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Back to reality, sort of, for Aaron Peirsol and family

October 02, 2000

Tony Altobelli

NEWPORT BEACH - After two years of training, four weeks of

pre-Olympic preparation and two weeks of Olympic exposure in Sydney,

Australia, one question still puzzles silver medalist Aaron Peirsol.

Why do people eat Vegemite?

"Dude, that stuff is nasty," the Newport Harbor High junior said. "And

people over there eat it like it's butter or something. They put it on

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everything. I just don't get it."

For the 17-year-old, he'll stick with his chocolate-chip pancakes,

thank you very much.

"I finally got to have some when I got back home," he said. "It's been

weeks and weeks since I've had them. I feel much better now."

For those people who just moved into the area, Peirsol won the silver

medal at the Sydney Games in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of

1:57.35, just behind world champion Lenny Krayzelburg of the U.S.

(1:56.76) and just ahead of Matthew Walsh of Australia (1:57.59).

"It was a solid race for me," Peirsol said. "After the time trials and

the traveling and all that was going on, I wasn't in tip-top shape going

into the race. But overall, I was very happy with how things turned out."

Peirsol is home now after his Olympic adventure and despite the

non-stop phone calls and mountains of new USA clothing, it's the family's

goal to try to return to a somewhat normal life. Similar to what it was

when he was "just" a three-time CIF Southern Section Division I champion

for the Sailors.

"Nothing's changed," Peirsol said. "My family has been great at trying

to keep things as normal as possible. Now that I'm back home, with

home-cooked meals and I'm back in my old bed, everything is pretty much

the same."

Perhaps the same in terms of normal life, but has the Olympic

experience changed Peirsol?

"It's changed me, but it's hard to describe how it's changed me," he

said. "I think I've matured a little bit during all of this. I was away

from the family for over six weeks straight. I learned a little bit about

myself."

Being a member of the U.S. Olympic Team was a great thrill for

Peirsol, but it wasn't all fun and games.

"There were a ton of rules and regulations to follow," Peirsol said.

"There was a strict curfew before our meet and we even had a curfew after

our meet. I guess with a lot of younger athletes, they had to be strict."

Peirsol did get to go out and see some of the events, but for the most

part, kept to the business at hand before his competition.

"Before my event, I would practice for a while, then watch other

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