He pauses to glance at Les, who has a here-we-go-again look. Charlie started the football bit as a joke—or did he?—but it has evolved. "You can't back out now," Les says, "because you've told everybody you're going to do it."
Since he is almost 6'4" and weighs barely 175 pounds, Charlie figures he will have to put on some weight for football. "I'll probably get something broken the first day," he says, "but at least I'll have had the satisfaction of trying. And maybe I'll make a great flanker."
Les sets down a plate of chocolate chip (?) cookies. Even Charlie has to admit she's made a comeback.
"You're obnoxious when you win, Charlie," someone says. The plane and the cardplayers have settled down to a dull roar. Doc Counsilman has finished giving each swimmer a brown bag full of sandwiches, candy and fruit prepared the previous night by his teen-age daughter. Settling back in his seat, Doc is ready—so what else is new?—to talk. The first question is about Charlie Hickcox playing football. "A-a-a-u-gh," says Counsilman. Well then, what is it that makes Hickcox possibly the best swimmer ever? This is more like it. In his 12 years at Indiana, Doc Counsilman has distinguished himself neither as a stern disciplinarian nor as a brilliant conditioner. Doc likes to think of himself as a scientist, a swimming scientist, and Charlie Hickcox says no man on earth knows as much about stroke. Counsilman's philosophy is based largely on his famous Hurt-Pain-Agony theory: that is, a mediocre swimmer will seldom push himself past the Hurt zone, but the winners, the Charlie Hickcoxes, will go into Pain and, subsequently, Agony to perfect their strokes. Counsilman's swimmers take a perverse delight in competing for the jelly beans Doc hands out for excellence during especially arduous workouts.
"Charlie has an unusual amount of talent for swimming," Counsilman says. "It's easy to understand the concept of intelligence, but it's a more nebulous thing in athletes when you say a guy has ability. Ability is coordination, flexibility in the ankles, a big heart. Charlie varies from a lot of athletes with ability in that he works hard, too. He has the ability to punish himself. On top of this he's very coachable. I think he's the best all-round swimmer of all time."
Remember that guy named Don Schollander? Where have you gone, Johnny Weissmuller? As he begins to elaborate, Counsilman picks an orange out of his brown bag and starts to peel it. Doc says that, while Hickcox once held two world records for backstroke events, the real keys to his ability are the world records he still holds in the individual medley events (2:10.6 for 200 meters, 4:39.0 for 400).
"The IM is the measure of the all-round swimmer," Counsilman says, finishing the last of the orange. "Schollander swam only freestyle up to middle distances. In the medley you have to master all four strokes. You know, Charlie's best stroke of all might be the butterfly, something he's never really concentrated on much."
"Did you see that?" says one of the swimmers in admiration. "Did you clock him on that orange? Doc is the fastest eater in the world. We timed him on a big chef's salad last year in two minutes 30 seconds."
The winter winds are whipping across the IU campus as Charlie Hickcox walks to class. Some of the passing students look at him curiously, but nobody recognizes him right off, like they would, say, a football player. Indeed, if Hickcox is acknowledged at all, it probably will be as the guy who used to coach the Phi Delta Theta bike team. The annual interfraternity bike race, called the Little 500, is a big thing at IU, with perhaps 40,000 turning out to watch; swimming ranks low on campus, even with a national championship team and a handful of gold medalists. This used to bother him, Hickcox is saying, his breath visible in the air, but now he just accepts it.
"Nobody did much for us, like banquets and things, when we got back from the Olympics," he says. "I was a little upset at first. I thought about giving up swimming but I owe something to my parents, to Doc. Les and I talked about it, and with her help I worked it out. I just don't talk enough, I guess, except about Doc, and I'll talk all day about him. I don't like bigmouthed guys. I don't like a guy like Namath—but they're the ones who get the publicity. That's what Les told me. I build up antagonisms and I get mad sometimes but I forget that, too. I'm just an easygoing guy. I've had a good time all my life just playing around and having a good time."