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Poolside Bon Voyage Benefits Center


The big splash on the social circuit over Labor Day weekend was in Pasadena, but it wasn't made by Alabama's Crimson Tide at the Rose Bowl. It happened down the road apiece, at the Amateur Athletic Foundation Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Brookside Park, where the U.S. Olympic Swim team was headquartered for 18 days in preparation for the XXVII Olympiad in Sydney.

More than 600 guests gathered for the gala bon voyage salute to the eight coaches and 48 athletes following their Friday evening practice in the center's two pools. The poolside benefit raised $80,000 for the center, which was established in 1990 with a major grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation (Los Angeles), following the 1984 games in L.A., the first Olympics to generate a surplus since they were last staged in Los Angeles in 1932. The L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee gave $90 million of that profit to fund AAF youth sports. And since its inception in 1985, the AAF has invested more than $65 million in programs from Special Olympics to swimming instruction for at-risk children from a 10-county area in Southern California.

So why was Pasadena chosen as the training ground? "The team members come from all over the country. By fine-tuning them in California, they are able to adjust to Pacific Daylight Saving Time, the closest to the time zone in Sydney," said U.S. Olympic men's team head coach Mark Schubert (he's credited with 67 national team titles). "And although the pool at USC was built for the 1984 games, the advantage of the AAF Rose Bowl Aquatic Center's side-by-side 50-meter pools is that swimmers can swim long course more quickly and efficiently."

Women's coach Richard Quick of Stanford offered a new spin on going for the gold. "I don't think there will be an Olympic medal won without an athlete wearing a suit of the new 'fast skin' material primarily developed by Speedo," he said. "The water-repellent fabric compacts and smooths out the body. Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe competed in wool or cotton suits; then came the synthetics, and when Lycra was introduced, the U.S. broke every American record in our national championships. Now we have one more step in the technology of swimming."

The stars of the party, of course, were the beautiful and brawny young Olympians (you should see where some of those girls have tattoos), including America's top-tier hopefuls, Lenny Krayzelburg from USC, Stanford's golden butterfly Jenny Thompson and Florida's Brooke Bennett and Dara Torres.

As darkness fell, each athlete stepped into the spotlight on the balcony above a giant American flag to be introduced by 1976 gold medalist John Naber, founding president of the board of AAF-RBAC. Looking on from the sidelines were L.A. lawyer John Argue, honorary chairman of the event, (he knows a thing or two about competition, having chaired the organizing committee that brought the 1984 Olympics to L.A. and now leads the L.A. 2012 committee); Terry Wilson, former CEO of the center, who came from Austin, Texas, for the occasion; Julio Gonzalez, chairman of the center's board; ESPN commentator-comedian Roy Firestone; Anita DeFrantz, 1976 bronze medalist in rowing, AAFLA president and the first American woman appointed to the International Olympic Committee; Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard,; Kristin Bennett, chairwoman of the gala; Peter Daland, who coached the 1972 team--when Mark Spitz won seven golds; and Dale Neuberger, president of USA Swimming--the sport's governing body--and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Several swimmers from past Olympiads were spotted at the red, white and blue tables surrounding the pools. Among them: Dr. Gary Hall, an Arizona ophthalmologist, whose son, Gary Jr., is on the 2000 team. The elder Hall won medals in 1968, 1972 and 1976. He is the only swimmer to have carried the American flag into the Olympic opening ceremonies (1976); Murray Rose (1956 and 1960); Lance Larson (1956); Carolyn House Helmuth(1960); and 1976 swimmers Bruce Furniss, Rod Strachan, Kathy Heddy-Drum and Canada's Clay Evans.

Following caterer Peggy Dark's lavish bill o' fare, topped off with a sinful chocolate dessert, a shower of golden fireworks spelled out "Go for the Gold" against the night sky.


Patt Diroll can be reached at

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