The arch of his body as he hurls himself off the springboard,

making of himself a living bow,

pulled back to enter the water so smoothly, silently, swiftly

captures me.

He hauls himself onto the side of the pool by strongly muscled arms,

tautly holding himself within as he awaits the decision;

a tightly wound coil of trained energy,

which explodes with the cheering of the fans – 9.995

and the sudden exhalation of my breath.

And the frame shifts,

and my fickle eye is caught by another,

and once again I begin to hold my breath,

as she steps forward towards the bars.

Fourteen years old.

And a momentary pang of shame that I am lusting after this child…

her barely formed breasts slightly visible under the Unified leotard,

her long blond hair pulled back in the ever-present ponytail,

guaranteed to catch the heart of a judge

as it frames a still and determined heart-face.

She leaps forward, catching us all unawares,

and we lean forward in our chairs and couches and patches of carpet,

as those tiny limbs, (4’6″, 69 pounds) wrap themselves

around the unforgiving bars.

And she soars!

And the envy (of what we wished we might have been at age fourteen)

and the desire (for a child-woman with a face carved in stone and

a body sculpted by Michelangelo)

and the hope (oh, let her be magnificent, glorious, let her win the

golden prize….and never mind that we wished the same for the last)

they all combine into a riotous swirl of emotion,

centering somewhere in the pit of our stomach,

and she begins her dismount (two circles, one and a half twist)


and staggers to her knees as she lands.

And for a brief moment we feel with her

the shattering of a lifetime of dreams.

Until the next contender takes his place on the mat.