Spindrift Beck and Matt Thompson proved many things during their trip to Omaha, Neb., for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials this past summer.
Simply qualifying for the event while still in high school proved they are among a handful of the nation's most promising young swimmers. And by finishing near the top in multiple events, both made it clear that qualifying for the Olympics is a very real possibility in 2012 and beyond.
But Beck and Thompson also proved some things that can't be gleaned from analyzing the final results. Namely, there is no situation so stressful it can prevent them from having the time of their lives together.
Best friends since they were 12 years old after meeting through the Dallas Mustangs club
swimming program, Beck and Thompson acted as calming influences on each other throughout the star-studded Trials. While other competitors stressed over the enormity of the moment, Beck and Thompson regularly kicked back in one of their hotel rooms and continued the traditions they'd established at countless previous meets.
"We're lucky to have been doing this for so long together that it's a really reassuring feeling to be able to chill out together," says Beck, a senior at Hockaday (Dallas). "I think we put each other at ease."
"We definitely loosen each other up," adds Thompson, a senior at Jesuit (Dallas). "Most of the time we're just goofing off, but we're having a good time and taking our minds off the pressure."
At the Olympic Trials, that meant a nightly ritual of tuning in to CNN to laugh at zany television host Nancy Grace. In fact, they often recall landmark moments in their careers both by what they
accomplished in the pool and by what television show they were temporarily obsessed with at the time. From reruns of "Judging Amy" and "Law & Order" to marathon sessions of "Prison Break" on DVD, the two have pretty much seen it all.
Clothing Line: Cotton Island
Car: Aston Martin
Video Game: Mario Kart
Even when they're apart, they still try to crack each other up by texting memorable lines from their favorite shows and movies to see if the other can guess what they're from.
"We pretty much know what the other is thinking at all times," Thompson says. "We have inside jokes that go back years."
"We have serious sides, too, though," Beck adds. "We're both extremely competitive."
They each certainly mean business when they're in the water. And though neither was 100 percent satisfied with their performance at Trials, both raised some eyebrows.
Thompson's best effort came in the 200 backstroke as he posted the 12th-best time during preliminaries to qualify for the semifinals, the only swimmer born during the 1990s to do so. He also finished 29th in an 81-person field in the 100 back.
Beck, who was battling a back injury, finished 20th out of 110 competitors in the 200 individual medley and 23rd out of 89 swimmers in the 200 breaststroke.
"Best case for both of them was probably a top eight and a chance to swim in a final," says Mustangs head coach Mook Rhodenbaugh. "That would have been extremely impressive. But just because they didn't get there is not to say they didn't accomplish some big things."
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Movie: "Wonder Boys"
Actors: Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr.
Actresses: Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand
Over the past few years, Rhodenbaugh has watched the two stars of his program take different paths to success. Beck stood out from Day 1 as a youth swimmer, consistently posting top-level times and generally blowing away the competition. Thompson bloomed later, but his arrival on the national scene was an unforgettable moment.
Just a few days after his 15th birthday in 2005, Thompson was at the Texas Senior Circuit Championships and wound up in the same prelim heat in the 100 back as reigning Olympic champion and world-record-holder Aaron
Peirsol. Unfazed, Thompson proceeded to cut more than 1.5 seconds off his previous best time to defeat the best backstroker on earth.
"When I looked up at the board and saw the results I kept blinking and blinking and blinking because I didn't believe it," Thompson says. "It was
surreal. That was really the start of everything."
Thompson has since represented the U.S. at major international events in Brazil, Japan and Hawaii. Beck joined him on the U.S.
National Team for the 2007 Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii. She brought home a silver in the 200 IM while Thompson earned a silver in the 200 back and a bronze in the 100 back.
Though Beck has starred from an early age, it hasn't been a smooth ride all the way to the top. She has been resilient in overcoming numerous injuries and ailments, including scoliosis and sciatica. But she has turned the setbacks into positives.
"It's frustrating, but I think every serious athlete would benefit from being injured once in their life," Beck says. "I know it's helped me. You are so grateful for your health when you are feeling good that you make the most of every opportunity."
Even though club swimming occupies much of their time year-round, Beck and Thompson have both dedicated themselves to their high school teams as well.
Thompson has won four golds and two silvers in three trips to the Class 5A state meet for Jesuit, and he set Texas prep records in the 200 IM (1:46.95) and 100 back (47.71) at state as a junior.
"He's got all the things coaches want in their athletes," Jesuit coach B.J. Antes says. "Ultimately, you either have it or you don't, and Matt has it. He has the fire."
Beck has gone 12-for-12 at the Southwest Preparatory Conference meet the past three years, lowering the conference record in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM each season so that they now stand at 1:01.77 and 2:00.57, respectively. She has also led Hockaday to six relay titles.
"She's an incredible talent," Hockaday coach Bobby Patten says. "You can just tell she's comfortable in the water. She's got a real easy, natural style."
Beck and Thompson are both being recruited by top collegiate swimming programs like Arizona, Cal-Berkeley, Georgia, Texas and Stanford, though they are trying to keep their recruitments as separate as possible so as not to
influence the other's decision.
"If they do end up at different colleges, their parents need to look into
getting new text messaging plans," Rhodenbaugh says. "Because the
communication will be constant."
Beck and Thompson wouldn't have it any other way.
Matt Remsberg covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.