Last week I experienced a rather surreal moment while reporting at the USA Swimming National Championships.
I saw Aaron Peirsol for the first time since 2004, all grown up.
Yes it was bizarre that he ended the meet without a gold medal, but it was also a bit strange to see him again. He's now 27. I first met him when he was 17. I wouldn't say we have a friendship, but it is a friendly working relationship.
It was great to catch up with him. But this column isn't really about my encounter with Peirsol, who starred at Newport Harbor High. It's more about how he finished runner-up in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 back, this guy most people call, "the backstroke king."
And so I asked him, "When was the last time you ended a meet without a win?"
He looked me straight in the eye and replied, "It's not something I'm too personally hung up on considering what's coming up in two weeks. I was close in the 100. Overall it was a fun meet."
And then it hit me. As competitive as Peirsol is, winning really wasn't the end-all last week at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center. He just wanted to qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships, the five-day meet that starts Wednesday back at Woollett.
A part of me believes he is saving his best stuff for this meet. How cool would it be to break his own world records in the 100 and 200 back in the pool where he trained as a kid? I believe that's what he's thinking. I believe we haven't seen Peirsol's best stuff just yet.
Or you can believe this is the end of a grand career for a hall-of-fame swimmer. He's 27, about the same age when Lenny Krayzelburg started to wind down and give way to Peirsol.
But then again, Peirsol is the same guy who brushed away Michael Phelps, letting him know the backstroke still belongs to him.
Now Ryan Lochte appears to be taking over.
But we'll see what takes place next week.
Phelps knows Peirsol can still bring it.
"Throughout the many years that I've known him, he's a competitor," Phelps said. "He's one of the best competitors at the end of a race that I've ever seen. When there's a finish or in the last 15 meters of a race he's there every time."
Don't doubt Peirsol. Just last year, he broke the world record in the 200 back, when he touched in 1 minute 51.92 seconds to win gold at the world championships.
I believe Peirsol will be ready next week. I wouldn't be surprised if he broke his own world records.
"Last summer at this time, I was feeling good," Peirsol said. "I'm going to try to find that again in two weeks. I know what I'm capable of."
News of the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals Tour's 2010 season ending hit some local players hard on Friday. Hans Stolfus, a Newport Coast resident, wrote a detailed account of his feelings and the state of the game. You can see his take at avp.com, on a link called, "End of Days."
Stolfus' column is called, "AVP signing off."
"Will the AVP rise once again, with new sponsors and financial backing?," Stolfus writes. "No one can be certain, but I can try to give you a really good idea what the landscape is going to look like in 2011. The AVP's best athletes will no longer regularly compete on American soil."
Later in the column, Stolfus writes, "Without the AVP, our sport is on the verge of dying. Not just the beach version, but the entire version."
Jake Gibb, a Costa Mesa resident, also wrote about his feelings upon hearing the news about the AVP season being cut short.
"The AVP has provided more excitement and joy to me and my family than I could have ever expected. It has become addicting for my parents to follow the results online and live at the events. The thought of it not being around just doesn't seem right. It has been the direct reason why the USA has won 4 gold medals in the Olympics. It's where the dead average (in my case) learns to become the elite in the world. Damn, I don't know what to say. Just writing this makes me bummed."