Peter Shelton

A Modest Proposal for Michael Phelps

Posted in Olympic Games, Uncategorized, Watch columns by pshelton on August 12, 2012

When Tyler Clary talked that smack around the time of the Olympic trials, about Michael Phelps not working his hardest, and coasting on his talent, I just had to laugh. What does Tyler Clary know? And look at Michael now: 18 gold medals. I mean, come on!

I like to think Michael and I bonded in 04, before he became famous, before he won his first six golds in Athens. And yes, I was the one who took that picture of Michael huffing on a bong after Beijing.

I sold it for some sweet moolah to that English tabloid. But I feel bad about it, I really do. I didn’t mean for Michael to get in trouble. I just wanted to encourage him to follow through on that deal we talked about the time he visited my grow-op out in Mendocino. He was just 19; he didn’t have the big sponsorships he has now: Visa, Subway, Nike, AT&T. And, of course, he hadn’t yet discovered his mystical connection to the dolphins.

I told him I was willing to take a chance on him. If he would be spokesperson for my Mendo Medicinal, it’d be a win-win for everybody. I’d supply him with bud. My licensed, legal-in-the-state-of-California grow-op would prosper. And the acceptance of herb nationwide would get a boost. He seemed enthused at the time.

Here’s what happened that day. We were sitting on the beach out by Gualala, and Michael’s telling me about all the pressure on him to be perfect. He was just a kid, you know, but the pressure was huge, from his coaches, from his mom, and already from the media. He swam five hours a day, every frickin’ day. Fifty miles a week. Talk about chlorine brain. He barely had a life, you know? Everybody telling him he was blessed with the perfect swimmer’s body, the biggest flipper feet and the hugest lungs. They expected so much. And he wanted it, too. But he didn’t know what it was.

So I fire up the ole bong and pass it over. He takes a drag, and I mean he drains the whole bowl. And then he holds it in for I don’t know how long. After about 30 seconds I bust out laughing, and he’s still going strong. Like it was nothing, like he could hold his breath forever. Like he was Superman, or a fish or something. Which he was, I guess. Sort of. In the pool.

Anyway, he does finally exhale about five minutes later. And he’s got this little smile on his lips, and we pound a couple of PBRs and some chips. And then he stands up and rips off his shirt and his jeans and starts into the shore break. I followed the best I could but, you know, he’s Michael Phelps. And pretty soon we’re bobbing out beyond the break, laughing and looking at the sunlight sparkling off the water.

And then we see fins.

At first I thought, Shark!, and my limbs made involuntary moves toward the beach. But Michael stroked straight out toward them with those pelican arms of his. And like that he was in with them – dolphins – arching their backs, diving and leaping over one another, ripping around. And then they disappear. All of ‘em. Michael too.

And I’m trippin’ over rocks working my way back in, and looking out to sea at the same time and just tongue-tied, you know. I mean, what was I going to do, call for help? There was nobody for miles. And I’m sitting there shivering, hugging my knees, thinking this didn’t just happen, when way off I see this clean wind-milling of arms. And it’s Michael, alone, just a speck at first but comin’ fast, cruising back in.

“They know,” he said when he was finally sitting beside me in the sand. “They showed me. You have to embrace the water.” And that’s when I figured I could hitch my water pipe to this kid’s wagon, as it were.

So, Michael, if you’re reading this, now that you’re a retired gazillionaire at 27, I’m sorry about the tabloids, man. No harm intended. I understand you had to say what you said, that it was just a youthful indiscretion and that you promise your sponsors and fans that you won’t do it ever again. You had to say that. You were on the frickin’ corn flakes box. I know that. But I was hoping maybe now we could rekindle our friendship. You know, hang out, fire one up, maybe go for a swim.

You could go in a different direction, sponsorship-wise. Instead of Speedo, see, you could go with Quicksilver, or Da Kine board shorts. And instead of corn flakes you could lend your name to a granola. And maybe to one of my premium sensimillas? See what I’m sayin’?

You could be the man, Michael, the truth-telling man. Our last three Presidents admitted to smoking pot. Half the people on the planet smoke weed. They say it isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. But you know better. You and the dolphins.

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Mastering space and time

Posted in Olympic Games, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on December 9, 2010

Last weekend was a very good one for American ski racers skiing on American (at least North American) snow.

Up in Alberta, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso put on a show in the speed events. Vonn finished second in two consecutive downhills, to her good buddy and chief rival Maria Riesch of Germany, then won Sunday’s Super G just ahead of Riesch with Mancuso third. Julia finished fourth and sixth in the two downhills.

At Beaver Creek, the U.S. men didn’t fare so well. The downhill got cancelled due to wind. In the Super G all of the top Americans were ambushed by the same small bump and missed the next gate. One after the other. Keystone cops. Looked like a coaching/inspection/line error to me.

But then on Sunday, Ted Ligety of Park City won the giant slalom for his first World Cup victory on home soil. Er, snow.

Both tall, blonde Vonn and dark-haired Riesch are dominating their tour, have been for the past three years. Funny, though, the images of Vonn don’t look dominating. I know, that’s a stupid thing to say. She’s winning, or coming close, in just about every speed event. But, in still photographs, her position looks a little desperate: her head is tipped, the eyes aren’t level with the horizon; her hand is flying up; she’s leaning in more than she’s angulating; the skis are off the snow.

Bode Miller can be wild, as we know, and still be fast. He doesn’t finish many races these days. When I think of dominant skiing, I think of skiers in gorgeous control of all the forces acting on them painting their way down a blank canvas. (more…)

Jimmie Heuga, Little Big Man

Posted in Olympic Games, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on February 17, 2010

It’s Monday, Presidents’ Day. Bode Miller just won bronze in the Olympic downhill. (I predicted he’d lay down a brilliant run or two over the fortnight. With the pressure all on Lindsey Vonn and with Bode happy, finally, with his skis and with himself, I thought the genius might shine again.)

Today is also the public memorial for Jimmie Heuga, who died at age 66 on February 8th, 46 years to the day after his bronze medal in slalom at the Innsbruck Olympics. (more…)

Groovy Vancouver will not be immune

Posted in Olympic Games, Watch columns by pshelton on February 3, 2010

Opening ceremonies are a little more than a week away. And it’s still warm in Vancouver.

Of course, it’s always warm in Vancouver compared to Colorado in winter. It sits right at sea level, and the climate is tempered by a warm Pacific Ocean current from Japan and warm air from Hawaii. Vancouverites like it that way. Except when the weather threatens to jigger some of the most popular events at the Games. (more…)