Lane 5


The crowd was wild and all the colours in the stadium were mixed.
The swimmers from the heat before me dragged themselves out of the water, for their legs felt like jelly from the effort. I tightened my goggles, stared down the pool and swung my arms.
For me, Stacey Mason, this wasn’t just any swimming trials, this wasn’t just some pennant; this was the Australian Swim Offs for the Beijing Olympics!

The loud speaker boomed as the commentator introduced the lanes and the audience cheered. My stomach dropped at the sound of it.
“Lane 0, Kate Johnson.
Lane 1, Alexandra Fanon.
Lane 2, Cathy Neil.
Lane 3, Emily Reeves.
Lane 4, Alice Laton.”
Here I am up next!
“Lane 5, Stacey Mason.” The crowd screamed for me as I waved.
It continued for another four lanes before the noised died down.
The whistle blew for us to mount our blocks and sounded once again after everyone was still.
Everything was quiet, everything was still. All I could hear was the pounding of my heart. It was just me and the water.
“Take your marks.” Beep.
We were off; all entered the water at the same time. We moved our bodies faster than ever before then kicked hard to the smooth surface of the pool. My mind wasn’t keeping up with the rating of my arms and before I knew it was our second lap of four. I paced ninety percent back up the pool and tumble turned as quick as lightening for the last one hundred.
It was the third lap and the hardest. Swimmers were gasping for air, their lungs bursting for this was the sprinting lap. I had moved away from the pack but faintly I noticed lane 4 creeping up behind me. I dug deep and remembered the words from Ian Thorpe, draw a curtain down your lane and swim your own race. I tried, I tried like I had never tried before. I heard a soft scream in the water come from Alice in lane 4.
I saw her arms ahead of me, her shoulder and then her hips. I hit the touch pad on the wall and looked at the time board.
I’d come second. I was disappointed but I can’t change it now and thought to myself, I should be happy, I did a PB and even though it was second place, I made it to the Olympics!
I did it! I made into the Olympics. I smiled to myself. I did it!

***
My parents met me outside the stadium.
My mum, Heather Mason and dad, John were nearly in tears.
“Well done sweet heart,” Mum sobbed. “Sixteen and one of the best two hundred metre swimmers in the country!”
Dad laughed at that remark but stated that the journey to gold was not over yet. One month away.
We drove home to our town house where I was greeted by my brother Mark and his friends Joe and Michael. They’re nineteen and have a band called Toxic. They all clapped when I walk in the door and later on showed me the video of my swim.
“Stacey, dinner’s ready,” Mum called. But I couldn’t move my body; it was all stiff and sore. Mark heaved me up and I followed him to the table.
We were silent. But all thinking the same thing. Beijing Olympics...Bring it on!

***

One month went by full of hard training sessions and finally Stacey, her parents, Mark and his friends were on board a plane on the way to Beijing.


***

The trip was long. 14 hours long!
I slept half the way on the aeroplane, Mark and his friends were thinking up a new song and Mum and Dad were discussing what to wear in Beijing.
The nerves kicked in as I spotted land out of my window. Two months ago I could only dream about this, but now I was here, it is like magic.
I squeezed my stomach as the nose of the plane dropped.

I stepped out of the plane and headed down the corridor towards the baggage collection area. People pointed, for my shirt said that I was an Olympic swimmer. I felt special and strode on past the crowd. I waited for the black belt of luggage to reveal mine.
I waited and waited and waited.
It never came.
I started to panic and walked over to the security guard. He couldn’t do anything about it but gave me directions towards the head office.
Mum, Dad, Mark, his friends and I located the office. Mum took charge.
Yelling and screaming came from inside the office and we all exchanged worried glances.
“What if it never turns up?” I said, “It has all my swimmers, all my gear and all my valuables!”
My breathing pattern quickened and I slid down the wall to sit.
Why, why, why I repeat over and over again. Why!
The man rushed out of the office and returned with another person.
The apologised reapetedly and we accepted, but that wasn’t going to change anything.
Mum sighed. “I guess Stace we’re just going to have to shop until we drop.”
The boys rolled their eyes.
I laughed, “It’s a girl thing!”
We gave the airport our contact number and Dad ushered us to a taxi that we caught to our motel. When we arrived mum changed quickly into what she calls ‘fashionable’ clothes and we set off for the shops.

***


As soon as Mum and I returned, we spread all my stuff over the floor and bed. There was tonnes of it! Caps, goggles, swimmers and clothes, shoes and toiletries.
“John’s going to go mad when he sees this! We spent over two thousand dollars.” Mum mentioned.
I shivered at the thought.
“Anyway, the boys must have gone for a drink downstairs. Knowing them, they’ll be there for a while.” I said.
“Good, then we’ve got ample time to sort things out!” Mum smiled.

***

Three hours later Stacey had packed for the big day tomorrow and both her mum and she were exhausted.
When Dad, Mark and his friends Joe and Michael got back, they all had an early dinner and went straight to sleep!


***

The next day Mum woke me up at nine o’clock and we both headed to a cafe in need of a hearty breakfast.
We went to a place called ‘Three Sugars’. The tables had red cloths and the serviettes, a nice cream colour.
Mum had pancakes with maple syrup and a blob of ice-cream neatly stacked in the middle. It was gone in a flash and before I knew it she was asking for seconds, unlike me, I’m a slow eater and am very particular about what tastes I fancy.
All the waiters were in a uniform except for one man who I gathered owned the place. Once we finish our meal, I paid, and on the way out gave the man in casuals a tip of ten dollars.
He smiled and yelled after us, “Come back soon!”
Mum and I walked down the street to the motel and I told her my race plan for today. She laughed at the term ‘race plan’ but listened intently after a glare from me.
“Well honey all I’ve got to say is concentrate, push yourself to the limit and above all have fun and don’t show your disappointment after the race is over.”
I huffed, then felt a sharp nudge in the ribs. “I’m serious Stace, don’t!”


***

Dad drove us to the Olympic stadium on the other side of the city and we all piled out of the car.
He locked our Rav and the group of us headed towards the entrance. The noise was loud for all the coaches, swimmers and spectators were as nervous as I was. This was it; this is what all the swimmers had been training for. Mark slapped me on the back. “Pressure’s on sis.”
He was right!
I followed a sign directing me towards the swimmers warm up pool. I had to say goodbye to my family for our destinations were in opposite directions.
I got changed into my swimmers, did five minutes of stretches then dived into the fifty metre pool.
It was cold, it took my breath away.
I did four hundred metres freestyle, some dives, and sprints and finally a warm down followed by stretches once again.
Bottles of water and energy muesli bars were offered to all swimmers. I took two waters and one muesli bar.
Some didn’t eat; they thought they might throw up. Not a pretty sight.

Half an hour went by and swimmers started marshalling for their races. A large lady with a clipboard and pen started to call the two hundred metre swimmers and to my surprise I was once again in
Lane 5 for the heats to qualify for the Olympic Finals.
I just have to prove to everyone that I’m good enough, I thought.
Then I remembered what mum would say about that comment, “You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself!”
I sat for what seemed like days then to my relief my race stood up and headed for the door leading out into the heart of the stadium.
I gasped at the sight. The whole world’s population must be crammed in here I thought. So many people. It looked like all of us were think that same thing.
We sat on the chairs provided behind the blocks and the same lady that marshalled us came marking our names off her check list once more.
The announcer started to introduce our lanes.
“Lane 0, Kate Johnson of Australia.
Lane 1, Jessica March of England.
Lane 2, Cathy Chang of China.
Lane 3, Fiona Maconary of Canada.
Lane 4, Harriet O’Connell of America.”
I shivered, I had heard about her, world record holder the whole deal!
“Lane 5, Stacey Mason of Australia.” I stepped onto the platform and waved to my Aussie fans. I could hear Mark screaming for me and I flashed a smile.
“Lane 6, Alice Laton.” I glanced across and looked her up and down. I bit my lip, let’s go Stacey lets go I sang to myself.
“Lane 7...”
“Lane 8...”
“Lane 9...”
I zoned in on the race as the whistle blew.
It blew again.
Nothing moved. Nothing sounded.
“Take your marks.” Beep!
I dived in and felt the water pass rapidly by. Fantastic start I praised myself.
I sprinted the first lap to make the distance further between my opponents and I, but at the end of the lap I tumble turned too early, my feet just touching the wall. I pushed hard to catch up with lanes four and six. I was once again in front and held a neutral pace up the pool. As I took breaths I heard the crowd cheering, that made me smile. Cameras whizzed along the bottom of the pool filming our every move.
I took too much notice and slowed down without realising. This time there was no making it ahead of my rivals. My race was finished, my race was done. I knew that.
At the end of the heat I was too scared to look if I made it into the finals. I swam a lousy race.
Alice in the next lane gave me a pat on the back.
“Well done Stacey, good race.” She smiled.
I rolled my eyes. “I bombed! All these new surroundings really took advantage of me.” I sighed.
Alice pointed to the score board and to my surprise, I had just made it! “Yes,” I screamed.
I pumped my fist in the air.
I was so happy. “You don’t know how much this means to me,” I laughed as we scrambled out of the pool.
Alice breathed in. “Actually I think I do, I was a first timer once.”
She left.
It left me wondering why I had ever disliked Alice without really getting to know her. “I think I just made a new friend.” I said to myself.
I watched as Alice and Harriet were interviewed and hoped one day that would be me.


***

We drove back to our motel talking loudly about today’s events.
Mum raised an eyebrow. “I guess honey you’re going to have to think of a new ‘race plan’!”
The taxi arrived at our stop and we paid him the fee.
“So here’s our plan now,” Dad said sarcastically as we all travelled up the elevator. “Get changed into your finest clothes and meet us at the lobby for dinner.”
We responded and in the time of fifteen minutes we all were downstairs ready for a good feed.
Mum brought us the menu of the motel food and said that if we didn’t like anything on the list we could always go downtown.
Downtown it was!


***

The next day we went to the stadium once again. As I was about to leave for the warm up Dad pulled me aside.
“Now focus honey. Don’t take any notice of anyone or anything around you. Show me what you’re made of!” He hugged me and left without another word.
“I’ll make you proud,” I whispered to myself. “You can count on me.”
I turned around and headed to the warm up pool. I repeated the steps of yesterday and after the loudspeaker called us to marshal, robotically I followed the crowd of swimmers towards the small room of lined up chairs.
The lanes were announced, once again Lane 5. I was a bit shocked I was in a good lane after my shocking swim yesterday.
“Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate,” I thought.
Yesterdays swim was history.
The lady directed us out the door and all sat in their required seats. Nerves bubbled around my stomach. This was it!
The lanes of swimmers were introduced. Screaming and cheering was heard for every competitor.
The whistle blew for us to mount our blocks and sounded once again after everyone was still.
“Take your marks.” Beep.
I tensed as we hit the water but got into the motion of the race soon after the twenty-five metre mark.
I took no notice of the camera below me or the people beside me.
I pushed had towards the wall and turned at the right time for the second lap. Others did the same thing and all swam faster and harder than ever before.
Tumble turn.
Sprinting down the pool came eleven lanes in a line. Never before had all stayed at the same speed together. I grunted and sped back up the pool for the last one hundred.
Faster, faster, faster I went and all of a sudden all I could see was me. No one near or around.
Tumble turn.
I could hear nothing, could see nothing then I dived. I hit the wall and quickly spun around to see the results board.
“First – Stacey Mason!” The announcer screamed.
Tears rolled down my faced as I waited for others to finish.
My eyes blurred too fast for me to notice the tiny words next to my time.
“World Record!” I pumped my fist in the air.
I shook hands with the swimmers beside me and dragged ourselves out to the pool.
Alice pulled me over towards the interview spot and my eyes widened.
“Are you serious?!” I puffed.
“OMG!”

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