The U.S. Olympic women swimmers of 1976 swept into Montreal a proud dynasty and were staggered to win but a single relay. They slammed into final wall after final wall in world-record time and found large, muscular athletes in blue already there, chatting gutturally.
Female swimmers of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had never before won an Olympic gold, yet in Montreal they massacred the rest of the world, taking gold medals in 11 of 13 events and setting eight world records. Their flagship was Kornelia Ender, 17, who won the 100 and 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly and anchored the winning 400-medley relay team, all in world-record times.
The embodiment of the battered U.S. team was Shirley Babashoff, 19, of Fountain Valley, Calif., who swam an astounding range of races—the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles and both relays—but lost the sprints to Ender and the distances to 15-year-old Petra Thümer. When Thümer outkicked Babashoff in the 800, it was Babashoff's fourth straight silver medal. Unbowed, she came back an hour and 45 minutes later to anchor the U.S. to its lone win, in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay.
Questions flew. What did the East German women have this time that they hadn't had four years earlier in Munich?
July 12, 1992
No definitive answer was forthcoming until 1991, after the Berlin Wall toppled, when 20 former GDR swim coaches admitted that they had given anabolic steroids to some, not all, of their swimmers in the 1970s and '80s. Of course, the U.S. swimmers had known this. "It was too obvious for me not to say something," says Babashoff, who has always been blunt. "Even before Montreal, I said I didn't feel comfortable in the changing room with, uh, people that big, that hairy, that baritone." But when no East German swimmer tested positive (some may have stopped taking—or being given—steroids before the '76 Games to clear detectable traces from their urine), Babashoff was dubbed Surly Shirley in newspaper editorials and repudiated by even some U.S. coaches.
"The whole thing was heartbreaking at the time," Babashoff says now. "But I've mended." Perhaps not completely, judging by her next words: "Just the same, what is the statute of limitations on cheating?"
But was Ender, in fact, one of those who cheated? Has she spent the last 16 years basking in unwarranted esteem? And was Babashoff's life blighted by the injustice she suffered? The story of what has befallen the two great antagonists of the '76 Games inevitably intertwines what was and what might have been.
Babashoff, now 35, sits in her blue Dodge van in the parking lot outside Tamura School in Fountain Valley. She is hurriedly writing a check for her son Adam's school fees before his kindergarten class is let out for the day. She wears shorts and a sweatshirt with a greatly enlarged 13-cent Colorado Centennial stamp printed on it. She is less willowy than when she raced, having taken on some of the solidity that was Ender's trademark.
"I got married in 1978," Babashoff is saying. "Divorced in 1980. I don't remember his name. I don't. No, he isn't the father of my son. I never remarried. Give me some credit. Adam's father is a state lifeguard. He visits Saturdays. He's a gun guy. He brought over a BB gun for Adam. He loaded it, and when he was putting up a target, Adam shot him in the back." Babashoff's regret is well hidden.
The door to classroom A-1 bursts open. Six-year-old Adam, his hair bushy and red, forces his way through a stream of beautifully dressed girls and polite boys and runs to Babashoff. She swings him around as if he's a very small square dancer, and they both run to the school office to pay his fees. Babashoff's energy is arresting in one so momlike.
Back in the van, they head to the house where the Babashoff family has lived since Shirley was 14 and where she and Adam have been living with her father, Jack, while her own house is being renovated. On the mantel are photos of her brothers—Jack Jr., who took a silver in the 100 free in Montreal, and Billy, who swam at UCLA—and her younger sister, Debbie, who was a 1986 national 1,500-free champion. Their mother, Vera, died in 1989 at 54.
Babashoff's father was a machinist at Bethlehem Steel's plant in Vernon, Calif., by day and took other jobs at night. "It was through my mom's saving everything that we afforded swimming," says Shirley, who began at age eight.
Jack Sr., 64 and retired, is the source of Shirley's height (5'10") and, just now, her irritation. "You don't come home," she hisses. "You go missing in action, and I'm not supposed to worry?"
Jack says he's going to dig out the stump of a peach tree at Shirley's house. As Shirley and Adam take their iced tea and Diet Coke into the backyard, Shirley explains that when her father returned that morning from a visit to the mountains, he was a day late and hadn't called, so Shirley was frantic—still is, faintly.
Adam is swinging on a small orange tree that sags under his weight. "My mom was a great mom," says Shirley. "We weren't half as wild as this guy."
Adam drops out of the tree in a shower of leaves and then bonks himself on the head with a hollow plastic bat and collapses theatrically with crossed eyes.
While he fights to regain consciousness, Babashoff casts back to when she first knew something was different about the East German swimmers. "Before 1973 I didn't know what a steroid was," she says. "Then, at the worlds that year in Belgrade, the East Germans won 10 of 14 races. They were huge, and they were beating us by yards. Belgrade hurt us for a lot of years. Morale was down. Some of our girls were going in—Adam, lay that tomato trellis down so the poky things aren't sticking up—already beaten. I mentioned to a reporter before Montreal that the East German women looked like men. One breaststroker, I swear she was a guy. So it looked like I was a rotten sport even before I swam."
Babashoff does not believe she was psyched out of producing her stubborn best. "I didn't give up," she says. "Heck, I swam on the boys' teams in high school. I was used to competing against men."
But her opponents weren't her only problems. "Three weeks before the most important meet of your life, the Olympic staff takes your personal coach away and gives you another one," she says. "They gave me Frank somebody [U.S. women's assistant coach Frank Elm of Milltown, N.J.], and he made me do no sprints in camp. I was given some ridiculous practices, like 5 x 1,500 when I was to race the sprints. I'd qualified in the 400 individual medley too, but I was allowed nothing but distance freestyle in training, so I ended up not swimming the IM in Montreal because I hadn't practiced three of the strokes. I know I'd have more gold medals if I'd had my personal coach, Mark Schubert, there. I feel worse about that than about the drugs. I could've beaten the East Germans anyway with Mark." (Elm denies that he limited Babashoff's training. "Every girl had every opportunity to do anything she wanted to," he says.)
Babashoff has no memory of any serious conversation with Ender. "No, they stayed to themselves," Babashoff says of the East Germans. "What was I going to say, 'Congratulations...you took the most steroids.' I don't sound bitter, do I?"
She is back in Montreal, experiencing it again. Adam climbs on her lap and hugs her hard. "After the races I don't think I mentioned steroids," she says. "Still, reporters egged me on. One guy asked how I felt getting 'another silver medal.' I said, 'How many silvers do you have?' That got them going, nudging each other—'What can we get her to say now?' "
In the tiny village of Schornsheim, in the rolling countryside between Frankfurt and Mainz in what used to be West Germany, a bright new house stands out against vineyards. Framed in a second-story window by her own frizzy golden curls, Kornelia Ender Grummt calls down to a visitor to come on in. She opens the door in jeans and a sweatshirt reading SPORT F‚Äö√†√∂‚àö‚à´R ALLE.
Much of the upper-body muscle that inspired PEOPLE magazine to call Ender "ox-shouldered" and "Junoesque" has melted away, accentuating her 5'11" height. At 33 she weighs 140 pounds, 27 less than in 1976.
The shapes of Ender's forehead and mouth are reminiscent of those in 18th-century Middle European portraits. She wears three pendants and many slender gold rings and earrings.
Quickly, because they are leaving for swimming practice, Ender introduces her second husband, Steffen Grummt, a dark and decisive former decathlete and bobsledder for the GDR, and their two children: Franziska, 13, tall, angular and shy, and Tiffany, 6, strong and cute, a replica of her mother as a child.
The house empty, Ender puts coffee and cake on the kitchen table, sits and, intending to tell her story in an orderly way, takes herself as far back as she can. "My father was an army officer, a colonel," she begins, speaking through a translator. "My mother was a head nurse. When I was four, my father was transferred to Bitterfeld, where he was district commander. My parents still live there.
"I was a robust child. I was nice, but I was tough. When I didn't get what I wanted, I'd stamp and scream."
Having been discovered at six in a preschool swimming class, Ender was enrolled at 11 in the Chemie Club training center near Bitterfeld in Halle, a city in the southwest corner of East Germany, where she lived in a dorm and swam six to seven miles a day in workouts overseen by both her personal coach, Helmut Langbein, and the team doctor, Lothar Kipke. At 13, in the '72 Olympics, she anchored two GDR relays to silvers and was second in the 200 IM. Over the next four years she would set 23 world records.
Ender cannot say for sure whether or not she was given steroids. To her knowledge, her name has never been mentioned by the East German coaches who have admitted to administering steroids to swimmers. "After every workout I got a 'cocktail' with vitamins," she says. "I drank it because I wanted to recover as fast as I could." So her trainers could easily have added oral steroids. If they did, they didn't tell her.
"You must understand that no one," she says firmly, "not swimmers or coaches or doctors, ever spoke about drugs. Sports officials never talked to us about anything. We never questioned what we were being given. I wish I could ask Coach Langbein, but he died of cancer in 1982."
The year before Montreal, in separate accidents, Ender broke her wrists. "I put on a lot of weight that year, about six kilos [13 pounds]," she says. "The reason could have been that I didn't train as hard and I still ate well, but they could have given me something to keep up my strength."
On the other hand, says Ender, "I don't think I was the type who needed something. I didn't lift weights much. I was agile, naturally strong. I did drills. I had a naturally perfect freestyle stroke. I was used as an example to others." Her starts and turns were dramatically better than Babashoff's in Montreal.
Ender doesn't recall whether before big meets GDR doctors made sure her urine would pass the drug tests. Failing such prerace tests, it is now known, caused terrific athletes to sit home. "Barbara Krause didn't go to Montreal at the last second," says Ender. "We were told it was jaundice. So I had to swim two races in 28 minutes."
In the first she equaled her world record in the 100 butterfly. Subbing for Krause in the second, the 200 free, she let Babashoff lead and overhauled her to win in a world-record 1:59.26.
"All these suspicions," she says. "We didn't have them. And since it was hard for swimmers to meet again after we retired, we couldn't compare notes."
Surely she was aware of Babashoff's accusations. "Yes, but I don't remember hearing that until 1976," Ender says. "My mother—a nurse, after all—said maybe swimmers have deep voices because they are in water all the time. That reminds me: After that my father...."
She falls silent, struck by something she has remembered. "My father," she says slowly, "went to Dr. Kipke and said, 'If you give anything like that [steroids] to my daughter, I'm taking her out of the program.' The doctor said, 'Then you'd better take her out.' But he didn't. My father must have known."
This requires a call to her father, retired colonel Heinz Ender, whose memories are sharp. "It was like this," he says. "Konni was much too young to understand. She did as she was told. But I was close to the people in Chemie Club Halle. Coach Langbein told me one day that something like that [steroids] might be scheduled for her. During a recess in training, I demanded that the team doctor, Dr. Kipke, tell me whether there was any truth to what I'd heard. He told me that was none of my business. He said that since I had agreed to Konni's performance goals, I should leave it up to them to prepare her properly. I said, 'I object. Konni is underage, and if you are planning this, I want to be informed.' "
Coming from a colonel in the people's army, that might have had some effect. "Langbein had determined that she could meet her goals without such means," Heinz says. "I believe he would have told me if something like that had been done. I watched Konni. I would have noticed the changes in her, or I would have been told. So I believe that it did not happen."
"When your whole life is swimming 15,000 meters a day," Babashoff says as she hustles Adam into the van, "you look forward to the day you can...still swim, but not as intensely." So in the fall of 76 she enrolled at UCLA. "I wanted to swim for school, not to kill. But that year they started a program of weightlifting for all women's sports. I had to lift to exhaustion and then try to swim when I was tense and tight. They don't do that anymore. But they did then, so I retired." She left school after completing her freshman year.
Only when she no longer had to maintain her eligibility to compete as an amateur was Babashoff free to accept a four-year promotional contract of $20,000 a year from Arena, a swimsuit manufacturer. "I was 20," she says. "All I wanted was a Corvette. My folks said, 'Buy a house.' I bought a Chevette and...this."
She has pulled up at a modest yellow frame house with a bright-green lawn and a new chain link fence. "I've owned it since '77," she says. "I thought my folks were so dumb. Now, boy, were they smart. I lived here for years. Lately I've had it rented out, but now we're fixing it up to move back in."
While giving a quick tour of the carpentry, plumbing and painting she and her father have done on the house, Babashoff hears a splash in the backyard. She finds Adam playing in a muddy crater from which Jack Sr. has triumphantly pried an impressive peach tree stump. Seeing her, Adam starts tearing petals from a camellia blossom, saying, "She loves me, she loves me not...."
"Who is she?" he is asked.
"Mom," he says. "She loves me...."
"After '76 I taught swimming a lot," says Shirley, gently lifting Adam to dry land. "I rode my bike 10 miles a day to Seal Beach and to Golden West Community College, where I was coaching. I also coached at Newport Harbor High and at the Huntington Aquatic Club. It was not high-income coaching."
In 1985 she accepted an offer to help coach the South Korean team. "Depressing year," she says. "Pay was great, but it turned my stomach the way some of their coaches tortured swimmers they felt had an attitude. I saw coaches burn swimmers with a cigarette lighter. I didn't feel comfortable being any part of that."
Babashoff happily returned to introducing California kids to swimming basics. "Adam is the only one I wasn't able to teach," she says. "He finally got so sick of hearing me tell people that he screams when he gets his face wet that he got in the pool, put his arms out, plopped his face down and kicked over to me. And then he said"—Adam elaborately lip-synchs his now celebrated phrase—" 'I can't believe I'm still alive!' "
Which is what Babashoff said on Feb. 4, 1986, when Adam at last issued forth from her. "They said my being an athlete would help me pop him out and go right home," says Shirley, sounding betrayed. "But noooo. I was in labor 16 hours. I'm tough. But that was the only day in my life I wished I was dead.' "
Turning back to Ender, Babashoff says she has never brooded about her former rival. "I'm not a bit curious about her," she says. "I guess that sounds awful. But I've been busy. She's the farthest thing from my mind."
"After the '76 Olympics," Ender says, "I had a two-hour session with the head of GDR sports, Manfred Ewald, who controlled all of our lives. He tried to talk me out of retiring. He couldn't, so after that, I no longer had good political cards. I would never be one of the trusted gold medalists allowed to travel beyond the country. But in that talk, I remember telling him that if I were to continue swimming, I'd have to use 'supporting means' [the euphemism for steroids], and that I didn't want to. That means I knew about them. I wonder how I knew?"
She quit swimming gladly. Ender was determined to be a doctor and to marry Roland Matthes, the 1968 and '72 Olympic 100- and 200-backstroke champion. The pairing had the look, to some, of eugenics. "NBC came here," Ender says, "and asked if Roland and I were forced to marry, to produce champions."
In fact, Ender's parents opposed the match because Matthes was 25 and Ender 18. "But what girl would listen?" says Ender. "I wanted to prove my independence. I was by no means a grown-up woman." They were married in May 1978. In September, Franziska was born.
"And without swimming," says Ender, "Roland and I turned out to be completely different people.... I decided to get out while I was young and could build a new life." Matthes is now a doctor in western Germany.
Ender's 1982 divorce made things even worse with the authorities and, perhaps not coincidentally, with one professor at Jena University, where she was studying medicine. "He was on my back so much, I finally stopped," she says. "I asked if I should try medicine at another university, maybe Halle, but the professor said it would be of no use. So I concentrated on becoming a physiotherapist."
Grummt returns with the wet-haired kids as Ender tells how he and she met. "In 1983 I started working in the medical department of the Jena Sports Club," she says, "and he came to be massaged."
"I'd heard," Grummt says, "that Kornelia Ender had joined the club. And I did need a massage." He had been fourth in the decathlon in the 1982 European Championships, was training for the '84 Olympics and looked like a young Omar Sharif.
"How long did I massage you?" she asks.
"Couldn't have been more than a day," he says dreamily. "After that I needed a lot of massages. One day we asked each other to coffee. She told me, 'My daughter needs a father...' "
"You said my daughter would need a father. You!" squeals Ender.
"...so I had to marry her. I had no chance."
Their wedding was bittersweet consolation to Grummt: It came in August 1984, while East Germany was boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics. "That decathlon was to be my ultimate," he says. "I get goose pimples when I think about it now, how it could have been Daley Thompson, Jurgen Hingsen and...me."
The following April, Tiffany was born. "We named her after Tiffany Chin, the American figure skater," says Ender. "We loved the name. As in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It took three days to register it, because that name didn't exist in the GDR. We made Tiffy the first."
The child herself, chewing on gummi bears and sipping a fruit drink, says, "Thanks, Mom," and you figure, eugenics aside, she has to meet Adam Babashoff.
Grummt didn't have the political protection that being a world-record holder from an army family had provided Ender. Nor did he bend to the GDR's rule forbidding contact with opponents. He met secretly with Britain's Thompson, and after Grummt switched sports and became a brakeman on the GDR's world-champion two- and four-man bobsled teams, he struck up clandestine friendships with members of the hated Swiss team.
"He did it even though the Department of State Security—the Stasi, the secret police—recruited watchdogs among the athletes," says Ender. In 1987 the secret police told Grummt he would be dropped from the bobsled team. The Stasi had reams of what it considered damning evidence, including a Swiss bobsledder's address found in Grummt's locker. "I couldn't tell the truth and say that the man was just going to help me get a VCR," says Grummt, "because that was worse than making a friend."
"You weren't even allowed to bring back Pampers from the West," says Ender, "because they weren't available here."
Grummt was also barred from coaching. "And because of Steffen," says Ender, "I stopped being invited anywhere, either. My thinking had really begun to change. We had friends who applied for exit visas, and suddenly we had to meet them in secret. They told us all the things the Stasi did—opening their mail, ostracizing them at work. It was hard for me to believe the authorities were capable of all that. That was when we began to consider leaving too."
This was almost as hard for Ender as acknowledging Stasi abuses. "My father, when he came to visit us," she says, "would turn off the West channels on TV and watch only the East. He believed that if you went west, you were acting against human rights."
In 1989 the Grummts applied to emigrate. The Stasi immediately threw a cordon of intimidating security around them, following them constantly. The Grummts felt their best chance was to travel to a Soviet-bloc country where they might throw themselves on the mercy of an embassy to help them reach West Germany. Others had the same idea. Many others.
"The weekend of October 7," Ender says, "thousands of East Germans stormed the West German embassy in Prague, demanding passes. We were living in Suhl. We drove east to Steffen's parents in Kamenz [near the Czech border]. The Stasi followed us because they thought we were planning to go to Czechoslovakia. There were nine Stasi cars around their house. Every time we left, they followed."
After two days the Grummts gave up and started home. "Steffen remembered a shortcut through the fields," says Ender. "In the dark we gave them the slip. When we got home, we called his dad. He said, 'All nine cars are still here.' So in case they had the phone tapped, we talked about what lazy guys they were."
A day later the regime of President Erich Honecker began bowing to the inevitable. Trainloads of East Germans were allowed to leave Czechoslovakia for West Germany. On Nov. 9 the Berlin Wall came down. The Grummts were soon settled in the West. Steffen now works for the German Sports Federation in Mainz. Kornelia practices physiotherapy in a doctor's office in Nierstein, 12 kilometers from their village.
"He was so neat, I just looked at my son for a year after he was born," says Babashoff, directing her van toward the beach. "Then I decided I needed a part-time job, so I went to a sporting-goods store." Soon she was assistant manager, slave to a 48-hour week under fluorescent lights. This was not for an outdoorswoman.
"So I passed the test for carrier at the post office, waited a year and put in 70-hour weeks as a part-time flexible employee, getting the worst routes in the city," she says. "Even my first route as a regular carrier wasn't great, because you get routes by bidding on them, and seniority wins. Cop. Adam, duck."
Adam drops out of sight behind the engine hump as a patrol car passes. His usual front seat and seat belt have been taken by a guest. "It's a $200 fine if they catch you without your belt," says Babashoff. "Now, stay in the back and cinch yourself in," she tells Adam. "Where was I? Mail. It's a great job. A lot of times people run out to get their mail. Old ladies come and talk to me. I like to feel I'm checking up on 'em. It's not delivering babies, but it's outside. Here we are."
The Huntington Beach neighborhood is leafy and well kept. "Deceptive," says Babashoff. "I got shot at last year, unlocking that apartment house's mailboxes. I heard a pop, and something hit the wall beside my hand. It had already been a bad day. I had a person who liked to come out for his mail unclothed. I'd just spoken to a police officer about that, so I flagged the officer back, and I'm sure he thought, This girl's crazy. But he caught the kid who'd fired the shot, and he confessed. He said it was, like, a joke. I went to court and saw him sentenced to three weekends picking up trash on the freeway. The D.A. thought he did a great job. I was sick to my stomach. It's scary being shot at."
Adam's voice comes, frail and distant, from the back of the van: "I shot my dad, you know...."
"The bonus," continues Babashoff, "was that the post office decided to be a 1992 Olympic sponsor. So all year Adam and I have been flying off several times a month to do appearances and give talks on the Olympics. We've seen cliff dwellings in Colorado, Disney World, even the Denver Mint."
"It wasn't real bullets, just a BB gun," says Adam.
"But he was mad, huh?" says Shirley.
They join Jack Sr. for an early dinner of pizza and beer at a place called Zubie's Dry Dock, which has enormous freshwater aquariums, fireplaces made of river rock and—Shirley's criterion for a good restaurant—sawdust on the floor. Adam alternates between downing slices of pizza and sliding between empty tables.
"Adam hangs well in the adult world," says his grandfather.
Would Babashoff's life have unfolded differently if the East German women hadn't taken steroids and she had been a heroine for the ages? "After the Games I came home, and absolutely nothing was different," she says, popping her dad on the arm. "My family wouldn't have changed if I'd won more. I still got in trouble with Mom for missing curfew. No swimmer besides Mark Spitz has ever made much endorsement money. I can't think how anything would have changed."
Then she considers whether she would have liked her life to change. "Once I heard of a ballplayer who said one bad pitch ruined his life. I remember thinking, Wow, that guy's intense...."
Adam comes sliding in from outer space. "You're my best mom," he says.
"Who's your worst?"
"Can life get any better than this?" she says. "I have a great job, a home, a dad who works free and a great pal...."
Adam gives her a noogie.
"I'm just glad that his school hours next year are the same as my post-office hours. I definitely want to be home when he is."
Franzi Grummt leads a group of nine young swimmers in a set of 25-meter intervals, four in each stroke, in the Sporthalle pool near Schornsheim. Her father walks the deck, strenuously critiquing. Shy on land, Franzi is transformed in the water, windmilling through it with verve, if not a lot of glide. She smiles through the last strokes of every length. Tiffany, her workout concluded, does cannonballs off [he diving board. Their mother watches.
"I don't come down here often enough," Ender says. "Franzi's strokes ire deteriorating. Steffen doesn't have the eye for detail yet in swimming."
Yet Ender is hardly a pushy mother. "Steffen would really like to make one of them into a top athlete," she says. "I'd prefer that neither be one. Part of it is the odds against success. Part of it is the things they'd have to give up. Franzi has mentioned the guitar. It's a nice thing to be able to do, play the guitar with your friends."
Not at every YMCA can you order a cognac and watch the swimmers through glass, but here you can, and Ender does. "It wasn't easy for Franzi to come west," she says. "Back in the GDR she was following in the footsteps of my parents and me, becoming a good communist. When we had political doubts, we didn't discuss them in front of her. After we got here, she cried a lot at night. When we had things, even salt, that she knew they didn't have in the East, she asked if we shouldn't send them to Grandpa and Grandma. Erich Honecker was a person to her, someone she adored. Only now is she understanding him as the architect of a system that did great harm. It was so difficult for her. My folks offered to take her back for a while—she's their favorite—but she's come around."
In the pool Tiffany works water-doggedly at her turns. "She's the ambitious one," Ender says. "In school, in sport. She's very orderly. That's from her father. Everything has to be perfect in her room. Her notebook can't have a corner turned. But she's a sweet, cuddly, all-around girl, perfect for her age."
Grummt and the girls come out of the Sporthalle hungry for dinner. "You should see Kornelia swim," he says. "It takes you back 20 years."
"Well, come to Indianapolis," she says. This turns out to mean that she is swimming the freestyle and backstroke at the World Masters Swimming Championships in early July.
Back at the house she conducts a tour that ends in a downstairs study, before a cabinet of glass and wood. The trophies, coins and orders of merit from both Ender's and Grummt's careers are displayed in front of photo montages of teammates. Her sets of 1972 and '76 Olympic medals are not complete. "I always gave one medal to my coach," she says. A silver from Munich is cold and heavy in the hand and black with tarnish. "Only the golds," Ender says lightly, "stay bright."
Her remaining three gold medals are set in wooden plaques. Looking at them, she suddenly says, "Why should I even think about these golds now being tainted? Why, when I didn't know anything then or now? Why should I even give a thought to what might have been given to me 16 years ago, when I was that child you see in the pictures?"
On the last day of June, Kornelia Ender and Steffen Grummt make their way through knots of damp, leathery athletes thronging Indiana University's natatorium in Indianapolis for the World Masters Swimming Championships. When they reach the pool deck, Ender spots a woman with a postage-stamp T-shirt next to a red-haired boy. She heads right for them. Grummt hangs back to get their first meeting in 16 years on videotape.
Babashoff knows Ender is entered in the meet. The night before, she dreamed of old teammates. "It was as if I was getting ready to go back to the past," she says. "I woke up and said, 'Where am I, Indiana? When am I? Is this 1976?' "
The smiling Ender offers her hand. Babashoff takes it coolly and introduces Adam. "Why aren't you swimming here?" asks Ender.
"I'm more interested in raising this guy," says Babashoff. "I've got enough to do with my work and him."
Ender is to swim the 100 freestyle and 50 backstroke the next day. She shows Babashoff the heat sheets. "I'm in Lane 8 and scared to death," Ender says. "I've trained so little. Do you know any of these people in my race?" Babashoff can't help her, but she seems softened by Ender's warmth. Ender says her kids, Franzi and Tiffany, are excited about meeting an old rival of their mother's. Is Adam?
Adam says, "Sure."
"It was the media that made us the big rivals of '76," says Babashoff. "I always looked at it like everyone I swam against was my rival."
Soon they are talking about zoos and children's museums, of which the well-traveled Babashoffs have become connoisseurs. Shirley says that two days before, they went through Universal Studios' earthquake, and the next morning they awakened being shaken by a real one. "If you live in L.A., you have to accept 'em," she says. "They're like a ride."
The Babashoffs and Grummts have dinner, joined by friends. Ender notices Adam raptly absorbed in an adventure comic book and asks how he came to read so well before starting first grade. "Montessori school," says Babashoff. "They even taught him how to behave in a restaurant. Being sarcastic he got from me."
Earlier Babashoff had listened to a reporter's assertion that he was not certain Ender was given steroids before the '76 Games. Firmly she replied, "I'm certain. There's no doubt in my mind. Sure, I believe in talent, but don't ask me to believe she was the only one who didn't take 'em." At dinner, however, Babashoff holds her peace. When it is time to go, she says to Ender, "Good luck in your races here. You'll probably win, huh?"
Outside, Adam climbs on Shirley's back to ride her to their hotel. Grummt steps behind them and slips his hands under Adam's arms. Adam clings, monkeylike, to his mother's neck. "Let go," says Grummt. Adam thinks about it, then does. The powerful decathlete lifts the boy onto his shoulders and gallops off, suddenly a snorting stallion.
Babashoff calls out, "Write from Germany."
"No, no. Save me, save me," cries Adam with such sincerity that Grummt turns him to face his mother. Adam cannot hide his ecstatic smile. Grummt suggests an airplane. Adam is game. Grummt holds him by an arm and a leg and pivots like a hammer thrower, and in an instant the delighted boy is flying tight circles. When Grummt brings him to a soft landing, Adam reels and lurches dizzily, drunkenly, sending Babashoff and Ender into fits of laughter.
"Again?" asks Grummt. Instantly Adam stops staggering and spreads his arms. Again they spin, with Adam feeling he's about to fly off into the soft Indiana night and with Babashoff and Ender open-mouthed at this human carnival ride, all their differences held in momentary suspension.