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Gold in the Water: The True Story of Ordinary Men and Their Extraordinary Dream of Olympic Glory

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In California, a team of talented young men begin pursuing the most elusive dream in sports, the Olympic Games. The pressure steadily increases as two best friends (a mentor and his protégé) reach the top of the world rankings and unexpectedly find themselves direct competitors. Their teammates include an emerging star methodically plotting to retrace his father's path to In California, a team of talented young men begin pursuing the most elusive dream in sports, the Olympic Games. The pressure steadily increases as two best friends (a mentor and his protégé) reach the top of the world rankings and unexpectedly find themselves direct competitors. Their teammates include an emerging star methodically plotting to retrace his father's path to Olympic glory, as well as a super-extraordinary athlete desperate to walk away from it all. Led by one of the most passionate coaches in sports, a brilliant and explosive strategist on a personal quest for redemption, this team of dark horses and Olympic favorites works through escalating rivalries, joyous triumphs, and heartbreaking setbacks. Author P. H. Mullen chronicles their journey to the 2000 Olympic Games and presents one of the most powerful and moving sports books ever written. Boldly sweeping in literary power and pace, this startling book will permanently change how you view the Olympic athlete. It is a fascinating world of suspense and emotion where human desire for excellence rules over all, and where there are no second chances for glory. But above all, Gold in the Water is a triumph of the human spirit.


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In California, a team of talented young men begin pursuing the most elusive dream in sports, the Olympic Games. The pressure steadily increases as two best friends (a mentor and his protégé) reach the top of the world rankings and unexpectedly find themselves direct competitors. Their teammates include an emerging star methodically plotting to retrace his father's path to In California, a team of talented young men begin pursuing the most elusive dream in sports, the Olympic Games. The pressure steadily increases as two best friends (a mentor and his protégé) reach the top of the world rankings and unexpectedly find themselves direct competitors. Their teammates include an emerging star methodically plotting to retrace his father's path to Olympic glory, as well as a super-extraordinary athlete desperate to walk away from it all. Led by one of the most passionate coaches in sports, a brilliant and explosive strategist on a personal quest for redemption, this team of dark horses and Olympic favorites works through escalating rivalries, joyous triumphs, and heartbreaking setbacks. Author P. H. Mullen chronicles their journey to the 2000 Olympic Games and presents one of the most powerful and moving sports books ever written. Boldly sweeping in literary power and pace, this startling book will permanently change how you view the Olympic athlete. It is a fascinating world of suspense and emotion where human desire for excellence rules over all, and where there are no second chances for glory. But above all, Gold in the Water is a triumph of the human spirit.

30 review for Gold in the Water: The True Story of Ordinary Men and Their Extraordinary Dream of Olympic Glory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    I devoured this new-to-me nonfiction account of Olympic swimming hopefuls in two days and told my husband it was like THE BOYS IN THE BOAT for the swimming pool. Granted, it's a little odd to go back to a swim world before Michael Phelps' emergence (the book runs up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics), but the upside is I don't actually know who wins what, if anything, and I forbade myself Googling anyone until I was finished. Having grown up going to the library right by Santa Clara Swim Club, and havi I devoured this new-to-me nonfiction account of Olympic swimming hopefuls in two days and told my husband it was like THE BOYS IN THE BOAT for the swimming pool. Granted, it's a little odd to go back to a swim world before Michael Phelps' emergence (the book runs up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics), but the upside is I don't actually know who wins what, if anything, and I forbade myself Googling anyone until I was finished. Having grown up going to the library right by Santa Clara Swim Club, and having known kids who swam at SCSC, I never gave it a second thought. Now I want to go poke around on my next trip to the Bay Area and see what there is to see. Great read and highly recommended to fans of THE BOYS IN THE BOAT or ROME 1960, or just other swim fanatics.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gaby

    I loved this book not only because I can relate to most of the setbacks and limitations which the characters face, but also because the lessons they learn apply to life as well as to the sport of swimming. This story made me question my own definition of success and reinforced my belief that a process itself is more rewarding than its ultimate outcome. This is a fascinating and inspirational book for anyone to read, not just someone who is interested in swimming.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mahtoji

    Absolutely fabulous book about what kind of hard work, sacrifice and choices folks are having to make to achieve what they want to. Moreover this is a true life story of what actually happened in the journey of a few men and women training for the US olympics swimming team. Still reading it and enjoying. Most probably I will read this a few times over.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Giesen

    I'm a former college swimmer so I naturally was drawn to this book. This story of triumph and failure was written well and the story would be interested to those with and without experience in this sport. A story of following your dreams and the intense amount of work that goes into that. This is a great book. I'm a former college swimmer so I naturally was drawn to this book. This story of triumph and failure was written well and the story would be interested to those with and without experience in this sport. A story of following your dreams and the intense amount of work that goes into that. This is a great book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ann Xiang

    Sports writing at its best, this book on the powerful and emotional journey to the 2000 Olympics does not linger on the victories, instead it focuses on individual athletes struggles to reach his full potential, with which comes the inevitable injuries, lost chances, faltering resolve, breakdowns, but in the end the struggle itself was worth everything.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    The single best presentation of what swimming, or really any athletics, for that matter, means to those who pursue it to this degree.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    Emotional and thought provoking considering I can empathise with the swimmers and their commitment. A real gritty and real conclusion which is refreshing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This book was definitely interesting, but it seemed to just drag on and on. I feel like it could have been much shorter, which would have made it more exciting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    (view spoiler)[ "one of the most important things to do in life is at least once chase a dream with every ounce of power and conviction we can muster." (xiii) "To be a contented swimmer, one must learn that happiness cannot depend on the outcome of a race." (xiv) world's longest swim race, Argentina's fabled 89-km (55-mile) Hernandarias-Parana swim "The longer the race, the better, I became, not because I was fast (I wasn't but because I could endure." (xvi) "A quick glance t the competition can thro (view spoiler)[ "one of the most important things to do in life is at least once chase a dream with every ounce of power and conviction we can muster." (xiii) "To be a contented swimmer, one must learn that happiness cannot depend on the outcome of a race." (xiv) world's longest swim race, Argentina's fabled 89-km (55-mile) Hernandarias-Parana swim "The longer the race, the better, I became, not because I was fast (I wasn't but because I could endure." (xvi) "A quick glance t the competition can throw the whole body out of alignment and require two strokes to correct." (3) "reduce drag" (6) "One of the any paradoxes of the sport is that harder swimming does not usually lead to faster times." (6) Breaststroke: "Wilkens had moved his hands / too quickly and they had failed to fully catch and pull. In his excitement, he had also begun his arm pull without waiting for his legs to finish kicking from the previous stroke." (15-16) "All of swim training--as well as the training for track / and other sports--is based on this type of 'interval training.'" (22-23) "Interval / training--that is, using a pace clock to swim a series of sets--is today the foundation of the sport." (54-55) I.M.: "The first two legs, butterfly and backstroke, depend on arm strength and technique. The third stage, breaststroke, abruptly switches the race's emphasis to the legs. [It also provides the upper-body a chance to rest some.] / It's a major transition point and a key moment for offensive strikes. The final freestyle segment is an all-out brawl won on guts and training base, not on strength or technique." (23-24) "Some swimmers retire at age fifteen." (31) On U.S. domination in swimming: "Through the 1996 Olympic Games, the United States had won 387 Olympic swimming medals--more than most countries had won in all Olympic sports combined, and more than triple what second-place Australia earned in the pool." (43) "It's estimated the legs contribute only thirty percent to forward movement while using up to sixty percent of the body's oxygen." (69) "Studies have indicated one mile of swimming is the physiological equivalent of four miles of running." (81) freestyle kicking is six beats, but two beats are what distance swimmers use to conserve energy (117) "There is something distinct about butterfly. A supple person can kick it nearly as fast as he or she can swim it. The powerful dolphin kick, that sexy two-legged hip thrust, is the single most powerful force in human swimming...The kick is so strong that many sprint freestylers use it after every turn for extra speed. So do backstrokers.All the power comes from the hips and it drives forward the whole body...During a single butterfly stroke, the swimmer actually kicks twice, once at the onset, when the hands first enter the water, and again when the hands pass the hips as they exit the water." (140) "There is almost nothing as singularly beautiful and momentarily complete as winning, and there never will be." (147) Tom Wilkens - work horse, not a "natural" swimmer, a breaststroker at start who turns to I.M. Kurt Grote -older than Wilkens, was in 1996 Olympics on a relay team, favored at start, breaststroker Dod Wales - butterfly, son of Olympic Bronze medalist, too cool for school Tate Blahnik - unhappy in swimming and wants to quit, naturally gifted backstroker Dick Jochums - hard ass, Santa Clara Swim Club's coach Sergey Mariniuk - Moldovan in his 30s, lax training without Jochums, would rather be happy than the best Dara Torres - makes an unprecedented comeback, first U.S. woman to compete in four Olympics, 5 years older than oldest female Olympic swimmer, swims with Jochums for a while, but returns to train at Stanford Tom Dolan - Wilkens #1 competition in the I.M., goes to the Olympics and wins the 400 I.M. and places 2nd in 200 I.M. Ed Moses - Grote's #1 competition, goes to Olympics and gets 2nd in 100 breaststroke but leads 400 I.M. relay to gold Grote does not qualify for the Olympics, never quite recovering from a knee injury. Wales comes in third in the Olympic Trials and retires. He avoids watching the Olympics. Blahnik does not qualify for the Olympics and happily retires. Torres qualifies in 5 events (3 individual and 2 relays). She gets bronze in her 3 individual events and gold in both relays. Wilkens breaks down in the 400 I.M. during Olympic Trials and does not qualify. Still he qualifies in 200 I.M. and 200 breaststroke. He foolishly plans his breaststroke event to not overexert himself and doesn't qualify for the semifinals, much less the finals in an embarrassing turn. It all comes down to the 200 I.M., in which he gets the Bronze after Dolans' Silver and an Italian who took Gold but is later tested positive for a PED. (hide spoiler)]

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mo

    Over all, this was a great book! If you or your child is a swimmer - this book is even better. The story is about a swim club gearing up for the 2000 Olympics. There are a few big name olympians as secondary characters. The main stories are about swimmers you may have never heard of. I learned so much about the sport of swimming - the future of my children’s swimming. I am going to have my children read this. I would say this is middle school and up. There isn’t anything controversial about this Over all, this was a great book! If you or your child is a swimmer - this book is even better. The story is about a swim club gearing up for the 2000 Olympics. There are a few big name olympians as secondary characters. The main stories are about swimmers you may have never heard of. I learned so much about the sport of swimming - the future of my children’s swimming. I am going to have my children read this. I would say this is middle school and up. There isn’t anything controversial about this book other than performance enhancing drugs toward the end of the book - who’s using, who’s wrongfully being accused, and how it spoils the sport. The right message if you ask me. You could read this to younger kids if they find the art of dropping time by 1/100’s of a second interesting. I only have one of those in my house. Lol. Great book, and I’m a better swim mom for having read it. I dropped one star for length. It was just a little too long.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Roberts

    Simply the best sports book I have ever read. The description of the human spirit that unfolds in the book is unique and moving. The book captures the true essence of sport: that it is not medals and the outcome but the struggle and the pursuit of excellence, the desire to be the best you can be, that defines a sportsperson. This book vividly describes the struggles, physical and mental, and sacrifices an athlete makes. I found myself living their emotions. It is one of very few books that broug Simply the best sports book I have ever read. The description of the human spirit that unfolds in the book is unique and moving. The book captures the true essence of sport: that it is not medals and the outcome but the struggle and the pursuit of excellence, the desire to be the best you can be, that defines a sportsperson. This book vividly describes the struggles, physical and mental, and sacrifices an athlete makes. I found myself living their emotions. It is one of very few books that brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    In story after story of male swimmers who couldn't handle the Olympic pressure, Mullen compares athletes to warriors riding into battle. Then there's this one story about a female athlete! She's Dara Torres, unstoppable at 30 and she'll continue to win Olympic medals into her 40s. And he calls her a Diva? Are you kidding? This could have been such a good book, but the sexism ruined it for me. In story after story of male swimmers who couldn't handle the Olympic pressure, Mullen compares athletes to warriors riding into battle. Then there's this one story about a female athlete! She's Dara Torres, unstoppable at 30 and she'll continue to win Olympic medals into her 40s. And he calls her a Diva? Are you kidding? This could have been such a good book, but the sexism ruined it for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I did find it interesting to ‘compare and contrast’ what happened to Dara Torres, in this book vs her own memoir. I’m a Master swimmer, so I always find it fun to learn a bit more of swimming history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rosie Downey

    A must read for swimming and Olympic fans. I learned a lot about this book that I, a former age group and high school swimmer, didn’t previously know.

  15. 5 out of 5

    eb

    I am often bored with sports writing, with the mind-numbing emphasis on stats and the trope of making every subject into this hero even when they didn't have a chance. This is not that kind of sports writing. From the beginning Mullen is clear: the stories he is telling are about ordinary people-- yes, people with elite swimming experience; yes people in incredible physical condition; but ordinary accessible people-- who make the extraordinary decision to devote themselves to the challenge of ma I am often bored with sports writing, with the mind-numbing emphasis on stats and the trope of making every subject into this hero even when they didn't have a chance. This is not that kind of sports writing. From the beginning Mullen is clear: the stories he is telling are about ordinary people-- yes, people with elite swimming experience; yes people in incredible physical condition; but ordinary accessible people-- who make the extraordinary decision to devote themselves to the challenge of making the 2000 Olympics. These swimmers could be anyone-- the overachiever trying to hold the center (Grote), the reluctant talent wrestling with the why and for whoms (Blahnik), the methodical technician trying to prove that science will win over emotion (Wales), the boy next door who runs on heart alone (Wilkens), the grizzled coach trying to overcome his own myopia and the fallout of singleminded focus (Jochums). It's a Shakespearian cast, leavened with both triumph and hubris. There are glimpses of other stories from the Santa Clara Swim Club, like the extraordinary comeback of Dara Torres and the more balanced Olympic career of the Moldova Marinuik who trained at Santa Clara on his own. It was a fascinating read, one that managed to communicate the particulars of the sport without it seeming like a rap sheet of contextless facts, and Mullen's writing was both poetic and intelligent, even as it was exciting to read. I laughed at some descriptions. I cried at the third place finishes. I wanted, above all, to wring Jochums' neck. Of all the characters, I was simultaneously inspired by and infuriated by this man, which seems to be about par for the course. He's billed as an incredible motivator who nevertheless could not figure out how to be unselfish when it mattered most, and he's a complicated read. I have equally complicated feelings about him, but I think the thing that bothered me the most was that he never seemed to learn from his mistakes. His narrative within this book seems like a loop of poor decisions, made again and again. First, he runs his favorite swimmer into the ground-- a mistake that haunts him for his entire career-- and yet when he returns to coaching, he clings to the same training regimen and refuses to consider others. He mismanages money and the business end of running a pool in his first big job at Arizona State to the point that he is investigated for embezzlement, then moves to California and ends up in the same situation at Santa Clara, without once considering that he could have hired someone with a head for business to take care of that if he couldn't or wouldn't. Then he messes up his swimmers' tapers so badly they are psychologically ruined for months and then he does it again with Wilkens at the Olympics. In addition, Jochums knows Wilkens isn't a seasoned international professional, and yet he abandons him during the Olympics, just when Wilkens needs coaching the most, because Jochums is upset at himself for not giving him a race plan. I mean, hello? YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO GIVE YOUR SWIMMERS THE PLAN. You can easily un-fuck the situation by BEING THERE. I just could not accept this stew of behaviors, by turns myopic, arrogant, and dramatically self-flagellating, from a coach who is supposed to be in charge of these athletes' well-being. Every one of them loves him in one way or another-- Mullens notes that Shaw (the swimmer Jochums ruined early in his career) talked of Jochums fondly years later, and Wales, who fastidiously avoids emotion, sends Jochums a heartfelt letter thanking him for his coaching, even though Jochums abandoned him at Trials and he came in third. His athletes loved him. They were spurred to amazing heights by his words-- heights maybe they wouldn't have reached otherwise--and maybe that's what they needed. But after a while all of Jochums' talk about building his athletes into good people for the rest of their lives, and all of his high-flying motivational speeches began to sound like hot air in the face of his continual inability to manage a swim club and make the best decisions for the athletes themselves, rather than what he wanted them to be. He was the biggest disappointment of the whole book because he doesn't change at all. At the end, after all the hard work and the victories and the defeats, he's the same-- he returns to the same club, sets the same regimen, with the same arrogant belief that he's always right, even after he spent the entire book being wrong, multiple times, in every way. And he's looking at the next crop of swimmers to screw over, excited at the prospect that one of them might finally redeem all his shitty decisions and erase his culpability, with Olympic gold. If this really was Shakespeare, Gold in the Water would be a tragedy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Blake Maczka

    The book that started it all for me. The story of the Santa Clara Swim Club's 2000 Olympic push, of ordinary men racked by Olympic Fever. I received this as a Christmas gift in 2nd grade, and afterwards my life would never be the same. I went on more than a decade later to chase the Olympic Dream myself, and trained at the University of Michigan for 2016 US Olympic Trials. My Olympic Dream didn't come true, but I'm proud that I gave it my best shot. Without Gold in Water, I never would've made i The book that started it all for me. The story of the Santa Clara Swim Club's 2000 Olympic push, of ordinary men racked by Olympic Fever. I received this as a Christmas gift in 2nd grade, and afterwards my life would never be the same. I went on more than a decade later to chase the Olympic Dream myself, and trained at the University of Michigan for 2016 US Olympic Trials. My Olympic Dream didn't come true, but I'm proud that I gave it my best shot. Without Gold in Water, I never would've made it past age group swimming, but the beauty and drama painted in these 200 some odd pages gave me a spark that lasted 15 years, and brought me to train and compete alongside the best in the world. This is a peerless example of sports writing at its best. Tom Wilkens, Kurt Grote, and coach Dick Jochums are characters that have stuck with me to this day, for the depth and grit and humanity that Mullen lays bare as he chronicles their quests for Olympic glory.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Caite

    Really good book. Terrifying insight into the level of work and sacrifice that goes into elite swimming - and the agony. I couldn't put it down because I needed to know whether the work paid off for the guys involved. Felt quite emotionally drained by the end - not as much as the swimmers did though. The reasons I just gave four stars though are that this is written by a journalist, and at times it does have that slight sense of distance - that you're watching the main protagonists from afar rat Really good book. Terrifying insight into the level of work and sacrifice that goes into elite swimming - and the agony. I couldn't put it down because I needed to know whether the work paid off for the guys involved. Felt quite emotionally drained by the end - not as much as the swimmers did though. The reasons I just gave four stars though are that this is written by a journalist, and at times it does have that slight sense of distance - that you're watching the main protagonists from afar rather than really living their experiences. Also when it comes to the big races, like at the Olympics, I would have liked a little bit more of the rounded picture of who they were swimming against rather than quite such a sharp focus on the central swimmers to this story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This book was so good, it made me cry more than once, but absolutely at the end. The pressure these young athletes felt, that they put on themselves, the odds they struggled against, the injury, the letdown, the fear. Make no mistake, this is a dense and detailed sports book, but it brings to life in a raw and visceral way the various struggles and triumphs and disappointments of a handful of very different swimmers with one shared goal: the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. This book is intense and em This book was so good, it made me cry more than once, but absolutely at the end. The pressure these young athletes felt, that they put on themselves, the odds they struggled against, the injury, the letdown, the fear. Make no mistake, this is a dense and detailed sports book, but it brings to life in a raw and visceral way the various struggles and triumphs and disappointments of a handful of very different swimmers with one shared goal: the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. This book is intense and emotional, and I found myself turning the pages like it was a thriller--but at the same time, going as slowly as possible to savor it as long as I could. Certainly the best book about swimming I've ever read. I wish there were more like it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    A must read for all swimmers. The story chronicles the journey of the swimmers at the Santa Clara Swim Club as they're preparing for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials. The story focuses on Tom Wilkens and Kurt Grote, two swimmers who are in very different phases of their careers. The book perfectly captures the atmosphere of early morning practices and the many ups and downs swimmers face each season. Unlike so many sports stories, not all the stories have happy endings. It's the true nature of the s A must read for all swimmers. The story chronicles the journey of the swimmers at the Santa Clara Swim Club as they're preparing for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials. The story focuses on Tom Wilkens and Kurt Grote, two swimmers who are in very different phases of their careers. The book perfectly captures the atmosphere of early morning practices and the many ups and downs swimmers face each season. Unlike so many sports stories, not all the stories have happy endings. It's the true nature of the sport...yeah swimming!!!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brianna

    Though there was a lot of swearing in here, this book was very well written. As a swimmer myself, it was believable and the heartbreak and triumph was well described-exactly how it feels for any swimmer.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ezequiel Almada

    Gold in the Water: The True Story of Ordinary Men and Their Extraordinary Dream of Olympic Glory Gold in the Water: The True Story of Ordinary Men and Their Extraordinary Dream of Olympic Glory

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daeus

    One of my favorite accounts of the day-to-day grind and sacrifice required of Olympic level swimmers. I read this while I was swimming in high school, trying to see how much I could improve, and I really connected to the beauty and effort of the journey.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Annalena Morris

    Very intense, lots of references to times and splits that can be hard to digest- quite a long read. Injuries, training slogs, coach + swimmer dynamics. Tough read sometimes, welled up once or twice during the best and worst of it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    One of the few "swimming" books out there, and its good too! One of the few "swimming" books out there, and its good too!

  25. 4 out of 5

    JulieK

    I'm an Olympics nerd so found the subject matter interesting, but the book could've stood a little more pruning and a bit less theatrical writing. I'm an Olympics nerd so found the subject matter interesting, but the book could've stood a little more pruning and a bit less theatrical writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Josh Pfau

    As a swimmer, the book could not have been better. It gave an intense look at swimming in the pool with enough of the back story to really get to know the characters.

  27. 4 out of 5

    L

    An interesting look at how Olympic swimmers train, with a lot of really compelling individual stories.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    Outstanding swimming book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Slattyak

    Every Die Hard Swimmer and Swim Coach should read this book!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sanjiv Gupta

    Great book for anyone who has ever swam with a program or even watched Olympic swimming

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