Mark Tewksbury won gold in the 100 m backstroke at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. I paid attention to him more than any other athlete during those Olympics because, to be totally honest, I found him to be drop-dead gorgeous. I often say that I was out getting my nails done when God was handing out gaydar, because I have the uncanny ability to be totally oblivious to anyone’s sexual orientation. Perhaps the fact that I am a gay Conservative has led me to believe that one cannot discern sexual orientation from appearance, behaviour or political affiliation. Show me RuPaul or k. d. lang and I would not have a clue.
Tewksbury was an exception. I knew he was gay the moment I saw him, and when he wrote a book one year after winning gold, I wanted to read it. Although I had Visions of Excellence: The Art of Achieving Your Dreams for weeks in my possession after our library obtained it, I never read it. I eventually gave it back and only turned to it again after our library system withdrew a copy. So, seventeen years later, I finally read Visions of Excellence.
Visions of Excellence is an autobiography with its heaviest concentration on Tewksbury’s two Olympics appearances: Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. Tewksbury won silver in Seoul in the 4×100 m relay, and the main focus of Visions of Excellence is the preparation he undertook in order to turn silver into gold. Tewksbury spends chapters detailing his motivation and visualization techniques. I at first thought that these chapters would be a drudge to read, but they sped on by as though Tewksbury was speaking to me. This is likely what he did in fact do; Tewksbury was an experienced public speaker before he went to Barcelona and the chapters in Visions of Excellence read like a well-tuned lecture, geared to interest the listeners. This book seems more like a transcribed speech than a pen-on-paper effort.
Tewksbury’s gold-medal race, the 100 m backstroke, is replayed in every splash of detail. The reader is swimming all 53.98 seconds with him, and palms are sweating hoping he (we) will win. The final chapter deals with the inevitable post-Olympics down-time. At first Tewksbury didn’t allow such a plummet to occur, keeping busy immediately after arriving home in Canada with speaking engagements and media appearances. But down-time always happens after an Olympic victory, and for Tewksbury it didn’t occur until March of 1993 when he froze onstage before giving a speech. “I’m dying up here”, he thought, and took a break from speaking for some time as he thought about what direction he’d like his life to take following his retirement from swimming.
Motivational quotes introduce the theme of each chapter, and each closes with a summary and another quote. I usually find such quotes so out of place but in every chapter they were relevant and were worth rereading. I found Visions of Excellence a pleasure to read and a valuable insight into the mind of an Olympic champion.