As a sportswriter, I've always been a big believer that we should, whenever possible, attempt to do as well as observe. George Plimpton might be the most famous practitioner of this philosophy. Plimpton did just about everything he could to try and understand what makes athletes tick and just how hard it is to perform at an elite level. He sparred with Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson while on assignment for Sports Illustrated. He wrote a book (Paper Lion) about playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions during training camp. He pitched against major league baseball players, got run off the court by tennis player Pancho Gonzalez and even tried to play professional golf in the 1950s.
As far as I know, though, Plimpton never tried to learn how to swim one of the hardest swimming strokes there is: The butterfly. Which brings us to me.
One of my many jobs at The Sun is Olympic swimming coverage. I've followed Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff around the world and back again over the last two years, and in August, I'll follow them to Beijing as they try to make history. Earlier this year, I was talking to Phelps poolside in Columbus, Ohio, trying to gain some insight into just how hard it is to swim the butterfly. It's something Phelps does with more grace and power than any man who has ever lived. Phelps did his best to explain what makes a great butterfly swimmer, but when we wrapped up, a man named Scott Goldblatt pulled me aside and asked if I really wanted to find out. Goldblatt is one of the gurus behind Swimnetwork.com, which is one of the go-to places in the swimming world for everything from coaching tips to good humor. Would I be willing to let a couple of his guys from the show ChloriNation attempt to teach the stroke, and then use it as an episode for their show?
For some reason, I agreed to this foolish endeavor, and am going to attempt to write about it in the pages of The Sun as we get closer to the Olympics. But you can check out the version ChloriNation posted recently if you can stomach the scary sight of me in a Speedo. I tried to play the whole thing for laughs, channeling, say, Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory or Semi-Pro, but I'll let you be the judge of how it turned out.
I'd like to think the spirit of Plimpton was inside me that day, but really, I think it was just nerves and a lot of Yuengling. I was plenty nervous the night before, certain that my bloated frame would be mocked in ever dark corner of the internet, so my friend Gerry Fey and I drank several beers while we contemplated whether or not I would drown. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best preparation. But in the end, it was a worthwhile experience. A big thank you to the ChloriNation guys, Chris and Mike, for being kind in their video edits.
Katie Hoff, after catching the tail end of my pathetic adventure, mentioned that I might try the backstroke instead. More surface area with which to float on top of the water, she said, in the kindest way possible.
Maybe. But I suspect, even if I manage to shed a few pounds, I'm better off, pen in hand, attempting to describe the athletic brilliance of Phelps and Hoff from the safe confines of solid ground.