By Dennis Manrique
FINA WORLD MASTERS SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIP
I knew I was in for an adventure as soon as I boarded the
plane at Metro
with a group of Jehovah's Witnesses returning to Trinidad from a world
conference in Detroit. The island accents and discussions that went on
added to the anticipation of what was to come.
At the JFK boarding area for Air Maroc it was obvious that
were gathering. Many of the people showing up had that conditioned look
and were wearing previous competition T-shirts. Over the next couple of
weeks, I got to know and become friends with many of these people from
all over the US including Alaska and Puerto Rico and came home with a
different wardrobe because of the traditional T-shirt bartering.
The Air Morac was the "Red Eye Express" and by midmorning we
customs (without my luggage which I had to make do without for the next
two days) and got on the tour bus provided by the Pointe Vedra tour
We soon had a taste of the environment. A policeman was posted by the
to deter the guys out to hustle us. We were tired and easy targets. I
couldn't tell if this was the Casablanca tour bus or the end of the
bus run going into the East Dearborn Rouge Plant past Patton on Vernor
Highway - mosques, caftans and all. I also kept waiting for Dave
Sahagian to pop out from around the bus at any moment with a towel
around his head.
They gave us an introductory tour of Casablanca, but
actually they were
stalling until the Hyatt Regency Hotel had our rooms ready. About half
of us saw it; the other half were too exhausted to lift their heads.
tour guide stressed that this was a "modern" city and made sure to
out the McDonalds. The donkey carts told us otherwise.
The Hyatt was great. We were welcomed with the traditional
and the hotel had a 20-meter pool that we could use for warm-up instead
of doing the salmon run at the competition warm-up pool. After settling
into some elegant rooms (the bathrooms even had some pretty classy
drinking fountains right across from the toilets!), we headed over to
pool to register and check out the competition pool. The buses provided
by Pointe Vedra were pretty nice and we shared them with the Brazilian
team coming from the other hotels. The buses were tall enough that they
allowed you to be a spectator to the mayhem of Casablanca traffic,
a free-for-all, where traffic signals were merely a suggestion and
meant everything. Mopeds and "Petite Taxis" darted around the bus and
the bumpers. The times I took the taxis, I put my fate into the hands
My roommate was Jim Edwards, a 76-year-old retired lawyer
Rhode Island. He had been on the Masters circuit for quite awhile and
a real inspiration. He took silvers in the 800 free and the 5k Open
The thing I remember most of Jim was waking up and seeing
down for his events and then putting on his full lycra competition
The man was here to swim and he was serious! In talking to him after
to Detroit and mentioning the qualities of a woman I was dating, he let
me finish and then said "Yeah, but what can she go for a hundred!"
The Moroccans we met were really nice I guess because I
a few greetings of Arabic at times. With the tan I was getting, I was
to be mistaken for Moroccan, except one time when a shopkeeper told me
and after correcting him of my origin that I looked like Charles
- what a "Death Wish!"
Arriving at the pool the first day, trying to register was
A big crowd of hot tired people shouting in all languages was pushing
a desk manned by 3 people. With no system in place, the staff would
through stacks of pool passes and slowly find one at a time. There was
a catch 22 routine going on as well at the counter. Something like this:
Eventually I found someone who had registered and went
through his program
to find my ID number. The problem was that they had not validated my
fees so I had to wait still longer to get my ID card made up after they
The competition facilities had an 8-lane indoor 50-meter
pool with a
separate diving well with a 5- and 10-meter tower, two 3-meter boards
two 1-meter boards. Nice, but nothing like Brennan - the water was in
70's ... except for the locker rooms. They were all concrete and
As I walked down there to change, I was overcome with a familiar odor
what I recognized immediately as Coal Tar, a solution that Picard and I
had used to swab down the locker rooms as Swim Aides at Rouge to kill
pesky roaches. And sure enough I saw these huge mamas the likes of
I hadn't seen since McNairy and I used to towel pop them at the St.
Recreation Center meets! Between them and the flashbacks of the Baker
I felt that life had definitely prepared me for this event. One key
I also found out, due to local customs, was BYOTP - Bring your own
paper. I also got side glances since I was left-handed. Another local
is using the right hand for eating, shaking hands and other important
The left hand is for personal hygiene. So when we went to eat, I was
a wide berth.
Mixing with the other swimmers, past swimming sagas arose
and places brought back many memories, such as when I was talking to a
former Stanford water polo player who had swum with Murray Rose and
Bittick or when Steve Clark showed up at the resident hotel pub and
I chatted with an Argentine swimmer who was a goalie on their National
Water Polo Team while waiting for my next event.
I found out how connected I was with these swimmers when I
Rogacki of New England Masters if he had ever swum in Michigan. He told
me he remembered being at a pool with a platform over it and having his
buddy take a picture of him behind a beautiful former Olympic swimmer.
Turns out that it was Brennen and the swimmer was Cindy Goyette. It was
more than likely the Water Wonderland Meet.
I got a chance to have breakfast with Nancy Ridout,
President of the
US Swimming Masters Association. It turns out that she was originally
Toledo and swam for the Glass City YMCA, where I had swum my first out
of state meet when I was eleven years old. When I told her I swam for
she remembered playing water polo against our girls at the nationals in
Arlington, Virginia. She played for the Ann Arbor Swim Club for which
diver Mickie King played goalie (actually, this was Mickie's first
recognition in a string of many to come in diving).
Nancy specifically remembered how dirty our girls played and
the "drawback leg gouge" perfected by Linda Foster for whom I still
for permanent scars gotten in one of our infamous Sunday morning coed
I met another swimmer from Puerto Rico, Tony Andrua. When I
if he knew Harry, he said "Harry Hauck, he's my coach and I played polo
with his son!" I couldn't resist giving him the ultimate test, so I
him, "Tony, what was the worse thing that that Harry could say to you?"
Without batting an eye he shot back in heavily accented English, "Dawn
bee a phooney!" Even through that heavy accent it was confirmed that he
had passed the test. Had he rode in a car while Harry smoked a cigar?
with the windows down. Harry must be getting soft in his golden years.
The heats ran fairly smooth except for some swimmers who
were left off
the sheets. No problem since they were put in something Dan Rogacki,
England Masters, coined "donkey heats." These were heats added to the
of the event to ensure that they swam. They also accommodated local
who wanted to try a hand in world competition. This was sometimes
to watch as some ringer would be seeded next to a local who hadn't swum
in years, if at all. Things did settle down and became more systematic
later in the meet. What a thrill to be in the presence of former world
guns who now swim masters. There were a multitude of former national
Probably my biggest thrill was to get in the water and throw
polo ball around with the Ukrainian team. I was able to get into the
and have them take shots on me. I had to be a little cautious since my
first event was the next day and I didn't want to break anything. I had
a chance to take some shots on their goalie as well. What a treat ...
for that old- timer who, with a very slow concise shot, was able to pop
the upper left hand corner on me at will . I didn't feel too bad after
I saw him do the same thing to his own goalie. With them, there was not
a word of English spoken except once when the old-timer forgot about
change-up and wailed one in and scored. He slowly swam over to his
and directly in his face uttered "Eets beeen a plezhur!"
Before leaving, I had kidded about trying to find Rick's
It turns out that the bar in the Hyatt Regency was the Casablanca Bar
Bogart motif and a piano player who would play "As Time Goes By" for
The World Cup soccer games were in full swing during the
meet. It was
a major deal and all the talk on the streets. Kids everywhere were
using everything from rocks to tennis shoes for makeshift goals. A
of us watched the US vs. Iran game in Rick's. Every time the US took a
shot we'd jump up and cheer. The Arabs on the other side of the bar
the Iranian goals. It seemed a little tense with all the hype, but at
end of the game we stood and applauded the Iranian team which by their
smiles seemed to be appreciated by their fans. There was a lot of
the night the Moroccan team won their game also. Throughout the streets
of Casablanca there were cars waving flags and honking horns.
The last event of the championships was the 5K open water
20 miles away from Casablanca in the Atlantic Ocean - it was
The race course was actually shortened to 4K because of choppy
Ten Moroccan musicians greeted the open water competitors on
with rhythmic percussion and cymbals routines. The beat intensified the
mood and there was little effort to psyching up.
Two large Arabian tents with carpets and pillows on the
beach and the
ever present portraits of the king and his two sons. One tent was for
four or five local dignitaries and the other one was for the 250
and their gear.
The Moroccan navy assisted by anchoring two large ocean tugs
the turn buoys to sight on. Once we swam out past the breakwater, the
made it hard to see the buoys so the tugs really helped. The water
was perfect, and contrary to the US State report which rated the ocean
at Casablanca unfit, I found it relatively clean (of course anything
be clean after training in the Detroit River in the early '60s!). I was
a little dubious after my swim cap displayed chunks of gunk on it after
the race and I didn't even want to guess what it was.
Although I entered the race as a personal vision quest and
of an ocean swim off the coast of Africa, just me and the elements, I
had flashbacks of the Huntington Mile and I was off to the races.
At the finish of the race, after you sprinted to the finish
were greeted by the same Moroccan musicians and waiters with silver
serving glasses of mint tea. Even though I was in the second wave that
left five minutes after the faster swimmers I managed to get fourth
in my age group, within a minute of first place. I was more than
with my first ocean swim results.
The awards banquet was a paradox of eloquence and confusion.
poolside Moroccan buffet was set amidst swimmers who over the last two
weeks had established a strong camaraderie ... Russians and Puerto
Mexicans and Germans, Brazilians and Americans. On the other hand, the
awards ceremony became a complete fiasco. Frustrations rose as delays
every age division. My name wasn't even included in the announcements
finally a German had to give up his award when it was later discovered
that they had me in a different age-group and I had beaten him.
As the ceremony closed, everyone was saying good-byes and
phone numbers and addresses as they were looking forward to the next
Championships in Munich, Germany, in the year 2000. If there was any
we could get a Patton Alumni Team together it would sure be worth the
Although I mentioned most of the details, I left out the
when I accidentally boarded the Georgian Water Polo Team bus, the walks
through the backstreets to the Grand Mosque at night, the Moroccan
Western Bar, and other side lights. But that's for another time.
In any case, I will never forget this experience as long as
CASABLANCA, MOROCCO June 19-30, 1998