The sun was setting into a heavy haze of smog and humidity that obscured the hills west of Barcelona as Canada’s men’s swim relay team answered questions in the near-empty stands overlooking the open-air Olympic pool. In one grey plastic seat, a crumpled white Team Canada towel lay discarded beside two gleaming discs and a tangle of brightly colored ribbon: Olympic medals in gold and bronze. Back home in Calgary, 24year-old Mark Tewksbury already had an Olympic silver, won in the medley relay at the Seoul Games. Last week, he completed the set by first winning the individual 100-m backstroke with an electrifying last-instant effort that carried him past U.S. world-record holder Jeff Rouse by a fingernail. After a sleepless night, Tewksbury returned to the Bemat Picomell pool with medley partners Jon Cleveland,
Marcel Gery and Stephen Clarke, leading the 4 x 100-m medley relay team to a third-place finish behind the United States and the Unified Team.
“I didn’t sleep at all,” a beaming Tewksbury acknowledged. “So the last little bit I didn’t quite have the burst I had last night.”
But Tewksbury’s earlier performance had already set a golden cap on a superlative career. In the 16 years since his parents, who operate a camera shop in southwest Calgary, introduced their eight-year-old son to swimming at the city’s Acadia Swimming Pool, Tewksbury has been national backstroke champion an astonishing 13 times. In addition to his Olympic silver from Seoul, the career mementoes decorating his Calgary townhouse include a pair of Commonwealth Games golds and silvers from both the world and Pan-Pacific championships. “Before I came here,” Tewksbury told Maclean’s, “I always said I looked at my career as a package, and I was really pleased with the package. And now, it’s complete.”
‘Dolphin’: That career has not always moved as smoothly as Tewksbury’s winning stroke in the Picomell pool. The swimmer—six feet, one inches and 176 lb.—recalls his keen disappointment when, at the 1988 Olympics, the top competitors in the backstroke event used a socalled dolphin kick to propel themselves underwater for as much as 45 metres. He had not
mastered the new, faster technique (which was later banned). “I watched my world ranking go from secondto seventh-rate and a solid medal shot disappear,” he said. “I felt like a real failure.” For four months after the Seoul Games, he stopped training and seriously contemplated giving up the sport. Through the same period, however, he was speaking in public about the value of what he calls the “Olympic message” in the wake of the Ben Johnson steroid scandal. “People really needed to hear that the Olympics were great,” he says now. “So I told them. And the more I talked to them, the more I realized it was great. I convinced myself.”
Tewksbury still speaks in public—although his prices are likely to rise with his new Olympic laurels. “There are so many parallels between business, or being your best in per-
sonal life, and trying to get to the top in sport,” said Tewksbury. “That’s what I try to share.” Still, he acknowledges lapses in his usual doctrine of measuring his performance by his own standards of excellence, rather than by reference to someone else. Of his gold-medalwinning duel with Rouse, he said: “I tried to do my best in the morning [heats], and race my best at night—which is a little bit different. It’s rising to the occasion.” Remembering the surge of confidence that carried him to the finish a breathtaking six one-hundredths of a second ahead of his American rival, he added: “In my heart, I thought: I can beat this guy today.”
Family: But the handsome and telegenic swimmer— who has contracts with Bugle Boy jeans, the Investors Group and the Beef Information Centre—hardly gives the impression of being a cutthroat competitor. In the wake of his Olympic victory, he says that he is looking forward to paying new attention to family and friends to whom he sometimes gave short emotional shrift in the intense months of training before the Barcelona Games.
There are other plans—though none of them pressing. Tewksbury says that he hopes to complete his unfinished University of Calgary degree in political science. And he expresses an interest in eventually pursuing either journalism or the foreign service. But he adds: “I’m in no rush to do anything. It took a long time to get here. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it for a while.” And surely no one will begrudge him that.
“It really is a selfish process getting to the top in the Olympics,” said Tewksbury. “You’re always worried about how much sleep you’re getting, what you’re eating and it’s all, Me, me, me. I want for a long time now to go, You, you, you, to all the people who helped me get there.”
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