Kalani Simpson

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Making it cool to be
at the pool

I'M taken back to a sunny day almost a couple of years ago, sitting at the side of a pool as the water gently lapped at its sides.

For an hour or so I sat there with Hawaii swim coach Mike Anderson talking about where swimming was going in our state, where it was, where it had been.

Anderson's Rainbows were at the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championship at Minnesota yesterday. Well, two of them. Chad Thomsen, an up-and-coming Canadian who came to UH to be part of an up-and-coming team. And Thomas Winkler, a 6-6 German who likes watching "The Simpsons" and looks up to the late, great Johnny Weissmuller.

Winkler was 26th in the 200 backstroke yesterday. Thomsen DQ'd in the 200 breast.

Now you know their names.

They used to hang off trees to watch swim meets in Hawaii.

Now we need to be told their names.

"We want to develop personalities so folks know," Anderson said that day.

Swimming, as any swimming parent or coach will tell you, is compelling stuff. But we're not getting it. Not even close.

I didn't go to a swimming meet once this year. Did you?

Probably not.

And I try to keep half an eye out for UH swimming.

The average fan?

No, probably not.

Anderson is one of the few people who understand what the old Natatorium sellouts, what the tree-hanging must have been like. He spun a tale of standing-room-only events in the days when he coached at Nevada.

People had to peek through the windows if they showed up late. TV was at every meet. The school president was at every meet.

The school band was there. It would play up until the school-record time -- and then stop.

Anyone who beat the music had probably just put his or her name in the books.

This sounds exactly like Gwen Nakamura's kind of thing. (You know, the Pep Band director with the rainbow on her head. She's terrific. She's like the Stan Sheriff Center's Paul Shaffer.)

I keep thinking back to what it must have been like when Duke Kahanamoku ruled the world and the Natatorium rocked.

I keep thinking back to that day by the pool talking for an hour with Anderson. And how much has changed since that day.

And how much hasn't.

On Friday, Thomsen was 22nd in the 100-yard breaststroke, Winkler 18th in the 100 backstroke. Thursday, Winkler was 48th in the 50 free.

The Rainbow Warriors were 10-1-1 in dual meets, this season, second in their conference. Finished at No. 19 in the final College Swimming Coaches Association of America poll.

Rainbow Wahine diver QiongJie Huang was a national champ. The women's swimmers finished 16th at the NCAA championships.

I didn't write about swimming once this season. Didn't go to any of the UH home meets.

Did you?

They say swimming can be magical, when the heart is pounding and the water is churning and the clock is ticking and the crowd is losing its mind. Swimming can be as exciting as sport gets.

"It turns your whole life around," Anderson said. "I know it was like that with me."

Today, the season is officially over.

Well, at least now we know a couple of names.

We need to do better at this. UH does. I do. You do.

Get out the band. Beat the drum.

Wake up the echoes of the Natatorium rocking in the night.

"You can't say it can't happen again," Anderson said. "Because it can."

Swimming should be big again in Hawaii. Swimming should be back. Because we're missing something without it. We're missing the buzz. We're missing the love.

There's too much history there. Swimming should be our state sport.

It should have every one of us up a tree.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

E-mail to Sports Desk


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