Nelson could feel all that energy from the stands.
That made him tremble with excitement. Excitement and nervousness.
The eyes of everyone are on us… the entire country is supporting us…
Before him was the pool. His best friend was reaching the other end.
As he stood on the starting block, his breathing became faster. Nelson couldn’t wait to jump in the water, to swim.
Alright. We had a little trouble in the beginning but Yuri managed to catch up. If Marcelo keeps this pace, we’ll still be in the run for the gold medal. Then it’ll be up to me to win this.
Once again, he felt the eyes of everyone on the stands on him and his teammates. Thousands and thousands of eyes.
And those are only the ones here… there are millions more watching us on the TV. I wouldn’t go so far as to say most of the world, but at least most of the sporting world is, he thought, flashing a smile.
A smile that was both confident and nervous.
Cris, Mom, dad, and everyone is cheering for us, for Brazil.
I need to win this. I already won a bronze and two silver medals. I need the gold, or I won’t look as cool when I ask Cris!
Come, Marcelo! Keep up!
His best friend got a little behind during the turn flip, but in the middle of the lap, he picked up the pace and was with the Chinese and the American swimmers.
Good! Keep up, my idiot best friend!
The brief and little times Marcelo rose his head above the water to breathe were enough to tell Nelson; his friend was past his limit. Even so, the swimmer didn’t slow down.
He wants the gold just as much as me. Not only him. Yuri too. We all want the gold. For us and for Brazil.
We’re gonna put our names in history.
Marcelo was getting closer and closer with each stroke of his arms.
Nelson bent his body and touched the starting block.
He took deep breaths, concentrating.
Then he smiled as everything around him went quiet.
He was at his maximum concentration.
There was only him and the water now.
His entire being was focused on swimming, on winning.
The moment his friend touched the wall, Nelson jumped forward with his arms stretched.
Thanks, Marcelo! Now leave up to me!
When Nelson touched the water, he felt the impact and the resistance at once. But he only swung his arms and legs when he felt the impulse disappear.
Good… good! I’m feeling it!
Even if it happened whenever he swam in a tournament, Nelson couldn’t help but feel the thrill of flying in the water.
At the corner of his vision, he could see something moving on the other lanes. But he didn’t care.
Since his teammates had done their job, he would do his.
As the anchor swimmer, I’ll do this!
Nelson saw the other wall and prepared the turn flip. He pushed the wall with all the strength his legs had and let the impulse take him forward for a few seconds. Then he was moving all his limbs again, hitting the water with the support of a country behind him.
Go, go, go, go!
His body screamed with the effort. But Nelson didn’t slow down one bit. He didn’t care about the pain. If Marcelo withstood this, he would too.
He swam and swam. Then he saw the wall, the finishing point, before him.
C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!
It wasn’t the end if he lost. A silver, or even a bronze medal against amazing swimmers wasn’t something to feel bad about.
But after everything he went in these four years, it would leave a bitter taste.
Even if he had others, it would be the end of this cycle.
The cycle that he started the day he the doctor told him he was cured. The day he met Cris.
And Nelson didn’t want it to end without a gold medal.
He swung and swung his arms, the muscles trembling and warming up as the limbs smashed against the surface of the water, the drops flying everywhere.
At the corners of his vision, he could see swimmers from other countries. They were in the same place as he.
When Nelson was inches away from the wall, reached out and touched the tile with the tip of his fingers. As the inertia pushed the rest of his body, he raised his head out of the water.
Did I win?
He cleared the water from his face and turned to the stands.
Even if the crowd was mostly Brazilians, it was hard to tell. There was shouts and cheers and applause from everyone.
Then he looked at the big screen.
There it was.
Nelson was first.
For a fraction of a second, he had beaten the Americans.
He had won.
Brazil had won the gold medal.
Nelson felt the emotions overcoming him.
He laughed and cried and smashed the water with both arms.
His teammates felt the same. They jumped into the water to hug him.
Despite almost drowning due to his exhaustion, Nelson was too happy to care.
All he could do was smile and laugh.
His mind was too happy to remember what he said in the short interview before the medal ceremony.
But he would never forget the feeling of standing on the highest podium with his team.
When the medals were around their necks and the flowers in their hands, they raised their arms and waved to the whole stadium.
The spectators blew in cheers and applause.
It was a feeling Nelson would never forget for the rest of his life.
After that, the reporters came rushing for the interviews, both as a team and as individuals.
When was his turn, a reporter came to talk to him.
“So Nelson. First, congratulations for the gold medal. It’s amazing you managed to come so far after struggling to return to the pools. Can you say this is the best moment of your life?” she asked, moving the microphone to his direction.
“Yes,” the swimmer said with an exhausted but satisfied smiled. “It was too hard getting back here. But thanks to the people by my side, I managed. I’m too happy about this medal, but even happier for having people that supported me. This gold isn’t only mine.”
C’mon, ask me, he thought, barely containing his excitement now.
“But it’s not over yet. You still have the chance of winning more medals to win tomorrow,” she said, smiling at him.
“Yes. There’re three more events. But even if I win tomorrow, this medal is special. It’s my first Olympic gold. The first of many, I hope,” he said and they both laughed.
“Thanks to your and your teammates’ effort, Brazil has climbed up a little more on the Medal rank. Do you have anything to say to the people supporting you?”
“I do. I’d like to thank everyone who helped me. My mom, dad, my friends, the club,” he said, hoping he hadn’t forgotten anyone. I think friends and the club covered everyone. “But there’s one person in particular I need to thank.”
“And who’s that?”
His heart thumped louder and he couldn’t contain his smile.
“My manager. Without Cris, I would never be standing here today. And I want to say something to him.” Nelson looked around the area where Cris said he would be.
There he found the man he loved.
It was impossible for him not to find that cute face that was both beaming and crying at the same time. It didn’t help that Mari was by his side teasing him.
Nelson’s smile broadened as he put a hand in the pocket of his jacket.
“Cris!” he shouted, getting to his knees. Then he pulled a little black box and opened. There was a ring inside. “Will you marry me and make me the happiest man in the world?”
The manager’s face went black. Then he smiled and cried even more.
With a little push from his cousin, he raced towards his swimmer.
When he was at the stairs, he jumped.
Nelson caught him and hugged him tightly as they spun.
“Yes!” Cris shouted the world the swimmer wanted to hear before kissing him.
Nelson could never believe he could feel this much happiness. Especially after almost dying in that accident four years ago.
But now, all he cared was to kiss the man he loved.
The man that would soon be his husband.