One Second Destroyed Her Olympic Dreams

This article is the conclusion to a two-part series. For the first part, please visit
Beth Goodwin’s host family sponsored her, along with Nike and Speedo. Beth’s first taste of fame came when she got picked up for a Raisin Bran box and a Nike commercial. The commercial, ‘Beginnings,’ focused on 2004 Olympic hopefuls training for the big day. Pocketing $30,000 initially, this commercial became her main source of income while she trained.
Dave Salo was not Beth’s normal coach. For the first time, she found herself tied to parachutes, balancing large storage bins of water on her head while treading in the pool, being tied to a rope and even sent across the pool like a human slingshot just so she could ‘feel what it was like to break a world record.’
The Pan-American Games were something else. It was 2003, a whole year since she had gotten gold and silver medals as a Bruin. These games, however, being a step closer to the Olympic Trials, were crucial. That year, Beth and the U.S. swimming team flew to the Dominican Republic to take part in the competition alongside the South American team. They were welcomed with claps of thunder and cheers of pouring rain. She had never competed in the rain before.
The next day, gathering their things, she and her teammates were on the bus that would take them to the pool. Beth was nervous.
‘Are you OK?’ The man next to her on the bus struck up a conversation. He was the physical therapist for the Brazilian team. From his pocket, he pulled a miniature book so tiny, it fit in the palm of his hand.
‘Keep this,’ he said. ‘It always helps me when I am nervous.’ The small book contained an old African tale about a gazelle. ‘Remember, you only have to run faster than the slowest gazelle to avoid being eaten by the lion,’ he said.
Beth stood at the water’s edge, while drops of water gracefully dove into the cement. Beth wiggled her toes. When the whistle blew, she awkwardly plopped into the pool instead of gracefully diving. All Beth could think about from the moment she felt the water envelope her was, ‘How far behind am I? Did everyone see my embarrassing start? Who is swimming next to me? Has anyone finished yet? Just run faster than the slowest gazelle.’ A bit scared but very relieved, Beth hopped out of the water, and looked up at the blurred red numbers on the board. 1: Goodwin: 59.97 sec. Next stop, Olympic Trials.
With a guest list already printed, the newest challenge is to confirm a venue. ‘We finally decided on Seven Degrees in Laguna. It promises to be a ‘blank canvas upon which you can paint the wedding of your dreams.” Beth is relieved when the wedding coordinator, after discussing budget, said, ‘We can make this happen for you.’ Beth is expecting the wedding coordinator to guide her through any rough patches leading up to the big day. ‘She is my expert for this wedding, kind of like Dave Salo was my expert during my training for the Olympics. As long as it doesn’t rain, I think I will be fine,’ Beth laughs.
‘Planning a wedding is similar to swimming in so many ways! I never thought about it!’ Beth bursts out laughing as she realizes the parallels. ‘The wedding is like a big swim meet. It is like ‘Olympic Day’ and everything I do determines what happens in the end. There are so many short-term goals I have set up for myself.’
Being at the 2004 Olympic Trials with Luke was bittersweet. His mother had passed away just a week before. But Beth wanted to win so much it made her numb to everything except the touch of the cool water against her body and the sound of whistle after whistle.
Beth had decided that the 2004 Olympic Trials would be her last major swimming event. If she made it, she would continue to live out her Olympic dream and hopefully go home with a huge medal. If not, she would enjoy the experience, go home with a cheap participator’s plaque and move onto a new phase of her life.
Going in, Beth was seated 11th out of 100 people competing in butterfly. On day one, Beth competed for a spot among the top 16 and found her name among those who would be swimming the next day. On day two, she and the 15 other Olympic hopefuls swam for a spot in the top eight, later to be cut down to the top two who would proceed to the 2004 Olympics. However, Beth emerged from the water a second too late and could not compete with the top eight. In a single second, it was over for her. Beth left the 2004 Olympic Trials seated 12th.
Now the day looming in Beth’s mind is January 25, 2008. ‘Right now I am focusing on my small goals,’ Beth said. ‘One of the most ridiculous but very important goals for me is to get my arms in shape. I know it sounds silly, but really, a bride does worry about how her arms will look in her dress!’
Beth hasn’t swam for three years but, by looking at her, you wouldn’t call her out of shape.
‘One thing I know for sure is, I won’t be disqualified from my wedding if I arrive a second too late to the altar.’