If you are surprised about the fact that Peter Marshall has been tearing up the World Cup circuit, winning races week after week and setting occasional world records, you’re not the only one.
So is he.
After twice failing to make a U.S. Olympic team, Marshall, a backstroke specialist from Atlanta, decided to retire at the end of 2008. He was finished with swimming. He needed to get away from the pool deck and put his Stanford degree in economics to use.
“I just figured it was time to be done,” Marshall, 27, said. “I had other things to do in life.”
But something happened to Marshall during his farewell tour on the short-course (25-meter pool) World Cup circuit last fall. He won races and made decent money. After years of coming close but failing to make it big in long-course (50-meter) pools, Marshall found his niche.
And, along the way, quite accidentally, he had a fabulous time. Accustomed to training full-bore in his quest to qualify for the Olympic Games, Marshall had decided to make swimming merely a part of his last hurrah, not the centerpiece.
So when he flew to Durban, South Africa, for the first leg of the World Cup tour, he got on a boat and went shark diving (without a cage). He went kite-boarding. He watched 10 crocodiles lunch on an impala at Kruger National Park. He visited World War II memorials in Berlin, Old Town in Stockholm.
Despite those dalliances with fun, his performance didn’t suffer in the least. In fact, he exceeded his expectations. Relying on his strong underwater kick, he set a trio of world records in Stockholm and Berlin last year. When he touched the wall as a victor in the 100-meter backstroke, his mind whirred.
“Fifteen hundred bucks” for winning, he thought. “That’s two months rent.”
World records pay even better: $10,000 for each one set.
Marshall isn’t going to make a fortune doing this, but he’s made enough to pay for his travel expenses (he has shared a hotel room with former Stanford pal and Austrian Olympian Markus Rogan) and to take care of a few bills back home in Irvine, Calif. Until this week, he had led the FINA/Arena World Cup standings among men. He has won a host of races and set a pair of world records in the 50 backstroke.
“The World Cup recharged my whole year,” Marshall said. “When I get to these meets, I feel like, ‘Oh, this is fun. I really enjoy this.’”
The winning has been great, and so have the extra-curriculars. He has twice gone diving with black tip reef sharks off of the Cape of Good Hope. The trips have included former U.S. swimmer Kicker Vencill, Rogan and U.S. world-record holder Jessica Hardy.
Marshall said he has been willing to swim freely among the dozens of sharks feeding on sardines lowered in a bucket, only after ascertaining that the instructor, who makes it a point to dive in first, does not get eaten.
“Last year, I couldn’t care less” about results,” Marshall said. “I thought, ‘This is it anyway, so have as much fun as you can,’ but then I was swimming fast. I was like, ‘Oh, you can do both?’”
There is no longer any question about retirement; Marshall plans to come back next fall for next year’s series. There is a question, however, about whether he should try to expand his short-course success to long-course events — again.
The Olympic Trials have provided him with nothing but frustration since his graduation in ’04. That summer, he missed an Olympic team spot in the 200 backstroke by three-hundredths of a second. Last year, he failed to make any finals.
“It’s so hard to say,” Marshall said. “I would love to do just as well in long-course, and of course the Olympics, that’s every swimmer’s dream … That’s a tough one for me.”