NEWPORT BEACH - After two years of training, four weeks of
pre-Olympic preparation and two weeks of Olympic exposure in Sydney,
Australia, one question still puzzles silver medalist Aaron Peirsol.
Why do people eat Vegemite?
"Dude, that stuff is nasty," the Newport Harbor High junior said. "And
people over there eat it like it's butter or something. They put it on
everything. I just don't get it."
For the 17-year-old, he'll stick with his chocolate-chip pancakes,
thank you very much.
"I finally got to have some when I got back home," he said. "It's been
weeks and weeks since I've had them. I feel much better now."
For those people who just moved into the area, Peirsol won the silver
medal at the Sydney Games in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of
1:57.35, just behind world champion Lenny Krayzelburg of the U.S.
(1:56.76) and just ahead of Matthew Walsh of Australia (1:57.59).
"It was a solid race for me," Peirsol said. "After the time trials and
the traveling and all that was going on, I wasn't in tip-top shape going
into the race. But overall, I was very happy with how things turned out."
Peirsol is home now after his Olympic adventure and despite the
non-stop phone calls and mountains of new USA clothing, it's the family's
goal to try to return to a somewhat normal life. Similar to what it was
when he was "just" a three-time CIF Southern Section Division I champion
for the Sailors.
"Nothing's changed," Peirsol said. "My family has been great at trying
to keep things as normal as possible. Now that I'm back home, with
home-cooked meals and I'm back in my old bed, everything is pretty much
Perhaps the same in terms of normal life, but has the Olympic
experience changed Peirsol?
"It's changed me, but it's hard to describe how it's changed me," he
said. "I think I've matured a little bit during all of this. I was away
from the family for over six weeks straight. I learned a little bit about
Being a member of the U.S. Olympic Team was a great thrill for
Peirsol, but it wasn't all fun and games.
"There were a ton of rules and regulations to follow," Peirsol said.
"There was a strict curfew before our meet and we even had a curfew after
our meet. I guess with a lot of younger athletes, they had to be strict."
Peirsol did get to go out and see some of the events, but for the most
part, kept to the business at hand before his competition.
"Before my event, I would practice for a while, then watch other
events on television as they were happening, which was pretty cool. After
my race, I went to some track and field events and did some city
sightseeing with my family."
During the Opening Ceremonies, Peirsol got to experience first-hand
one of the best openings any Olympics has ever seen. But even in all the
hoopla, he managed to strategically place himself in a camera-friendly
position among the horde of American participants.
"The swimmers made sure we were near the men's basketball players,"
Peirsol said with a laugh. "We also made sure we were in front of them so
we could see everything that was going on."
On the podium to receive his silver medal and hearing the National
Anthem played was not only a memorable moment, but also fuel for
motivation for the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.
"It was great hearing our anthem played while I was up there with
Lenny, but I was thinking about how great it would be to win the gold and
have them play that anthem for me."
Which brings us back to the two-time gold-medal winner in Sydney.
Krayzelburg, 24, has announced his plans to compete at the Athens Games.
"I think that's a good thing, not only for me, but for swimming as a
whole," Peirsol said. "He's a heck of a swimmer and I think his best
times are still ahead of him. It'll be nice to have someone I can compete
with for the next four years."
It was only two years ago that the thought of Peirsol competing in
these Olympics was a possibility. Now just 1,400-plus days away from
Athens, 2004, the backstroke standout will have not only an extra two
years of intense training, but will also have Father Time in his corner
helping him grow and mature.
"There's a lot of stuff I'll be doing before the next Olympics, but
they'll get here before you know it," Peirsol said. "I'll talk to my
coaches and see if I'll be hitting more weights in addition to my
swimming as I get older, but right now, it will be pretty much the same
as I've been doing."
Peirsol will be honored at the Sailors' football homecoming pep rally
Oct. 18 at 9:30 a.m. as well as the homecoming game on Oct. 19."The whole
Olympic experience was great," Peirsol said. "My family and I got to
check out the Sydney Harbor and the Opera House and the Bridge. It was
something I definitely will never forget."
For Peirsol's dad, Tim, this entire Olympic experience is still just a
two-week blur that is slowing coming into proper focus.
"I don't think I've fully comprehended what we've just gone through,"
Tim said. "I'm sure with the parties and engagements that Aaron will be
attending, it will help us realize the magnitude of what he's done. We
should be more amazed, but we live with this kid, so we're around it all
Upon Aaron's return home on Friday, it's been a nonstop deluge of
"We've had to start screening calls just to keep control," Tim said.
"When Aaron got back, it got really crazy. I hope people understand that
we're not trying to be mean or anything. Mainly it's been well-wishers
and relatives congratulating Aaron. I'm sure it will eventually die down
and life will get back to normal."
Living with a host family just outside of Sydney, Aaron's family saw
some of the sights, but for the most part just tried to soak up the
Aussie area through relaxation.
"We're not the greatest sightseers by nature," Tim said. "We'd do some
running and swimming around the area. We got to see the Opera House and
the Sydney Harbor area, which was beautiful, especially at night."
Sometimes for Tim, lack of knowledge was a good thing, especially when
"I'd be running through this bush area near our house and I'd get
lost," he said with a laugh. "Once I figured out how to get back, the
family I was with said, 'Do you realize that there are poisonous snakes
and spiders out where you were running?' That grabbed my attention."
One of the nice amenities that come with being a family member of an
Olympian came at the numerous AT&T; Centres located throughout Sydney.
"From noon to night, they would feed you as much as you wanted and
pretty much whatever you wanted," Tim said. "They had monster prawns on
the barbecue, if you wanted a latte, they would make one for you. We
pretty much lived there for the first few days."
The Peirsol clan did manage to capture some moments of their trip on
videotape. Just don't ask to see any still shots of the vacation.
"We thought we packed the camera, but we couldn't find it anywhere,"
Tim said. "Finally, when we got home, Wella found it at the bottom of one
of our bags. I did buy a disposable camera for the race, but we were so
far away I had to take shots of the Jumbotron screen. I'm sure those will
be just dots on the film."
Tim wanted to once again thank the many people that helped make this
"People like Michele Mullen, Claire Belden, Lauren Johnson and the
folks at the American Legion Hall, among others, have been just
wonderful," he said. "They have no idea how much we truly appreciate
everything everyone has done for us."
For Aaron's mom, Wella, the trip to Australia was way less stressful
than the trip to Indianapolis for the time trials.
"The Olympics was way easier," she said. "The time trials was like
delivering a baby. I think I held it together pretty well in Sydney."
Wella was especially proud of how well Aaron has handled everything
that has been going on the past two months.
"He's still the same kid," she said. "This morning, the most important
thing to him was his chocolate-chip pancakes and his 'Dragonball Z'
cartoons. During all of this, he had such a strong faith in himself, that
strong faith rubbed off on us."
So where does Aaron get such a strong belief in himself?
"He just loves what he does," she said. "He believes he's the best
backstroke standout in the world and he just hasn't put it all together
A strong belief and confidence is overshadowed by his humility,
according to Wella.
"When he got off the plane at LAX with some of the other local
athletes, Aaron was the only one that didn't have his medal around his
neck," Wella said. "He's not in this for the medals. If you went into his
room, you wouldn't even know he was a swimmer. He's got dozens and dozens
of medals, but they're not out on display."
One big thing that Wella and the rest of the family was amazed with
was the amount of knowledge that the Australians had about Aaron.
"We were swimming at Sutherland Pool one morning and some little
Aussie kids saw Tim wearing one of Aaron's USA sweatshirts and they asked
if we were from the States," Wella said. "We said we were and they asked
us if we were here for the Olympics and we said yes. When they asked us
which sport we were following and we said swimming, they got all
big-eyed. They asked what event and we told the the 200 back. They said,
'You know the big-haired, surfer kid, Aaron Peirsol?' We're 10,000 miles
away from home and they knew everything about him. I don't know why they
think he's a surfer kid. Must be the hair."
For Aaron's sister, Hayley, seeing her brother reach such heights in
the swimming world has given her serious motivation for a trip to Greece
in four years.
"Seeing everything he's done has really gotten me motivated to make
the Olympic team in 2004," the Sailors' sophomore distance swimmer said.
"It was great to see Aaron do so well. I am very proud of him."
Hayley was the executive producer, director and film crew of the
family vacation footage, which helped to make up for the missing photo
"Tim did it the first day, but I did it the rest of the way," Hayley
said. "When Aaron was racing, I tried to get that on camera, but my hands
were shaking so much, it was hard to keep still. I had trouble figuring
out how to stop the camera, so there are shots of my shoes and the sky,
but overall, it's not bad."
But, like Aaron, the dream vacation is over and reality has set in. "I
have so much homework to do," she said, glumly. "I tried to do my Spanish
homework on the trip, but I still have the rest of it to do. I got off
the plane and I thought to myself, 'Oh no, back to reality,' "
It could be worse. Just ask Aaron.
"He's got twice as much as I do," Hayley said, happily.