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His chase not synchronized with his sport

Athletes in every sport will miss the Olympics this summer by the narrowest of margins. They may be off by a second, an inch, a point. Bill May is off by a chromosome.

He is a man in a woman's world. A world-class synchronized swimmer the world may never see.

Go ahead and laugh. Synchronized swimmers are accustomed to the jibes. But first understand May's plight.

Like a gymnast, boxer or soccer player, May has been refining his skills since he was a child. He works 36-48 hours a week on his routines. He goes to junior college in the morning, trains in the afternoon and supports himself, as best he can, working at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor at night.

He is arguably one of the top three synchronized swimmers in the United States, but will not make the nine-member Olympic team. FINA, the sport's international governing body, does not approve of men in synchronized swimming.

"The rules have been around way before I came along, so I can't get too mad about it," May said. "I have my days when I get angry. It's so discouraging to see my duet partner and all the other swimmers I've worked with going to the Olympics. They're going to do something they've dreamed about forever. No athlete at an elite level hasn't dreamed about being in the Olympics. Knowing I could be out there is disappointing.

"But I'm an optimist. It's definitely in the future. It's just not the time."

While in Australia for the Summer Games, the United States will petition FINA to include mixed duets in international competition. It is lobbying other countries for support. The problem is that a country like Russia might not have male synchronized swimmers and will not like the idea of an event in which it cannot win a medal.

May is hoping he and partner Kristina Lum can perform an exhibition in Sydney before FINA votes on the issue.

"I think if people see it, they'll understand it better," May said. "It's so much like pairs in ice skating and that's one of the most popular sports in the world."

May, 21, has been involved in synchronized swimming more than half his life. It started when he was 10 and got bored waiting for his sister Courtney during her synchronized class in upstate New York.

He began lessons and was hooked on the sport before he realized he was an oddity.

May does not get a lot of support from the USOC. When women make the national team, they can receive thousands of dollars in grants. May recently swept all four gold medals at the national championships, but is not eligible for grant money.

So he works at the ice cream shop, gets money from his parents and shares an apartment with teammate Anna Kozlova.

He has heard about a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas that incorporates synchronized swimming but, for now, will stick with his pursuit of international competition.

May continues to train with the national team in Santa Clara, Calif., knowing full well it will leave for Australia without him.

"I don't want them to feel like they have to be careful around me," May said. "We spend so much time together, we should be able to say anything. I'm very happy for all of them and I want them to enjoy this moment."

SUIT YOURSELF: Tom Dolan is not impressed with the full-body suits being worn by Australian swimmers. The nearly-sheer suits are supposed to make swimmers more aerodynamic, but the American medley swimmer said he has no intention of switching.

"It doesn't matter what suit you're wearing," Dolan said. "People are always looking for some kind of edge, but a lot of that is mental. The person who is going to swim the fastest is the person who will train an extra 20 minutes every day and will do what their coach asks of them."

TOUGH LOVE APPROACH: USA Gymnastics made the right move in changing the way the Olympic team will be named, but that does not make the move any less controversial.

Instead of relying exclusively on scores from the U.S. Championships and Olympic trials, like previous years, the six gymnasts will be chosen by a four-person panel headed by national coordinator Bela Karolyi.

The reason is that team scoring has changed at the Olympics. Five athletes will compete on each apparatus, but only the top four scores count. With fewer scores being used, the need for all-around gymnasts is lessened. The USA can take its four best all-around competitors, then choose two others who specialize in a particular event.

Some gymnast might have the fifth-best all-around score, yet be passed over for one who finished 10th but is great on the vault.

"We all can sit here and say the procedures are great, until we finish No. 4 and No. 8 goes in and we go out," said Mary Lee Tracy, the coach for Morgan White. "Then the procedures aren't going to be so great."

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