He owns seven guitars and last year he added a new instrument to his collection: a banjo. Portland swimmer Ian Crocker, the world record-holder in the 100-meter butterfly, is preparing for his third Olympic Games and spending time playing one of his guitars between training sessions to relax.
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The Beijing Games will be held Aug. 9-24, and Crocker begins competing Aug. 14 in the heats for the 100 butterfly. The finals are two days later.
Musical instruments are nice to have when he’ s not in the pool, but gold is what Crocker wants in Beijing.
He already owns four Olympic medals: golds in the 400 medley relays in 2000 and 2004, a silver in the 100-meter butterfly (2004), and a bronze in the 400-meter freestyle relay in 2004.
But he doesn’ t have an individual gold. That will require beating his close friend and rival Michael Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly.
Crocker finished second to Phelps in the 2004 Olympics and in the U.S. Olympic trials last month.
Phelps won six gold medals and two bronzes in the 2004 Olympics.
“I’ m going for the individual gold in the 100 fly, trying to wrestle Michael for it,” Crocker told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently.
Crocker, who has an endorsement deal with Team Speedo, also has four gold medals and four silvers in three World Championship meets.
He feels his 2004 Olympic experience was “a learning period.”
“It didn’ t turn out the way I wanted, but at the same time I’ m not too disappointed because I felt like I was given my challenges and did the best I could to meet them,” he said on www.iancrocker.com.
Baby Boomer at heart
Crocker is a huge Bob Dylan fan and has the musical tastes of a baby boomer.
“He found my record collection one day,” explained his father, Richard Crocker. “I had started collecting them in 1966 and had all the major bands from the mid-‘ 60s to the early 1980s. He is well-acquainted with all of that stuff.”
Ian, 25, began playing guitar in junior high and has the ability “to pick something up by just listening to it,” according to his father.
Ian also enjoys cooking, photography and restoring his 1971 Buick Riviera, which he named Berta. He has three cats.
He was one of the stars of the behind-the-scenes documentary “Unfiltered,” which chronicled his rivalry with Michael Phelps in the 2004 Olympics. It was released in 2005 and selected for the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Crocker once bought a jazzy BMW, but his mother, Gail, said he sold it because it didn’ t mesh with his humble personality.
“He told me people would look at the car and have certain expectations and he didn’ t want to be that person,” said Gail Crocker.
So what did he replace it with?
“He bought my 1995 Chevy pickup with 180,000 miles on it,” said Richard Crocker.
“He really understands what’ s important in life. He doesn’ t want the glitter and gold,” said Gail.
Crocker will turn 26 on Aug. 31, 18 years after he began his competitive swimming career.
His dad was a competitive swimmer growing up, swimming at the YMCA in Bath and for the Hyde School, also in Bath.
So when Richard and Gail tried to figure out how to channel their son’ s endless supply of energy, one of the things they tried was putting him in a pool.
“We didn’ t know how to deal with it. He was bouncing off the walls. One day, he saw his sister [Amy] doing time trials at the Portland YMCA and he said he wanted to do that, too,” said Richard Crocker.
“And, in his very first year, he set the state [age group] record in the 25 butterfly,” Richard said.
Ironically, 15 years later, Crocker became the first swimmer to swim the 100-meter butterfly in under 51 seconds when he registered a time of 50.40 at the 2005 World Swimming Championships in Montreal.
That is still the world record.
He also swam the fastest butterfly relay split in the 2004 Olympics in Athens for the world-record breaking 400 medley relay team (3:30.68).
When Crocker was a youngster, Gail Crocker said, the family “used to watch the Olympics together in the evening. One day, Ian said he was going to earn a college scholarship and swim in the Olympics. I wondered how he knew about college scholarships. He was too young to know about that.”
Richard Crocker said his son was 11 at the time.
“When you have a child that age saying that, you pat him on the head and smile and tell him there’ s a lot of work ahead,” said Richard Crocker.
“But he was willing to do the work so we, more or less, went from there. He was the [driving force],” Richard said.
It was decision time for the Crocker family because it meant transporting their son all over the country and footing the bill themselves “until he posted one of the top 16 times and made a national team.”
“And a lot of the meets lasted almost a week long,” Richard said. “But if that’ s what he wanted to do and that’ s what it took to get him there, we had to grin and bear it.
“He had the motivation and the drive to do it,” his dad said.
As he became a teenager, Ian Crocker left the Portland YMCA program to join the more competitive and more nationally prominent Portland Porpoises Swim Club.
Richard Crocker explained that Ian wanted to swim beyond regional competition and joining the Porpoises enabled him to swim in national meets.
Two of the major influences in the early stages of his career were Don Murphy, who coached at the Portland Y, and Sharon Power, who took over the Porpoises and is now coaching in Katy, Texas.
He swam for Cheverus High School in Portland his freshman year, but he was also swimming for the Porpoises.
He eventually decided practicing regularly for two teams was too much. So he stuck with the Porpoises and didn’ t swim for Cheverus after his freshman year.
Making the Olympic grade
After the 1996 Olympics, a swim magazine article detailed what a swimmer had to do to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team.
“Ian cut it out and stuck it on his dresser, so when he woke up every morning, he looked at it. He knew what he needed to do and he went after it,” said Richard Crocker. “He was willing to put the time in to achieve it.”
His rise to prominence was rapid and he earned a spot on the U.S. National Junior team in 1998. He graduated from Cheverus in 2000 and collected a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics in the 400-meter medley relay shortly afterward.
Scholarship offers were plentiful and Crocker chose the University of Texas, where he swam for current Olympic team coach Eddie Reese.
“It was a good fit for him. He’ s one of only three swimmers in NCAA history to win the 100 butterfly all four years,” said Richard Crocker, a lab technician at Bath Iron Works.
“He wanted an academic challenge. He didn’ t want to be just an athlete,” said Gail Crocker, whose son settled on sociology as a major.
The vibrant and eclectic atmosphere and music venues in Austin, Texas, were also a good fit and that’ s where Crocker still lives.
His father said Ian has taken to the Texas music with a country feel and “southern twang.” But he still loves rock ‘ n’ roll.
Crocker has had obstacles to overcome throughout his career, including a learning disability he discovered when he asked to be tested his freshman year in college: ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
He also had bouts of depression.
“Swimming is what controlled the mood swings and frustrations he had with academics,” said Gail Crocker, who runs the cardiac rehabilitation program at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. “Swimming was his sanctuary. The water is where he worked out his struggles.”
Crocker lists the National Mental Health Association as his charity of choice.
The Crockers are understandably proud of their son, and Gail Crocker pointed out that they have been blessed.
“What has surprised me is so many things had to come together” to make his success possible, said Gail Crocker. “So many things can go wrong. Kids will say they have a dream to be this or that and they start in that direction. But you never know when something will distract them.”
She said her son missed a lot of social and school functions to pursue his swimming career.
“There were so many other things he could have done. He could have said, ‘ I want to do this and forget [swimming]. But that never happened,” said Gail Crocker. “[Swimming] is his passion.”
Richard Crocker said this may be his son’ s last Olympics: “He has talked about getting out of it after this Olympics. I think it really depends on how things go in Beijing. He wants to leave on a high note and on his own terms.”