They had to get out of bed at some ungodly hour, like 6 a.m., and now they are shivering and grumbling outside the Monroe County Municipal Airport. It is cold and dark in Bloomington, and the Indiana University swimmers are saying that nobody knows the troubles they've seen. Just look at what they have to fly in—a DC-3, yet! "On dates here we don't go parking," says one swimmer, casting a forlorn glance toward the runway. "It's more exciting to come out and watch the planes take off."
Charles Buchanan Hickcox II, sleepyeyed and uncharacteristically quiet, shows up wearing an outfit that seems immoderate for the time of day—a red stocking cap, suede jacket and cream checkered slacks. This is the Charles Hickcox who holds two world records, led Indiana to its first NCAA swimming championship last spring and won three gold medals—in the 200 and 400 individual medley and the 4x100 medley relay—and a silver in the 100 backstroke at the Olympics in Mexico City. Now Hickcox is saying that he didn't sleep particularly well because his wife (the former Lesley Bush, who won a gold in the 10-meter dive at the '64 Olympics) pulled off all the covers.
This morning the Indiana team, which will play host to the NCAAs next weekend, is heading for Minneapolis, where it is 15° below and where the University of Minnesota team undoubtedly is still in bed. Soon the DC-3, called the "Flying Prof," is careening madly down the runway, and the swimmers are bobbing around in their seats chanting, "We're up. We're down. We're up. We're down." As soon as the plane is airborne and (slowly) leaves Bloomington behind, Hickcox is out of his seat, bumming 15¢ off his coach, James E. (Doc) Counsilman, so that the team's floating poker game can resume. "Gimme 15¢, Doc," says Hickcox, "before I slap you in the head."
The respect and affection Counsilman and Hickcox have for each other is usually disguised by a put-on enmity. For example, at practice Hickcox pretends to balk at the edge of the pool because the water is too cold, and Counsilman, brandishing his belt, chases his star around and around the deck until he finally jumps in.
March 24, 1969
Suddenly there is a hubbub from the vicinity of the poker game. "Hey, Doc, I'm going to swim like hell today," someone says. "Am I ever winning money." It is Hickcox, who has been running up his 15¢ investment. "Boy, $5! Is Lesley ever going to love me!" Counsilman stands up and points a finger. "Shut up," he roars. "You sound like Phyllis Diller."
Charlie Hickcox and his bride live in an apartment on South Walnut Street, just outside the Bloomington city limits. The first thing you see when you come in the door is a new color TV set, a wedding gift from the swimming team. The Hickcoxes broke it in by inviting the team over to watch the Super Bowl. Now it is Thursday night and this means TV night in the Hickcox household. Charlie is lounging on the sofa, watching Perry Mason. Lesley is standing by the stove, whipping up what she believed to be chocolate chip cookies. However, she has just realized she has been following a recipe for chocolate fudge.
The Hickcoxes started seeing each other at the 1967 University Games in Tokyo, when Charlie taught Les how to play water polo and Les showed Charlie how to dive. "We were having such a good time that we didn't really think about what was happening," Charlie says. "She got the hook inserted."
"Now wait a minute," says Les. "You like that, don't you? You like people to think I just couldn't resist you, don't you?"
When they both made the Olympic team last September, they decided to get engaged. They were married last Dec. 14 and spent their honeymoon in Uruguay as members of a touring U.S. swimming team. Total cost of honeymoon abroad: $88.
"I've always wanted to be a football player," Charlie says, changing the subject. "I'll have another semester of eligibility left after this spring and I'm really thinking about going out for spring practice."
He pauses to glance at Les, who has a here-we-go-again look. Charlie started the football bit as a joke—or did he?—but it has evolved. "You can't back out now," Les says, "because you've told everybody you're going to do it."
Since he is almost 6'4" and weighs barely 175 pounds, Charlie figures he will have to put on some weight for football. "I'll probably get something broken the first day," he says, "but at least I'll have had the satisfaction of trying. And maybe I'll make a great flanker."
Les sets down a plate of chocolate chip (?) cookies. Even Charlie has to admit she's made a comeback.
"You're obnoxious when you win, Charlie," someone says. The plane and the cardplayers have settled down to a dull roar. Doc Counsilman has finished giving each swimmer a brown bag full of sandwiches, candy and fruit prepared the previous night by his teen-age daughter. Settling back in his seat, Doc is ready—so what else is new?—to talk. The first question is about Charlie Hickcox playing football. "A-a-a-u-gh," says Counsilman. Well then, what is it that makes Hickcox possibly the best swimmer ever? This is more like it. In his 12 years at Indiana, Doc Counsilman has distinguished himself neither as a stern disciplinarian nor as a brilliant conditioner. Doc likes to think of himself as a scientist, a swimming scientist, and Charlie Hickcox says no man on earth knows as much about stroke. Counsilman's philosophy is based largely on his famous Hurt-Pain-Agony theory: that is, a mediocre swimmer will seldom push himself past the Hurt zone, but the winners, the Charlie Hickcoxes, will go into Pain and, subsequently, Agony to perfect their strokes. Counsilman's swimmers take a perverse delight in competing for the jelly beans Doc hands out for excellence during especially arduous workouts.
"Charlie has an unusual amount of talent for swimming," Counsilman says. "It's easy to understand the concept of intelligence, but it's a more nebulous thing in athletes when you say a guy has ability. Ability is coordination, flexibility in the ankles, a big heart. Charlie varies from a lot of athletes with ability in that he works hard, too. He has the ability to punish himself. On top of this he's very coachable. I think he's the best all-round swimmer of all time."
Remember that guy named Don Schollander? Where have you gone, Johnny Weissmuller? As he begins to elaborate, Counsilman picks an orange out of his brown bag and starts to peel it. Doc says that, while Hickcox once held two world records for backstroke events, the real keys to his ability are the world records he still holds in the individual medley events (2:10.6 for 200 meters, 4:39.0 for 400).
"The IM is the measure of the all-round swimmer," Counsilman says, finishing the last of the orange. "Schollander swam only freestyle up to middle distances. In the medley you have to master all four strokes. You know, Charlie's best stroke of all might be the butterfly, something he's never really concentrated on much."
"Did you see that?" says one of the swimmers in admiration. "Did you clock him on that orange? Doc is the fastest eater in the world. We timed him on a big chef's salad last year in two minutes 30 seconds."
The winter winds are whipping across the IU campus as Charlie Hickcox walks to class. Some of the passing students look at him curiously, but nobody recognizes him right off, like they would, say, a football player. Indeed, if Hickcox is acknowledged at all, it probably will be as the guy who used to coach the Phi Delta Theta bike team. The annual interfraternity bike race, called the Little 500, is a big thing at IU, with perhaps 40,000 turning out to watch; swimming ranks low on campus, even with a national championship team and a handful of gold medalists. This used to bother him, Hickcox is saying, his breath visible in the air, but now he just accepts it.
"Nobody did much for us, like banquets and things, when we got back from the Olympics," he says. "I was a little upset at first. I thought about giving up swimming but I owe something to my parents, to Doc. Les and I talked about it, and with her help I worked it out. I just don't talk enough, I guess, except about Doc, and I'll talk all day about him. I don't like bigmouthed guys. I don't like a guy like Namath—but they're the ones who get the publicity. That's what Les told me. I build up antagonisms and I get mad sometimes but I forget that, too. I'm just an easygoing guy. I've had a good time all my life just playing around and having a good time."
Hickcox' friends are amused when asked if Hickcox is shy or quiet. "He can play the record player louder than anyone in the whole world," says Dave Bayles, who roomed with Hickcox for awhile. "His favorite used to be Light My Fire by The Doors, and every night he would play it over and over as loud as it would go." In fact, the only time Hickcox gets quiet and serious is right before a big meet. "In the water," says Bayles, "he's a different guy."
"You'd think that a guy who likes everybody would lack aggression," says Counsilman, "but Charlie has a lot of drive, too." To which he adds one of his favorite homilies: "Nothing great was ever achieved without emotion."
Counsilman, too, is troubled over the fact that Hickcox hasn't gotten the acclaim accorded to, say, Schollander or even Mark Spitz, now an Indiana freshman. "I don't know," he says. "Of course, Indiana swimming hasn't gotten the recognition. We're just out of the mainstream of things, I guess, and there is a definite trend in writing to look for the Joe Namaths. The old hero image has changed."
Of all the nonattention he has received, Charlie was most disappointed when the gold medal winners weren't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, as Les was in 1964. "He said I had a pretty smile," says Lesley, smiling prettily, "so everything he did after that was all right with me."
The airport at Minneapolis is surrounded by great drifts of snow, and it is so cold that the IU swimmers almost claw each other to death piling into the four rental cars awaiting them. Hickcox gets into the back seat of the car driven by Counsilman, who has a penchant for wild driving and getting lost, so another of Hickcox' friends, Butterflyer Steve Borowski, says that his car will lead the team to a restaurant for lunch. Less than 100 yards out of the airport, Borowski has made a wrong turn and is turning around in the parking lot of a drive-in restaurant. This puts Counsilman's car in the lead, and in no time they are in beautiful downtown Minneapolis, making U turns, going up one-way streets, screaming, laughing, hanging out of windows and doors. Doc's driving is as bad as reported, maybe worse. Obviously, he is lost. "It's this way every trip," says one of the swimmers. "Doc always thinks he knows a shortcut and he's always getting lost."
The team finally settles on a place called Diamond Lil's, but it is closed, so they run and slide their way across the street to a restaurant called—fittingly enough—Charlie's. The name of the restaurant is stamped on all of the silverware and sugar bowls and ashtrays. Somebody says, "Hey, this is what Charlie needs." On the trip home, after Indiana beat Minnesota for its 32nd straight dual-meet victory (it now has won 38 in a row), Hickcox' gym bag kept making a funny clanking sound.
Lesley's wedding present to Charlie was a movie camera. This morning Charlie has got back two reels from the photo shop and a 1-A classification from his draft board in Phoenix, his home town. He has spent the morning on campus, finding out how to regain his student deferment, and now he is home, cranking up his projector.
One of the reels is devoted to Lesley's family. She has two brothers, Jeffrey, a promising swimmer, and David, who is quite possibly the best diving prospect in the country, according to IU's diving coach, Hobie Billingsley. There are speeded-up shots of the Bush brothers eating, but the star is undeniably Lesley's father, a perfumer who works for Faberge in Ridgefield, N.J., and who may have missed his calling. Not only does Mr. Bush resemble Groucho Marx, he reveals a real capacity for slapstick.
On this occasion there are no reels of Charlie's family. His father is 6'6" and a former star football player at the University of Arizona, where Charlie was going before he succumbed to Counsilman's salesmanship.
"I was so much more impressed with Doc than the others," Hickcox says. "He seemed so easygoing."
There were mixed emotions on the IU campus when Mark Spitz, the second-greatest swimmer in the world, enrolled. Spitz is accustomed to being the center of attention. How would he react to playing second fiddle to Charlie Hickcox? For that matter, how would Charlie Hickcox like having Spitz around? Would dissension break up the Hoosiers, just when Counsilman was on the brink of putting together the best swimming team in collegiate history?
Hickcox showed where he stood early on. Almost as soon as Spitz set foot on campus, in fact, after he had slipped and fallen flat on his back in the unfamiliar snow, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Buchanan Hickcox II threw a luncheon in Spitz's honor at their apartment. "A lot of the reason some guys don't like Mark is envy," Hickcox says. "He's got so much natural ability. Where a guy like me has to work for everything he gets, it comes easy to Mark. But everybody here likes him and that's what's important. Mark's never had any real friends. Down in Mexico some of his own teammates were pulling against him. But we're glad to have him."
However, just in case, Counsilman preserves a certain demilitarized zone by not letting his two stars swim against each other. "Charlie really likes Mark," says Counsilman. "However, he may not like him so much in a race. With a guy like Charlie on the team, you've got a tremendous stud. But with Charlie leaving, Spitz will step right in there for the next three years."
Of course, Doc doesn't know this: one day Spitz was over at the Hickcox apartment, and Charlie was off on his favorite tangent, telling the guys about how he was going to go out for the football team. Spitz is a splendid swimmer but he is also 19 years old and, therefore, still a little impressionable. "You know, I've always liked football, too," he said, "and I think it's true of any athlete that if you have the ability you can go into other sports and do well, so maybe...." All a guy could think of was Doc Counsilman, riding in the DC-3, saying, "A-a-a-u-gh."