And there was the
gold medal. Slowly, the weight lifters rose, took up their glasses and drank a
"May you serve
it well," they said.
In a landscape of
mesas and pines, shrouded in fog, stand the steel and marble and glass
buildings of the Air Force Academy, huge beyond any human scale. The chilly,
ethereal air at 7,000 feet opens the senses of the visitor to the harsh calls
of magpies, to an awareness of looming mountains within the mists. Ten major
structures serve the needs of over 4,000 cadets. A dormitory is five stories
high, a quarter-mile long, with 1,300 rooms. The dining hall covers two acres.
Athletic fields rise in rich green tiers to the tan and crumbling base of
Colorado's Rampart Range, one ridge removed from the windswept barren slopes of
Pike's Peak. An ice hockey arena, a basketball arena, a football practice field
enclosed by a Tartan track, dozens of courts and smaller gyms, a 75-yard pool
and 10-meter diving platform—all are contained within two awesome buildings of
cold and lustrous stone.
The autumn wind
swirls the fog higher and seeps in a numbing stream beneath the doors to the
pool. The divers, practicing, hug themselves, the lips of the slender ones
turning blue. Their coach, Captain Micki King, the only woman in the athletic
department of the academy, sits in the stands holding a microphone. A diver
flies off the board and through a spectacular blur of twists and somersaults.
As he surfaces, King's voice, made stern and lordly by the loudspeakers, echoes
through the immensity of the building. "Maybe the Italians will like that
little hiccup in there. I don't."
The diver, Lieut.
Phil Boggs, 1973 world champion, acknowledges this criticism with a nod and
joins the others, a group of cadets and officers and one talented high school
girl, Suzie Honnen, who commutes the 60 miles from Denver. As they work through
their repertoires, King's disembodied voice calls out the noteworthy details of
each dive. Strung together, the remarks display a kind of loving bluntness: '
"Good distance, slow knees, kicked early and were short. Other than that,
it was perfect...Blake, do I have to put X's on your feet again, so you will
look at them?...Kicked like spaghetti legs, Mike. You're tossing your body to
fate. And point your toes. You look like you're wearing combat boots."
freshman attempting an inward dive hangs for an instant parallel to the water,
then bends at the waist to escape a belly flop. "Jim, I'd rather have you
land flat than break form," says King.
says Phil Boggs, "is definitely a negative reinforcer." The visitor
begins to gather that there is a code at work here, one requiring delicate
self-control in the face of our most natural fear.
The divers use as
many as four springboards and get well ahead of King's critiques. Often she
must ask a diver what he did last, but after being told she can replay it and
recite every flaw, every successful element. Near the end of a 2�-hour
practice, she is comparing tiny moves with those made at the beginning of the
day. She sees nothing unusual in this, citing her coach at Michigan, Dick
Kimball, as one who never needed to be cued: "He just memorized every dive
he ever saw."
Blake Bourland, a
pale, redheaded freshman, is dubious about practicing a reverse pike on the low
board. He makes a mistake, produces a horrendous splash and rolls onto the
King sends him to
the three-meter board to do the same dive. "You'll make the correction on
the high board because it will be the difference between life and death,"
she says. He climbs slowly, steps onto the board with transparent dread and
does the dive perfectly.