Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

From the Times archives (originally published July 28, 1992)

Nicole is golden

BARCELONA – In the excruciating eternity that came before the golden moment, Nicole Haislett braced herself against the wall of the pool and stared skyward in the direction that prayers are aimed.

To the rest of the world, the result was to come as quickly as the snapping of a finger. But doubt deals time into a different dimension, and for Nicole Haislett the final few seconds on the other side of history moved slowly.

And then the lights, the golden-colored lights on the scoreboard of the Piscina de Montjuic burst on, putting the very sun to shame.

Meet Nicole Haislett.

Gold-medal winner.

Officially, Monday's 200-meter freestyle race passed faster than any in Haislett's life. She swam a personal best of 1 minute 57.90 seconds, quick even by microwave time, to beat Franziska Van Almsick of Germany by one-tenth of a second. Unofficially, however, the race lasted some 14 years, since the day Ben and Jo Ann Haislett decided that if their little girl was going to live in Florida, she darned well better learn her way around swimming pools.

How many laps? How many inhales and exhales and end-of-the-pool U-turns? How many silent, speechless hours of staring at the pale blue bottom of a pool? How many times rapping your head to get the water to drain from your ear? How many hours of moving weights around while friends went for pizza?

Just enough, it turns out, to stand on a victory stand with a golden shield around your neck and listen to your national anthem serenade your triumph.

"This is worth every bit of it, and more," Haislett said. "This is incredible. This is everything I have dreamed for since I was a little girl."

At 19, she is bulletproof. With her warmup jacket on, hiding the definition that was earned in the weight room, her face remains that of a young girl. But inside Nicole Haislett, there is something that does not bend, something made of tungsten.

So many athletes would have withered Monday night. A day earlier, Haislett had finished a wrenching fourth in the 100 meter freestyle and had wondered aloud why her speed had left her.

"There were some thoughts that weren't good that entered my mind," she said. "I had to try to push them out. But I was thinking things like "What if I don't do this and I don't win an individual gold medal?' It was like "Great. The Olympic experience isn't all it's cracked up to be." "

But if Haislett spent most of Sunday disappointed, she was to spend most of Monday frightened. Monday, 14-year-old Wunderkind Van Almsick blew away the field with a qualifying time of, ironically, 1:57.90. That was chilling to Haislett, for her best time was a 1:58.65.

"I was scared," Haislett said. "I usually don't get scared, but I wanted this so badly. Francie swam such a great race."

So how do you fight that? Do you jump into the pool and swim as if the piranha are chasing, and hope you do not fade? Do you hope Van Almsick's time was a fluke and simply hope she will come back to your level? Do you panic?

No. Not if you are Haislett. If you are Haislett, you leave the disappointment and the frustration and the fear. And you figure out that a race that is great and smart beats a race that is simply great.

"The best race of the day was Nicole's, " said U.S. coach Jon Urbanchek. "It was a classic."

Nicole is golden 07/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2008 11:37am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. College World Series: Gators, LSU face off in all-SEC finals

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — The matchup for the College World Series finals bolsters the case for those who say the best baseball in the land is played in the SEC.

    Florida’s Brady Singer, delivering during a CWS win over Louisville last week, is scheduled to start tonight against LSU.
  2. Jones: Fox Sports Sun shows depth in Rays coverage

    TV and Radio

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) makes a run home for a score in the in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  3. Brian Boyle says returning to Lightning a 'huge option'

    Blogs

    As former Lightning forward Brian Boyle approaches free agency this week, he said he's trying to stay busy.

    Former Tampa Bay Lightning player center Brian Boyle (24), on the ice during first period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa on March 16, 2017.
  4. Rays journal: Blake Snell to rejoin rotation, Erasmo Ramirez heads to bullpen

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Blake Snell is rejoining the Rays' rotation, but the move has as much to do with helping the bullpen as it does with Snell's improvement during his time at Triple-A Durham.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  5. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.