THE SUMMER GAMES

WINNING SMILE, WINNING STROKE

JOHN HOWSE July 27 1992
THE SUMMER GAMES

WINNING SMILE, WINNING STROKE

JOHN HOWSE July 27 1992

WINNING SMILE, WINNING STROKE

As the musical score from Dances With Wolves echoes through his northwest Calgary townhouse, Mark Tewksbury, wearing a polo shirt and jeans, sinks into a chesterfield like a common couch potato. “My biggest trouble,” he confesses with what is increasingly becoming a trademark smile, “is to get unmotivated, to unwind.” At 24, Tewksbury is a 13-time national backstroke swimming champion and a 1991 world silver medallist. His bare-chested pin-up image advertising Bugle Boy jeans is pasted on bus stops across Canada. He gives motivational speeches for the Investors Group and does TV advertisements for the Beef Information Centre. But the commercial and media circus is now on hold. For Tewksbury, the focus is on the wide outdoor pool in Barcelona where he will swim the 100-m backstroke—where the young man who has everything will seek the one sporting laurel he does not have: a solo Olympic medal.

Canada boasts other swimming hopefuls, including Guylaine Cloutier of Montmagny, Que., in the 100and 200-m breaststroke, Marianne Limpert of Fredericton in the 200-m individual medley, Marcel Gery of North York, Ont., in the 100-m butterfly and Gary Anderson of Brampton, Ont., in the 200-m individual medley. The men’s 4 x 100-m medley relay team won silver at the 1988 Games and, with Tewksbury again swimming the first leg, should be a contender in Barcelona. But the greatest expectations surround Tewksbury's solo backstroke—and he does not underestimate the challenge. The six-foot, one-inch, 176-lb. swimmer is ranked fourth behind two Americans—world-record holder Jeff Rouse and David Berkoff—and France’s Franck Schott. He must also contend with local favorite Martin Lopez-Zubero of Spain. “I am looking for my breakthrough,” Tewksbury says.

His best official time is 55.19 seconds, set last August, and he acknowledges that, given the high level of competition, it will take at least a flat 54 seconds to win a medal at Barcelona—as low as 53 seconds for gold. But he expects to get faster. Tewksbury notes that a rule change IV2 years ago has allowed backstrokers a new rollover technique: they can shave time by touching the pool wall with their feet instead of their fingertips.

The much-travelled Calgarian has spent little time at home this year. He went to Phoenix, Ariz., for outdoor swimming and then spent 10 days at a high-altitude training camp at Los Alamos, the New Mexico community 7,300 feet above sea level where scientists developed the atomic bomb. In a sense, the Los Alamos pool is Canada’s physiological weapon in the battle to produce faster times. “It is like natural blood doping,” says Tewksbury of the highaltitude training. “It sends up my red blood cell count and hemoglobin. And I need that for highenergy performance.” After four days off to swim and relax in Pasadena, Calif., at the end of June, he and the rest of the Canadian Olympic swim squad flew to a base camp at Canet-Plage, France, just three hours’ drive from Barcelona.

Tewksbury will not be in the Olympic Village until a few days before his first event. “I can’t get caught up in village life,” he says. “In the Summer Olympics, there is so much going on it can kill you. It takes 20 minutes to walk to lunch. It is very different to the smaller Winter Olympics.” Tewksbury, who placed fifth in the backstroke at the 1988 Olympics, curtailed media interviews and sponsorship work in the weeks leading up to the Barcelona Games. At the competition itself, however, he expects to revel in the hype. “I am a big-day racer,” he says. And with Spain’s own Lopez-Zubero in the race, “there is going to be a lot of noise from 10,000 fans, and I love it.”

Tewksbury has been swimming since the age of 8, when his parents, Roger and Donna, took him to Calgary’s Acadia Swimming Pool. The couple operate the Big Shot Photo camera shop in a southwest Calgary mall. The swimmer’s brother, Scott, is a deejay who works a Caribbean cruise ship, and his sister, Colleen, is assistant manager of a Calgary drugstore. “We are close and we have family dinners when we can,” says Tewksbury. “But lately, I am rarely home.” A political-science student at the University of Calgary, Tewksbury moved away from home when he was 17 and recently bought a condominium, which he shares with two renters.

Girlfriends, he says, are a casualty of his intense training regimen. “I am so selfinvolved, selfish at this moment,” he says, explaining that his last serious relationship ended in 1989. “At this level of sports, you have to take care of yourself first.” His Olympic countdown days begin with team floor hockey at 6 a.m., followed by weightlifting and exercises, in addition to swimming 6,000 to ■ 8,000 m 10 times weekly. A self-confessed movie buff, Tewksbury sees three films a week. Modem art and career mementoes cover the walls of his condo—a piece of the Berlin Wall that a German competitor gave him, a swimming medal from a Russian. He even has a framed extract from Hansard—a transcript of an MP’s speech in the House of Commons acknowledging his swimming feats.

Barcelona will likely be his last Olympics. “Twice is enough,” he says with a laugh. “Remember, it is just a swim event. Life goes on.” Life for Tewksbury—and his glossy image—would be a lot richer with an Olympic medal around his neck.

JOHN HOWSE in Calgary

JOHN HOWSE