The workout times became slower and slower. This was a mystery. Chad Carvin's skills were leaving him, and he did not know why. He was 21 years old, and he had a schedule, a plan, that was going to put him in the pool at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but the plan wasn't working.
He was going in reverse. He was swimming worse every day instead of better.
"It started in the latter part of October, 1995," says Frank Busch, Carvin's coach at Arizona. "First there was one bad workout at the end of the week, and you said, 'O.K., a bad workout, that's natural.' Then the next week, two bad workouts. Then the next...something was not right. I said, 'We better get you checked out.' "
What was wrong? Carvin was not some bug-eyed dreamer, overdosed on too many Bud Greenspan highlight films about a guy going for the gold and standing on the victory podium with tears in his eyes as the Stars and Stripes is pulled up the flagpole. Carvin was a worker, a doer. Only three months earlier he had won the 200-meter freestyle and finished second in the 400 and 1,500 frees at the '95 summer national championships, against the same people he would have to meet in the Olympic trials in March 1996. He was a contender to be the U.S.'s best distance swimmer. What was wrong?
Maybe desert fever....
Maybe...nothing. He went for medical tests. The tests were all negative. He was told he was in terrific shape. Just look at his body. He was 6'2", 170 pounds, perfect. Even if he didn't feel perfect.
The Pac-10 championships were coming up, the beginning of the push toward the trials. Busch suggested 10 days of rest rather than high-performance training before the Pac-10 meet. Carvin rested, then finished no better than second in his four events. There was something missing. He always had been a big finisher. That was his strength. The big finish was not there, even when he won.
"By now it's late November, early December, time to really get going for the trials," Busch says. "We tried, four or five days in a row. It was just a disaster."
What was wrong? Swimming had always been easy for Carvin. His parents. Joe and Judy, had sent him for his first lesson when he was five months old. They lived in Laguna Hills, Calif., and were beach people, water people. Swimming was a necessity. When Chad was six years old, he had begged to be on a team, in a program. Judy had said, "O.K., but just for the summer." That was a big laugh. "Endless summer," Judy says. He had kept swimming, and he had won at every level.