Jeff Olsen's arms hang heavy and it is a difficult thing for him to walk without tripping over his Gumby-like legs. Being 6 feet 4 is a hard chore for the 16-year-old, so what he mostly does is sit in a chair and watch television all day, occasionally changing the channel.
Olsen has a nickname among other athletes at the National Sports Festival. The bespectacled teen-ager with an improbable talent in the water has watched up to 10 hours of television a day to earn the title "TV Guide." He has seen more of "The A-Team," his favorite show, than he has of Baton Rouge.
"I don't want to walk around," he said. "It just tires me out."
But one of the more extraordinary sights this week has been that of a suddenly enlivened Olsen pulling his fatigued frame to five first-place finishes and four gold medals in the last four days. His performance has established him as perhaps the brightest young Olympic prospect among 3,500 athletes in 34 sports at the Festival.
Despite his lethargy, the Austin, Tex., swimmer has won gold medals in the 200-meter freestyle, 200 butterfly, 400 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay and finished first in the 800 freestyle. He did not receive a medal in the 800 because it is not an Olympic event.
Olsen's four golds is two more than the previous men's record. However, his five victories is one fewer than Sippy Woodhead's total in the women's competition at Colorado Springs in 1979.
Olsen's potential as a future Olympian is coupled with a wry smile and quirky sense of humor bred in Austin, where he spent much of his time as an adopted only child playing four-man Monopoly by himself. His true ambition in life, he says, is to appear on comedian David Letterman's late night show.
A typical sight on a summer afternoon in Austin is Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines trying to spark some life into Olsen by chasing him up and down the length of the pool yelling. Olsen is a member of the Longhorn Swimming Club, where he works with Gaines under Univerisity of Texas Coach Richard Quick, who also turned out Olympic gold medalist Steve Lundquist.
Olsen's wonderful grace in the water does not come naturally. He is awkward, and his eyesight is poor -- 20-200. His habit of putting his glasses on in the water immediately after a race was the subject of much curiosity, until he revealed that he couldn't read his time on the scoreboard. His primary weakness is lack of speed, a result of poor strength and his generally slow-moving nature.
He was so slow at first that former Longhorn Club coach Rich Givens suggested he try another sport.
"I wasn't a natural," he said. "I was the slowest kid in the pool. I'm naturally slow."
Olsen's parents talked Givens into letting him stay on. Three years later, at 14, he set the national junior record in the 200-meter freestyle.
When Givens moved to Canada to coach, Olsen exacted a promise.
"I asked him to promise me to never tell another swimmer to try another sport."
Colleges from across the nation will be recruiting Olsen as a high school senior next year, including Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, UCLA and USC. Cal Coach Nort Thornton is the head coach of the West team for which Olsen is swimming this week, and Stanford's Skip Kenny is an assistant. They have been charmed by his talent and his 3.8 grade point average at Kirby Hall High in Austin.
His size is ever increasing and his seven-foot wingspan is reminiscent of West German gold medalist Michael Gross. That is coupled with a knack for race competition that has impressed swimming authorities.
"The thing I like is that he swims smart," said John Naber, the Olympic gold medalist who is an ESPN analyst. "On top of the water, it looks like he's hardly doing anything. He's a very mature swimmer for his age. I like to think he reminds me of me."
Olsen's seemingly lazy stroke is a blessing; he glides easily on top of the water as opposed to through it.
"He's got great bouyancy, and that gives him great potential," Kenny said. "He's done amazing things here. He's very coachable, he's a great student of the sport. He watches and learns."