Friday, January 22, 2016

Guest Column: J. Brian Carberry’s 20:16 in Texas

My good friend and fellow International Society of Olympic Historians member J. Brian Carberry recently trekked to the capitol of Texas from his home near Bossier City, La. What follows is an "Austin Postcard" guest column Carberry wrote about the experience.

Though his colleagues and friends don't typically think of Brian as a "clock watcher," readers will see and appreciate that Carberry kept an eye on his timepiece during these experiences. Enjoy!

GUEST COLUMN: J. Brian Carberry's 20:16 in Austin, Texas

The Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend dates of Jan. 16-17, 2016, in Austin offered a unique opportunity for viewing an Olympic-caliber sporting event, exploring local ties to Olympic history, taking in a commemorative statue of a local Blues legend, and learning about one of Brazil’s most beloved sportsmen and athlete ambassadors via a world-class exhibit.

With 2016 upon us, and the Rio Olympics on the horizon (along with my family being out of town on school and family business), a driving journey to Austin from Shreveport, La., offered the perfect getaway to set the Olympic/Brazilian mood for the year.  

My 20 hours and 16 minutes (20:16) in the Texas capitol -- built around attending the Arena Pro Swim Series at Austin (a FINA-approved competition for athletes to log qualifying times for Rio) -- accomplished this goal.

Departing at noon on Jan. 16, I arrived in Austin at 5:30 p.m. after a pleasant drive through eastern Texas’ pinewood-laden geography.   

Following a rapid check-in at the Courtyard Marriott (Official Partner of USA Swimming), I quickly navigated my way to the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center on the main campus of the University of Texas where the finals session of Day 2 of the Arena Pro Swim Series commenced at 6 p.m.

With 10 minutes to spare, I paused to take in the Olympians Plaza right outside the venue (modeled after the 1972 Munich Olympic pool, according to this page on the UT website), which features a fenced-in tree with a band of round medallions inscribed with the name of every UT swimmer or diver who competed in the Olympics. The name, discipline, and (where appropriate) medals won, are denoted. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Illinois native and current oldest living U.S Olympic gold medalist Adolph Kiefer (USA) attended and swam at the University of Texas in the wake of his inspiring gold medal-winning swim (at age 17) during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in the 100-meters backstroke.

Given Kiefer’s Jewish heritage, it was a nice reminder of the overall climate at the ’36 Games, and an affirmative testament for the MLK Jr. Holiday.  

The final medallions denoted Kathleen Hersey (USA), who is a two-time Olympian through 2012 in the women’s 200-meter butterfly and James Feigen (USA), who won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics in the men’s 4 x 100-meters relay and whom I would see swim later that evening.  A long and rich Olympic swimming and diving tradition indeed!

After viewing the plaza and medallions, I made my way into the venue and to my seat with moments to spare before the first “A” final of the night in the women’s 400-meters individual medley. 

As veteran Olympic attendees know, you travel the swiftest when alone and focused on your destination. My fast-tracked entry was also assisted by the lack of multiple layers of security to process through prior to entering, and no line at on-site ticketing where $15 afforded me the equivalent of an Olympic “A” level vantage point for the evening session.

In year four of their exclusive sponsorship with USA Swimming, aquatic gear manufacturer Arena’s logo was ubiquitously presented at the venue with a full array of branded training and casual wear products available for purchase.

Eight finals were on the slate for the evening, and the performances did not disappoint. Over 35 Olympic medalists from around the world were on the program to swim, along with many noted up-and-comers set to make an impression as they worked to make their first Olympic team this year.  

Some swimmers at this meet were clearly in the process of rounding into shape or focusing on rarely swam distances/events as part of their training towards a peak in Brazil later this year.  

Others were there to serve notice as world class times were swam over the course of the night.

For the women’s 400 IM final, a notably partisan section of the crowd was on hand waving Hungarian flags as the 2015 World Champion and Olympic hopeful in this event, Katinka Hooszu (HUN), pulled away in 4:37.50 to win a final that included Olympic IM medalists Caitlyn Leverentz (USA) finishing sixth and Elizabeth Biesel (USA) seventh.

AP Photo/Stephen Spillman
Next up was what would turn out to be arguably the marquee performance of the evening as Olympic veteran Ryan Lochte (USA) took to the pool against a final field that included two other Olympic gold medalists, though in different disciplines.  

Backstroke Olympian Tyler Clary (USA) would finish fourth and long distance freestyle specialist Oussama Mellouli (TUN) would take eighth as Lochte, who at 31 was eight-plus years older than the average age of the field, set a UT Pool record of 4:12.66 in winning the event outright by 1.98 seconds over second place finisher Chase Kalisz (USA).

Not to be outdone, the women’s 200-meters freestyle final featured three Olympic gold medalists from the 2012 London Olympic Games. Missy Franklin (USA) came in third in her first of two finals for the evening, while her 2012 4 x 200 teammate Shannon Vreeland (USA) took eighth.  

Neither were a match for 2012 women’s 800-meters gold medalist and 2015 World Champion in this event, teenager Katie Ledecky (USA), who won in 1:54.43 to record the all-time sixth-fastest time in the event, beating out Sarah Sjostrom (SWE). This time by Ledecky was also a UT pool record.

AP Photo/Stephen Spillman
The men’s 200-meters freestyle final brought the crowd to its feet as Olympic legend Michael Phelps (USA) stepped to the blocks. Also in the field was Olympic gold medalist Jeremy Stravius (FRA); a perennial member of the French Olympic men’s relay teams that rival Phelps and others in the USA men’s relay units.  

On this night, Stravius prevailed in a time of 1:47.56. Phelps finished fourth behind Townley Haas (USA) and Jordan Pothain (FRA), foreshadowing the 2016 Olympic men’s freestyle relays should be as competitive as ever.

The women’s 200-meters backstroke final included the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Franklin and the 2015 World Championship bronze medalist Hosszu both contesting their second final of the evening.  Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist in this event, was also in the field.  Perhaps due to fatigue from the attempt to double, Hosszu, with the aforementioned Hungarian crowd contingency rooting her on was beat at the touch by .34 seconds by up and comer Maya DiRado (USA).  Franklin was third and Coventry was sixth.

The men’s 200-meters backstroke final included 2012 Men’s 100-meters backstroke and men’s medley relay Olympic gold medalist Matt Grevers (USA) stepping up to the longer distance. With 2012 Olympic gold and bronze medalists (Clary and Lochte, respectively) absent from the field after the men’s 400 IM earlier in the evening, the event was a showcase for aspiring Olympians.  

Ryan Murphy (USA) who swam on the 2015 World Championship men’s 4 x100 medley relay gold medal team won easily in 1:55.99 with Grevers finishing fourth.

The penultimate final of the evening was the women’s 50-meters freestyle. Winner Sjostrom in a time of 24.17 and Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (BAH), who placed third, were semi-finalist and finalist, respectively, in this event at the 2012 Olympic Games, indicating a strong progression. 

Olympians Natalie Coughlin (USA), Dana Vollmer (USA) and Theresa Alshammer (SWE) swept the B Final in that order. The former two Olympic gold medalists were moving down in distance for this tune up, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics silver medalist in this event, Alshammer, is still going strong at the age of 38 after a sixth place finish at the 2012 Olympics.

The last Final event was the men’s 50-meters freestyle, which included 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meters freestyle, Nathan Adrian (USA), who finished first in 21.85. Olympic silver medalist and UT alumnus Jimmy Feigen (USA) finished third and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the event Cullen Jones (USA) finished sixth.  The 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medalist in this event, Anthony Ervin (USA) recorded the 10th fastest time of the night with a third place finish in the B Final.

After the competition, Arena provided an autograph and photo area with their sponsored athletes including 2015 World Championships silver medalist Connor Jaeger (USA), and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Breeja Larson (USA).

Hosszu, Cullen Jones (USA), and Rowdy Gaines (USA), who was there as media, all made time to mingle with the crowd outside of the venue.

Jones was born on Leap Year Day in 1984 so good luck and birthday wishes for the Olympiad year were offered as I secured an autograph before returning to my hotel to watch the last half of the NFL Divisional Round playoff game between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. Folks interested in the upcoming Arena Pro Swim Series events in Orlando, Charlotte, Indianapolis and other cities will find ticket information via this link

The next morning, I grabbed a hearty breakfast at the International House of Pancakes (a nod to the weekend’s global theme), and headed to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) Downtown Paddock to take in the Hall of Fame Collection of memorabilia documenting and commemorating the career of Brazilian F1 legend Ayrton Senna (BRA).

The exhibit, which is described as having been “meticulously gathered over a period of 20 years by private collectors Howard Jacobs and Darren Jack,” consists of photo authenticated race worn clothing, steering wheels, autographed pieces, and original F1 car parts. 

The exhibit does an excellent job of documenting and including an array of items from each phase of Senna’s F1 career with an array of impressive items, many of which are signed by the late Senna. 

Of note is the inclusion of items from periods at the beginning and end of his career when he served very short stints with the teams of Toleman and Williams. 

The exhibit showcases some very interesting and appropriate items without overwhelming the viewer with clutter.

In an 11 year career in motor racing’s highest echelon, Senna won 41 Grand Prixs and three Driver Championships before his tragic death at the Imola Raceway in San Marino on May 1, 1994. In death, Senna remains a national hero in Brazil as I had learned more about in a preparatory viewing of the 2010 film Senna that documents his life.

A frequently used freeway in Rio de Janeiro, Avenida Ayrton Senna, has been named in his honor and many Olympic visitors this year will find themselves traveling this thoroughfare. Fans might also enjoy a listen to the CD A Tribute to Ayrton Senna: A Music Documentary, which features a collection of affirmational songs from noted artists including Queen, Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Enya, and others interspersed with recorded statements by Senna himself, and notable audio race calls from key moments in his career.  (The exhibit continues through March 2016, and it is advised to call ahead at 512-655-6400 to confirm dates and times.)

My final stop before departing Austin was a visit the commemorative statue of Texas native and
Blues guitarist extraordinaire Stevie Ray Vaughn. 

Unveiled in 1993 and installed along the Riverside Drive’s Bike Trail, the statue was executed by Ralph Helmick, and on this day small roses had been placed upon his sculpted hands by prior visitors.

Vaughn’s Blues guitar, which I first heard on MTV in 1984 while watching the video to his hit song Cold Shot, was distinctive and electrifying even among other guitar greats.

I was thankful for the morning walk along the bike trail, and the time to reflect on the musical genius of another legend whose time on Earth was short but made a global impact.

With the clock approaching 1:20 p.m., and with a long drive ahead of me, I pulled onto the northbound on ramp to I-35, and as I exited the Southern metropolis I noted it was 1:46 p.m., and my 20:16 in Austin had come to an end to the minute.

It was a weekend to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and look forward to a great Olympic year in Brazil and beyond.

Non-AP photos by J. Brian Carberry; image of UT Olympians Plaza via fd2s; Greetings from Austin vintage postcard via this blog.

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