intimate. A wrestler is intimate with the mat and of course with his opponent.
In Greco-Roman wrestling especially, which is Simons' forte, the men are close to each other, chest against chest and upright. The shifting of weight, the maneuvering for inside position, each detail has meaning. There are all the subleties and textures of any intimate relationship. And like any such relationship, on the mat one's insides, one's vitals, becomes vulnerable and exposed. For surely nothing is quite visceral, quite so atavistic, as a wrestling match. Two men in a fight. Each trying to prove he is better than the other. What is simpler than that? Or more complex?
For now Jeff Simons' life is simple, or as simple as life can get considering he has a wife and a six-month-old daughter. He has one focus: wrestling.The Marines released him from regular duty in January and he won't return to that status until August; next year, the Olympic year, will be more of the same. He is as close to being a subsidized as anyone gets in this country and he recognizes and appreciates that.
"They've supported me tremendously. The backing they've given is incredible."
He is not wasting the time. Early in the morning he runs, then goes to the gym to coach the Marine wrestling team. From 9 to 11 a. m. he works on technique with the rest of the team. After lunch, from 2 to 4, there is more practice, and three nights a week is strength work with weights. His legs, his back, his abdomen, and of course his arms, are sinuous and lean.
Yet for all his directness, for all the narrowness of his life, he has a youthful playfulness. Although he has been in the service since 1971 when he went to Annapolis, the military style of yes and no and formal answers drops away quickly. He is a nice guy. He says he chose the Marines because, "I get seasick in a bathtub. I'm not kidding you." He chose the Naval Academy because he was recruited for football; when he quit football to concentrate on wrestling, "One of the coaches kept telling me I was crazy. He actually said, 'What's the big deal about being a national champion in wrestling?'
"Can you believe that? I told him it was a hell of a lot of better than just beating Army."
Through he had placed first in the national competition, Simons has not yet won an outright national champsionship. He has plenty of time. He's 26 now; most top Greco Roman wrestlers are in their 30s. There is so much to learn. Unlike freestyle, Greco-Roman allows no attacks on the legs. That means most takedown are actual throws. The legs and hips explode forward and up and the opponent ends up overhead and coming down. The skill is difficult to master.
Strangely, though, Simons was a quick success. In March 1977, he had a knee surgery. Ligaments. He couldn't wrestle for months, went back to regular duty, lifted weights and ran. The trials for the World Champsionships were in July. He did not plan to go. Yet just before the trials, doctors okayed the knee.
His plans changed. He stepped off a plane after very little wrestling training one day before he scheduled to wrestle freestyle. In that event he qualified for the Pan American championships. Friends urged him to try Greco-Roman. He had never wrestled in that style before, but he won, and went to the World Champsionships.
"My goal was just to win a match. Americans don't to very well in Greco usually." He smiles almost impishly. "I won my second match. I won my third match. I won my fourth match." He lost only the Russian gold medalist and Yugoslav silver medalist. He placed fourth in the 220 pound class.
Last year he looked forward to the World Championships. But the coaches asked him to make a sacrifice, go down to the 198-pound class. For the good of the United States, even though it wouldn't help him, because they had two good 220-pounders and he could lose weights more easily.
"Boy they waved the flag. To a Marine. I said okay." His first match was with the man who went on to win the champsionship. "He hurt me. Boy I don't remember the match or walking off afterwards. Next I wrestled the Pole who won the silver. I was beating him 7-1 until the third period. I lost 10-9. That put me out of the tournament."
He purses his lips in distaste. What disgusts him particularly is losing in the third period. He has always been proud of his conditioning. The weight loss, he believes, made the difference.
"I'm going to be selfish this year. I'd like to win a medal for the United States. I'd be proud to. But it's still an individual sport. 'You ask him to go down to 198.'"
Simons says his family, not wrestling, is the number one priority in his life, which is not exactly an unexpected sentiment. He says wrestling is not as important as it once was when "all I lived for was going out on the mat," He's certain "I'll be able to walk away from it when I'm done." But he also says, "I don't think I'll ever get sick of it. Maybe if I ever grow up. It's the little kid in me."
So he likes it in the Marines where he can stalk his goal with few complications. "They back you, give you time off and a regular paycheck . . . I kind of thought ever since high school, the Olympics. Not just '80, '84 too. I'll be 31 then. That's a great age for it."
It's so much fun . "I like wrestling before a crowd. I love that. I like performing. Boy! You're two guys on a mat. People are saying: 'Look at those guys go at it! Boy, he's a tough nut!' I like the pressure too.I love the pressure. I like getting nervous before. You walk on the mat and forget about everything else for two hours. A chance to escape.
"You're one on one with the guy. I think of beating him. I think of high arching throw and the crowd going 'OOOOoooohhh!' That's it! That's it! Winning, that's the ultimate. I'm ruthless. I concentrate so much. I don't talk to people during a tournament. Don't talk to me; don't touch me."
When Simons wrestles the smile leaves his face. His world narrows to his opponent's body, to the textures and sensations and intricacies of that closeness. The rawness of it. Then come the sounds. The slap of flesh on flesh. The grunts of struggle, of one man on top of another. It is so subtle and so quick. The slipperiness of sweated muscle. Then the sudden victory of position and leverage - and the sudden panic of the other when both know what will happen and it all seems slow-motion. And the throw!The throw! The heavy solid sound of a body meeting the mat. A wet heavy thud. A dead sound.
"I just want," Simons explains, "people to say, 'Hey, that's Jeff Simons. He's a hell of a wrestler!' I want to have impact."
Here is this young man from Arlington. Blond, wearing a Harris tweed jacket and penny loafers, sitting in his fraternity lounge at the University of Pennysylvania where the big question is: Will the cook quit? Mike Storm is mildly concerned, says she's a good cook, yet he uninvolved. His fraternity brothers call him "Stranger." And his schedule is compartmentalized. He is pursuing two discrete academic programs, one in premed, the other at the Wharton School of Finance.
"I like," he says, "the stimulation of the academic environment . . . I'm interested in how the world works."
There is a coolness and detachment about him. Of average height, about 5 feet 11 inches, and weighing about 150 pounds, he seems more likely to be on his way to Wall Street than the Olympic.Which may be why his sport is the pentathlon.
The pentathlon is different. It consists of riding, fencing, shooting, a 300-meter swim and a 400-meters cross-country run. Added to the Olympics in 1912 to "bring the armies of the world closer together," the sport still reeks of the fox hunt, of an officer class. The United States has only two training centers: one run by the Army in San Antonio and another funded by John duPont at his farm on Philadelphia's Main Line. And where a basic element of all other sports is youth or play or fun - or at least an exultation in the physical - the basis of the pentathlon is war. It is how the world works.
"Getting to meet your competitors is always a delicate thing," Storm says. "The sport is eloquent and classical. It's of such an eclectic nature. It's exciting, not in the sense of a roller coaster ride, but in that it's so totally fulfilling."
There are few - very few - pentathlon competitors in this country. It would seem that one need not, therefore, be that great to get to the Olympics. "But it's not like golf," Storm snorts. "You don't do it unless you're extremely serious and intent . . . The sport, the whole concept of the sport, takes such an all-around athlete. It's not a jack-of-all-trades kind of thing. I can't emphasize that enough.To be good in the pentathlon you have to be almost at the national level in five events."
Make no mistake. Mike Storm is an athlete. In age-group swimming competition he was ranked in the top 10 nationally in three events; he won the juniror national fencing champsionship (in epeee in 1978, and will have the opportunity to repeat three more times; at the National Sports Federation Games held last summer, he was the only athlete among hundreds to compete in two sports.
In pentathlon international competition he won the juniors and placed fourth in the seniors last year in Austria, while the next highest American finished 10th and the defending national champsion placed 14th. In January, in Australia, he won both the junior and senior competitions. And he has achieved all this in four years of training. Prior to being invited to a training camp in 1975, he had never fenced, ridden or shot. Storm may be a natural; his mind, particularly, may be matched to this event.
All athletic competition has a mental element, often the decisive element, but perhaps nothing else requires quite the discipline, quite the versatility and quite the sustained concentration of the pentathlon. Each event is markedly different from the others. ,ajor meets run five days, one day for each event. To sustain concentration over that long period demands incredile discipline: an athletic might ride for only 20 minutes the first day, and the next day fence for an entire day.
There is only ride, only one chance to shoot. It is as if a batter got only one pitch to hit in a game, as if a pole vaulter got only one jump, instead of three at each height. The intensity of it keeps coming. Day after day after day after day after day, waiting to compete, waiting to compete and then - abruptly - it's all over. There is a void, an emptiness, after each event. That must be overcome to meet the next day's competition.
"One mistake," Storm says, "and a year's training goes for nought."
When Storm was 15 years old and first exposed to the pentathlon at the training camp, the sport drew him to it. It tugged at him, whispered in his ear, seduced him. It demands so much. It demands his mind, and it demands his body. He realized he could be good and even then then began to point to the Olympics.
"I don't think," he says, "one continues in such a sport unless one has a singular goal."
Now Storm is 19. The current world champion is 38. It would seem that Storm has time to achieve that goal. Yet in his coolness, in his detachment, for all the surgical dispassion of his speech, he is passionate. He is intense. And he is best in the two events which demand the most concentration, fencing and shooting.
A perfect score in shooting is 200; it has been recorded only twice in major competition, once in 1936 and once last year. Storm's best is 195, and he shoots consistently over 190. His coach at Penn, Dave Micahnik, who himself competed in three Olympics, believes Storm could compete internationally in fencing alone.
In pentathlon fencing determines the winner, and there is a three-minute time limit. If the time expires without the touch, both lose. Yet fencing lasts 12 to 14 hours because there may be as many as 60 competitors and each athlete plays against the other.
Storm likes the time limit. "It increases the intensity. As seconds tick away the opponent gets nervous, comes at you wildly. I'll run the time out to get that. The fencing is so - you have to put everything into one touch. It becomes very heated." And then then kill.
In that heat, in the opponeent's panic, Storm's coolness and athletic ability serve him well. His ability shows prominently in fencing.His legs are thick and muscular. They hurl him forward, pull him backward. Yet he moves smoothly.
"For sheer flexibilty," says Micahnik, "he's more loose than most gymnasts. He's very sensitive. He feels he's tight when anyone else would feel they are falling apart." And his body control! How he keeps his upper body independent of the lower, and his forearm independent of the elbow. His body retreats yet attacks - with power in both directions simultaneously. The blade hangs there - a trap - while the rest of his body moves away. Fencing is a physical chess game. Then Storm lets himself go and there is all the suddenness and fury of a football player on the suicide squad, except he remains in control, continues to maneuver, to dig, to dig, to touch.
"People rarely have enough control to throw their body full speed and still be in command." Storm is speaking, and it is understood without his having said it, that he can.
"In fencing," he continues, "and in running and swimming, you try to get 'up.' Your blood pressure rises, the veins and arteries dilate, the capillaries open up. They're emotional too . . . The challenge of the sport is that shooting is the opposite. Next to you is a Hungarian. You can't grit your teeth and tell yourself to do better. There must be total calmness, total control."
When Storm shoots he stands casually with one hand in his pocket. He could be a model for Gentleman's Quarterly, with a sweater tied about his neck. It is quintessential coolness and detachment.
"You know the target is coming seven seconds after the final command. That just adds to the pressure. You have to think only of your sight. And then the gun goes off. You realign the sight, the gun drops, and you forget it. You never move. You never move."
The gun fires, loudly. Then there is nothing. Just Storm standing there. It is as if everything happened without him.
"You bring the gun up a little slow, a little high, jerk the trigger a little, and you drop a place. So the tension would tend to build. That's exactly whay you have to repress."
The pentathlon is different from other sports, designed for Army officers at play. The fencing is patterned after duels where one touch did mean death - how the world works. Perhaps it is not a sport. Perhaps it is designed as a game of survival in the real world. A microcosm, so to speak. Those who succeed will not sell insurance or open bars after retirement. They will succeed, as Storm will.
He does not see it as an allegory. To him is is a demanding, challenging sport. And, like the others, he wants to be the champion. His obstacle is the last event, the cross-country run. The start is staggered so if one passes another, he has passed him also in the overall standings. Storm has been in first and "seen people pass me. It is not a good feeling."
He is standing in the fraternity library, smiling, animated, with his hands thrust in his pockets. But talking of being passed, the intensity enters his voice. Or an eagerness.
"Everbody thinks, 'We'll give Storm a big lead and catch him in the run.' Well, in Australia nobody caught me." CAPTION: Picture 1, Constantly scraping for money to keep her going, University of Maryland master's degree candidate Linda Dragan relentlessly pushes herself in hopes of winning the 500-meter gold medal in kayaking; Picture 2, Renaldo Nehemiah, who set five hurdling world records in five months, is tired of proving to everyone that he is the best there is. "After 1980," he says, "there'll be nothing left to prove." UPI; Picture 3, Mike Storm, right, lunges at former national fencing champion Leonid Dervbinsky at a meet last year. Storm, an Olympic pentathlon candidate, won.