All Christophe’s hard work is coming together and every group, having rehearsed their routines separately are now making use of every moment to do extra. I discover that I’m not hearing the beat of the music very well and am getting ahead. Then there are last minute discrepancies which have to be altered to go with the majority. Some of the cues are linked to the lyrics, but I haven’t noticed any lyrics in our piece of music. Admittedly I’ve given up on pop lyrics over the last ten years, considering them unintelligible. It turns out that what I hear as ’ee oww’ is actually ‘in out’. Perhaps time to book an audiology appointment. I’ve bought a bottle of Bordeaux for the picnic and get some useful help drinking it from Oliver. Some are going on to another party or event, but I’m heading to my local café for late night glacé. The parties here start at 11.30 pm and end around 5-6 am – not really compatible with where I’m at, these days.
Thursday continues with team success and I have a very good 100 metres freestyle, stretching out more, engaging my core and kicking regularly – I hope. It’s a good time and Sarah, who is watching the live results on her phone say’s I’ve got a Gold. The event is not even over yet and there will be more in my age group to race. It’s difficult to get medals in the 100 Freestyle, but five Americans drop out of the event and I end up with a sliver – 13 seconds behind the winner. It’s been an amazing result for me – three medals and three PB’s.
It’s the last day of the swimming and I’m leaving the long-distance heroes to slog it out in the 1500m as I’ve booked a ten am slot to see the interactive Gustav Klimt exhibition at Atelier des Lumières. I’m early and having over an hour to kill, find a healthy-looking breakfast place overlooking a small garden square. I sit just outside, shaded from the morning sun and enjoy and egg with spinach on toast with coffee while the world in this deserted part of the city trickles by. I’m shocked, but not surprised by the numbers of homeless and derelict human beings, many clearly display mental health symptoms, around the city. It seems that every metro station has its regulars, sleeping, begging – mostly men.
The Atelier des Lumières has opened its doors and the early birds wait until two queues are organised – those with and those without tickets. I enter a cavernous space with some seating. There’s a projected notice on the walls and remains of some industrial fittings, which announces that the show will commence in a few minutes. We are clearly waiting for the space to fill up, and it does, but not too much as when the projections begin they cover every part of the place, walls floor and ceiling. Even the audience is part of the surface. Klimt is most famous for his gold period but we begin with neo classical work and move through his wide-ranging styles. This is the most exciting exhibition I’ve ever encountered and it helps that I’ve seen some of the work in galleries around the world, particularly when the purists ask – ‘but have you seen the originals?’ Questions like ‘Would Klimt have approved?’ are irrelevant. He’s not here to comment and I’ve been emotionally engaged. That’s my criteria for art. The thirty-minute presentation of moving Klimt images is followed by two short pieces featuring Hundert Wasser and something called Poetic_AI a stunning digital experience. Music accompanies the exhibition, cleverly heightening the emotional engagement.
I’m tempted to stay on and watch it again, but I’ve got a Pink flamingo Rehearsal to attend.
We’ve been called for 12 noon in the park next to the swimming pool. Some of the guys wear their costumes as quick changes have to be rehearsed and last minute brushing up of routines achieved. Red and pink balloons have to be attached to a giant mouth and lips for the finale.
They can then be carried to the pool and stored for later. We’ve been promised a twenty-minute rehearsal slot in the pool, but everything is running late and after a demonstration by the winning Syncro team there are two Water Polo finals to be played.
We manage to get about eight minutes in between games. It’s all chaotic, but we get acquainted with our small storage room to the side, where we will enter, exit and get changed. All we can do is wait and get into our costumes.
The theme of the Pink Flamingo this year is ‘The French Kiss’ and we are act number five. Team New York Aquatics are after us – they are next year’s IGLA hosts and the current hosts, Paris Aquatique are last. There’s quite a lot of simulated sex in the various acts and weird sea-monsters. Sydney Wet Ones have Marie Antoinette losing her head and many clubs have impressive syncro teams doing amazing things.
It’s our turn and the sound system is a bit rubbish so our opening number begins slightly out of time but we recover. We are the only act with an actual script. It’s a pre-recorded presentation with mimed action, explaining the French Kiss interpolated with choreographed dance. Christophe has to take over the syncro slot at the last moment as Steph has to catch a train. Miraculously we manage to spread ourselves over the dance area and the raised paddling pool area. It’s a huge space to fill and connect with the audience.
There is a long pause before Paris Aquatique’s act, as the judges have to decide the winners as they, being the hosts are not eligible to win. They also won last year in Miami. When they do come on, it’s fantastic and goes on for much longer that the five minutes the rest of the clubs were allocated.
As the results are announced, the tension mounts. There’s a prize for the best technical performance (beheading of Marie Antoinette) then the best costumes. Tel Aviv win the consolation prize then to our utter joy, London is announced the winner. There is a roar from our team and I overhear Stephen Lue quietly say ‘Thank fuck for that.’ We all pour out of the stand down onto poolside to collect the model Pink Flamingo. Most of the Out to Swim team dive into the pool and swim to the other end for a final photograph.
I’m exhausted and it’s time to calm down and relax for the evening. The youngsters will probably go off to the party at 11.30pm – 5.00am. It’s too late for me and I have a train to catch in the morning. At Gar du Nord, there’s a sign directing European passport holders around a pillar into the Business Class lane. There is no queue at baggage security scanning; automatic passport recognition gates allow me to leave France and another set of gates let me into the UK. I don’t think that will happen next year after we’ve left the European Union.
Back in London, there’s a facebook frenzy of photo sharing. When news comes out that Out to Swim is the top swimming club in the Gay Games, getting twice as many points as second place Washington DC AC, the facebook posts erupt. We took 79 swimmers to the games and everyone who competed earned points. There are lots of people to thank, coaches, organisers and just everyone for participating.
We are all so proud of our International LGBT club. We have swimmers from all over the world, from every continent, reflecting London as it is now. I hope this will continue through the years ahead. Who knows what will happen?
Tuesday. I’ve stocked up on croissants, salami, camembert, bananas and other fruit so I can have a 6 am breakfast in my hotel room. There’s tea bags and a kettle and I’ve got my cereal bars and also fresh milk. Entry to the Swimming pool is at 7.30, so it’s my first opportunity to warm up in the competition pool. Amazingly the legs are still holding out although I think they may be in shock, having had a week off kicking two weeks before the games. What I do have to remember for the 200 metre Backstroke is that it’s eight lengths of this pool.
I’ve been known to mis-count and get disqualified. My other worry is that the ending in this pool feels different and I decide to take a quick peek as I approach the wall. It all seems to go well, particularly with the new pre-race breathing to stock up on oxygen. The competition is tough and I manage fourth place again but also another personal best. Coach is not so happy though – worried that my look over the shoulder might be interpreted by the referee as being on my side – leading to disqualification. The other thing is that my knees bent and came out of the water. It’s interesting the difference between what you think you are doing and what is actually happening. There’s something called kinaesthetic awareness – the position of the body in relation to one’s surroundings. It’s important in dance and if you are ever walking backwards in a crowd. I’ve been working on my straight legs in training and when I do a second warm-up before our medley relay I check that they are straight – they seem to be. We’ve got a relay team adding up to 240+ years and I’m starting off with the 100 m Backstroke – concentrating on straight legs. I can feel them wanting to bend in the heat of racing – reverting to old habits and I have to force them to behave. My 100 Backstroke is one second slower than Sunday, but I have swum quite a lot already today and it’s enough for us to get a silver medal in our age-group.
It’s been a wonderful morning watching so many of our team do 200 Fly, 50 freestyle and 50 Breaststroke and getting medals. I reward myself with a beer and lunch at the bistro by the local Metro.
Wednesday. I have enough victuals for a repeat early breakfast as it’s the 800 metres freestyle which is first up in the schedule. We’re racing two to a lane – two in the time of one. I’ve done this before in New Zealand, setting off at the same time and I’m not thrilled about the idea. This time, we are set off at different times so that we hopefully touch the electronic pads alternately. This turns out to be OK and I’m able to keep an eye out for the guy in the next lane who is around my time.
It’s a while since I did 800 in a twenty-five-metre pool so it’s great that one of our team mates (Paul) has volunteered to operate the counter and cheer me on at each turn. It’s a much-improved time and another personal best. I’m fourth again and grrrr – only three seconds away from a bronze medal. Nothing is ever perfect and my notes from Coach tell me that my kick was sporadic and hence my bum too low in the water. I can also extend my reach further to push more water back to the other end of the pool. There’s always room for improvement and at this age, getting the technique right is the only way to get faster, or at least hold ground. I think that unless you are in an Olympic Squad, the only way to train for some of the longer distances is by competing often.
For the 4 x 100 freestyle and 4 x 50 medley relays, we drop down an age-group to 200+ years. In this bracket the competition is fierce and we manage 9th and 6th respectively. Team Captain, Andy Benson’s clever pairing up means lots of medals in the relays. The drama is intense in the 120-year men’s 4 x 50 relays and our teams are spectacular with some lightening-fast tumble turns. Our mixed medley 120+ team are just fantastic and take not only the gold but an IGLA record.
I have time to snooze before buying picnic stuff and making my way to Parc Buttes Chaumont. We’re having a Pink Flamingo rehearsal followed by a picnic.
Saturday, the day, the opening day of the Gay Games, my first ever. It’s full of queues and standing around. I’m wearing my Out for Sport Team LGBT top so I can greet and be greeted by fellow sports people. St Pancras is a constant throng of travellers and as I have fifteen minutes before my train lane is opened, there’s time for a coffee and Pain aux Raisin. When I do join the queue, it’s stretched way down the shopping concourse. I narrowly head off a large tour party who is approaching from the other direction to join said queue. A woman wearing my Out for Sport top is looking for the end of the queue. She’s pushing a large suitcase with a hockey stick protruding. Our eyes lock in recognition and even though we’ve never met, greet each other like long lost friends so she can join me in the queue. Maria plays for the London Royals Hockey Team. Amazingly the queue moves quickly and we are seen through the barriers, security, where our bags are scanned and passports checked – automatically. Michael and Jay (both not competing due to injury) join us. Others from Out to Swim hove into view and we find ourselves in the same carriage and others not far away. The Out to Swim women behind me have packed a healthy- looking brunch with Prosecco. Our amazing coordinator, Christophe and team are at Gare du Nord to hand out our accreditation packs which they have collected for the team.
I’ve got time to check into my Hotel and sort myself out, have some lunch at the Café over the road, before making my way to the Opening Ceremony at the Stade Jean Bouin. There are handy signs outside the Metro directing us to the Stade and there are other athletes heading in the same direction. I arrive at the suggested time of 5pm. It’s stinking hot and not spotting anyone else I know, take up a position in the shade and unfurl the Out to Swim flag, which I’ve volunteered to transport. It acts as a beacon and gradually team members gather. It’s a long hot wait with nowhere to sit but on the ground. An MC gets everyone involved by identifying countries, encouraging cheering and the like.
Various countries are summoned up onto a small make-shift stage and it’s interesting to note that China is invited up before Taiwan. China has apparently objected that Taiwan are controversially using their flag, so going first reduces the likelihood of a protest. Hong Kong (the next Gay Games host) is also represented separately. There’s a group of Australians quite near us and when their call comes to come to the stage, they just stand there talking. Only a handful of Aussies make it to the stage.
When it’s Great Britain’s time to mount the stage, there’s a general barging past, interrupting conversations and someone trying to photograph Thai drag queens. Two hours and a disgusting burger and chips later, it’s time to line up in alphabetical order of country, to enter the stadium. Étais Unis are caught unawares by their move up the alphabet. Furthermore, they are supposed to be parading in alphabetical order of States. The announcer is constantly telling countries to ‘go to the Access area’ but from where we are, there are no clues as to where this might be. People from Alaska can be seen dawdling in the wrong direction. Eventually the MC gives up calling out US states and just pleads for anyone from the US to just go to the access area. This area turns out to be a tallish flag just out of view to the side.
At around 8.30pm – three and a half hours later, we enter the queue (some of the team are exhausted and have gone home to rest for the races tomorrow) and it’s a relief to be walking, even if it is only around the back of the Stade. We enter waving our Team GB white balloons which Vicki has organised. We zig-zag over the rugby pitch on a white plastic path which protects the grass. There’s a lot of noise and announcements in French which I don’t understand, and then we exit, not far from where we’ve been waiting to enter into the seating area. The French are, as host nation, the last to process and they seem to go on forever. In the meanwhile, our British balloons have escaped, some onto the pitch and several get trapped by a portable fan.
Like harmless bombs, they sneak around the place and one even makes it into the French procession. While we wait for everyone to enter, attempts at Mexican waves are tried with varying degrees of success. The entertainment begins with an impressive gymnastic display of cheer-leading, except it’s on the other side of the stadium and played to the spectators/supporters. The next act, a singer with dancers plays to the competitors, but it’s all too small for this vast arena even though it is relayed on screens. When a French comedian comes on and wonders why no one can understand him, so he starts again in English – It’s quite a good joke, but too small for this place – it’s time to leave, have beer and Glacé at a café near the hotel before retiring to rest my legs for tomorrow. It’s a big ask to fill a stadium this size with entertainment other than Rugby.
Sunday. It’s the usual dilemma, when to eat and does the hotel do breakfast early enough? Fortunately, my only race today is early in the afternoon, so I opt for the full breakfast at 7.00, hitting on the idea to prepare a small filled baguette with salami, camembert, cucumber and a lettuce leaf to eat later. I arrive at the pool hours too early and decide to test out the water by doing a pre-warm up. Everything (in the body) seems to be working as it should except that the roof of Piscine Georges Vallerey is open and the sun is streaming in. Recalling the navigation problems in the Mallorca out-door pool, not to mention the blinding sun, I ask if the roof can be closed for the backstroke. No, it can’t, because it’s made of corrugated iron and heats up. I then get a lecture from the official about how they held international meets here and how to count stokes from the flags and look at the lane ropes. ‘Yes, I know all that.’
I reply tartly. So, no luck there. There’s an afternoon warm-up session and it takes me a while to break through the wall and get going again. I’ve got my eye on the sun on Lane 4 now and it all seems manageable. Suddenly I discover I’ve been moved up a heat and to lane 1 – not my favourite. On poolside there is an announcement that backstroke starting bars are available. Suddenly everyone is asking me about them. I explain that they prevent slipping on the wall of the pool, but because they stick out a few millimetres, the toes must be above the bar touching the electronic pads. Guys look dubious, so I say ‘If you are not comfortable, don’t use them,’ and they cheer up. For the first time, I remember to stock up on oxygen by breathing deeply several times before the start and have the most comfortable and enjoyable 100 M Backstroke for a long time with a 4th place. I knew the Americans were fast (1st place 20 seconds faster than me) and so are the Canadians.
Out to Swim seem to be collecting loads of medals, particularly our women. At the end of day one I’ve already lost count of our team medal count. It’s been a long full day, cheering everyone on – time for beer and dinner at a café near the hotel.
Monday is another late start for me and again, only one race. Looking at the preliminary sheets there are three guys ahead of me entering forty-five seconds. Over a year ago I entered forty-six, so I have to swim faster than at least one of them to get a bronze. It’s time to focus and this time I don’t arrive too early and spend thirty minutes carefully warming up with backstroke kick and drills included. I try a fifty backstroke, but this is not a good idea as there as there are no backstroke flags in the warm-up pool. I whack my arm on the end of the pool – ow! Fortunately, no serious damage is done so I end up with a few HVO’s to get the blood flowing. High Velocity Overdrives involve a fast push-off and max effort for about six strokes followed by easy to the end of the pool. Back in the stands, a few distractions cause minor panic as I’ve got to change into my Arena Skins for the race.
As they are literally skin tight – this can take a few minutes and I need to sit down in a cubicle and roll them up my legs to start with. All goes well and I’m below the forty-five seconds entered by the guys in the next heat. Amazingly, in a field of Americans three of the guys don’t swim that fast and two haven’t turned up so I get the gold medal – fantastic and unexpected, with a personal best thrown in.
I’m dining Chéz Robert Jolly and his partner Gerrard near Port D’Italie this evening. Robert sort of belongs to Paris Aquatique, but is swimming for Australia – his home country this week. He turns up at a lot of the international meets as well as the British ones. He’s invited a couple from West Hollywood aquatics to make up five for dinner. We are all in the older age-groups, so there’s stuff to talk about. The Californians have quite a few ‘interesting’ things to say about their current president. Gerrard is a charming host and Robert has done us five magnificent courses. We can’t stay too late as we are all swimming in the morning and I have a very early start.
It’s the day before the day before and I’m supposed to be race-fit and ready to swim fast. We’ve been tapering for some weeks now which apparently means swimming hard, swimming relaxed and getting quite a bit of rest. Hmm – last night’s session was tough and my glutes are feeling it today. That’s because I’ve been off kicking for a week – using a pull buoy – to get over a last-minute hamstring injury. The old legs got a bit of a shock.
I’ve just qualified as a Swimming Teacher’s assistant and am full of the theory and mechanics of swimming. Coach got us to do big arms – no polite ‘ladies’ swimming – to move that water out of the way. Then there were endless lengths with full lungs for buoyancy – no breathing. Finally, the instruction was ‘no splashing’ – it increases drag. I like no splashing. Apparently, we looked much better by the end of the session, but will we be fast enough to beat the Americans in Paris?
Once a month we all converge from our various pools to a semi-outdoor food hall and I thought a Mixed grill had been earnt – protein replacement as a reward. I got talking to one of the guys from Lessons who is having difficulty breathing out and wanted to know if going to the gym would help his fitness. I’m a great believer in breathing out – seriously – but have no experience of gong to the gym so I could only help on the first count. I got home late to find the heat sheets for the games had arrived and spent hours on my phone scrolling through hundreds of pages of heats to find my events and to sus out the competition. Yep, the Americans are coming and it’s going to be tough. One ray of hope is that I entered over a year ago and some of my times are better than then.
There’s been a lot of hype around the games from within the club and endless newsletters from the Federation of Gay Games. Then there’s been offers of things to do in Paris: shopping, sightseeing and social activities. It will all take a week – longer than any other swim meet I’ve been to. Inevitably with such a large organisation, things go wrong and the policy of feeding out information gradually over the months has upset travel bookings, accommodation and created logistical nightmares on how to get from a, to b. to c. in time. Somehow it should all come together on Saturday evening for the Opening Ceremony. At the end of the day, it’s just another LGBT sports meet and I’ve done a few around the world in the last seven years.
The Day Before
My first priority is a last-minute check-up with Robbie, my magician, Sports Masseur and Osteopath. He manages to keep this now Sixty-seven-year-old body in shape and he did miraculous work on my hamstring earlier in the week. I always feel on a high afterwards, so it’s a slow relaxed ride to Sainsburys to stock up on cereal bars. It’s too hot to do anything much but lie on the settee – resting – snoozing – reading, having lunch followed by more of the above. Boring really. I’m up-to-date with home improvements and anyway, DIY doesn’t agree with my swimming muscles. A few weeks ago, I complained about it to my friend Ros. ‘You’re more of a racehorse than a donkey, aren’t you?’ she said. Looking at the start sheets now, I don’t feel much like a racehorse. The times submitted by the American swimmers make me realise that I’m heading for a world class Masters competition.
Then there’s the Pink Flamingo. We’ve been rehearsing our five – minute routine of entertainment on the theme of The French Kiss. I’ve unexpectedly found myself in the opening dance routine – something I haven’t done in over twenty-five years. Fortunately, the dance is only fifty to sixty seconds long and I don’t have to do any double pirouettes. We’ve been rehearsing in car parks and public gardens around London, to the entertainment of passers-by.
Tonight, is the last opportunity to train before racing in Paris and it’s a relief to get of the settee and move the body. The session is quite busy but the coach is kind today so that those of us going to Paris don’t swim hard all the time. At the end of an hour (the session is ninety minutes) we have to swim down and get out, she doesn’t want us over doing it. Those not going to Paris get to swim hard for another half hour.