After wacky trip, Stephens wangles a seat to see Nall BARCELONA '92

July 27, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Staff Writer

BARCELONA SPAIN — BARCELONA, Spain -- Murray Stephens acts as if he's on one of those frantic low-budget European vacations, sleeping in others' apartments, carrying tour books and maps, wearing a baseball cap from back home.

An America turista, perhaps?

Nope, Anita Nall's swimming coach.

Nearly 75,000 credentials were issued at the Olympics to coaches, athletes, media and staff -- everyone, it seems, but the coach of the 16-year-old Towson, Md., prodigy who begins her gold-medal quest today in the 200-meter breaststroke.

Stephens, 46, will attend the race with a ticket provided by the United States Olympic Committee. That, however, is the only perk he's getting in Barcelona. He isn't one of the eight coaches for the U.S. swim team, so he goes it alone.

The coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club would prefer the normal advantages of business travel -- a hotel room and transportation, for starters -- but even though the cost of his trip will exceed $3,000, he expects it to prove worthwhile.

Nall is the world-record holder in the 200, and her competition includes one of Stephens' former pupils, Jill Johnson. A 1-2 American finish is possible, if Johnson recovers sufficiently from the flu.

Indeed, by the end of the week, Nall could be a triple gold medalist. She'll race again in the 100-meter breaststroke Wednesday, and if she's the top U.S. finisher in that event, she'll compete in the 400-meter medley relay Thursday.

His European journey began July 15, when he and Pete Malone, the coach of American swimmer Janie Wagstaff, flew to Paris and took a train to the U.S. training camp in Narbonne, France.

They shared a hotel room the size of a large walk-in closet, but their fun was just starting. Stephens, who speaks neither Spanish nor French, kept coming back to the verb "wangle" as he related stories about his first trip to the continent Saturday.

Wangle, as in how he and Malone advanced 42 places in line to catch the train for the five-hour trip from Paris to Norbonne. The line was moving so slowly, they would have been left behind, but some Americans gave up their places -- for a small price.

The coaches remained in France until last Wednesday, when they wangled their way to Barcelona. "We were told we could ride the team bus," Stephens said. "Then guess what? We were told we couldn't."

So, Stephens and Malone bummed a ride from Alan Richardson, the head of USOC sports medicine. The three men packed into a mini-van with Richardson's wife and three children for the ride to Barcelona. "Two-and-a-half hours at 85 mph," Stephens said.

Richardson dropped the coaches at a gas station 20 miles outside Barcelona, where they called a man named Cesar, a former employee of Wagstaff's father. Cesar had arranged for them to stay temporarily at -- get this -- his ex-wife's down town apartment.

Cesar, his three kids and the two coaches squeezed into a Renault for the drive to the apartment, where the ex-wife was waiting. Stephens and Malone stayed there until Saturday, when Wagstaff's family arrived.

Since then, the two coaches have been living in another apartment they wangled from -- get this! -- the brother of the venue director of the Olympic swimming meet. His name is Rafa Escales, and he once was a swimmer for UCLA.

The second apartment has no phone, but Stephens is managing to stay in contact with Nall. And he will sit in the grandstand today signaling to a swimmer who was born nine years after he was graduated from Loyola College. If Nall wangles a gold medal, this automatically becomes the best trip of his life.

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