When Marianne Limpert walks onto the pool deck in Europe, someone inevitably says, "Oh, there's that lovely Canadian girl!"
It's true, Limpert has a lot of things going for her, just one of which is her clean, good looks. But what Europeans notice the most is her ability and readiness to communicate - in their own language if possible.
When asked questions in French, Limpert answers in kind. Try her in German and her heritage - both of her parents are German - serves her well. She also studies Spanish as part of a degree in Humanistic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, so it's not surprising that her career objectives lie in the direction of International Relations. It's one of the things she does best.
But at 24, the Olympic silver medallist is in no rush to finish school. "I have two more years to go, but I'm not worried about dragging it out," she says. "I can do school whenever, and now seems to be the time to concentrate on swimming. I think I still have a lot more potential."
Sitting in Canet, taking shelter from a downpour, Limpert is an interviewer's dream. Talkative and unassuming, she seems at home wherever she is, comfortable despite a helter skelter schedule, and always ready to laugh.
Does she think of herself any differently since winning a medal for Canada in Atlanta? How has it changed her life? Limpert's first reaction is to say that the medal did little more than make her more confident. She doesn't really think about it much. And yet, as she talks, it becomes clear that winning an Olympic medal has in fact profoundly affected her existence.
She jokingly explains the novel fact that her father, a helicopter pilot and manager of a division of Canadian Helicopters, now goes through life as "Marianne's Dad."
Then she thinks about it some more.
"I did so many appearances (after Atlanta)," she says, "and it was a lot more stressful than I had imagined!"
After resuming training and classes in Montreal in the fall, Limpert spent some whirlwind weekends making public appearances. She cites one in particular that saw her fly to Fredericton for a McDonald's dinner on Friday evening, get up on Saturday morning to fly to Vancouver for a dual meet with UBC (she swam the 400 IM, 200 breast, and a relay), take off to Whistler where she met up with Curtis Myden to be present for the SNC Annual General Meeting, before flying home Sunday evening and making it to class at 8:30 on Monday morning.
"It was fun and a great learning experience, but I was just dead!" she laughs. She adds that she plans to cut down on appearances until Perth, then remembers there is a photo shoot for Speedo coming up in Phoenix...
"Things just keep coming up!" she grins. "But the money is kind of nice."
While she is a long way from sprinter Donovan Bailey, personal sponsorships have certainly made Limpert's life easier. She has deals with Speedo, Immunotec protein powder, Power Bar, and Swiss Air. AJM Campbell, a nationwide moving company, has also leased her a car for the next two years.
So in a subtle way, being a sought-after silver medallist has given Limpert a different sense of responsibility in her sport. "I do feel obliged to uphold the image, in a way," she admits. "I feel I have to stay in shape, and stay competitive."
That feeling made her start training "too early" after the Olympics. "I took way too little time off," she says,"and got back in the water in September. I wanted to take it a little easier this year but I just got thrown into it again," she says.
The heavy schedule was likely the cause of an illness that struck her after competing at the World Cup in Hong Kong. "I think I was just really worn out and I got a horrible cold and had to take antibiotics," she comments. Limpert never made it back to the World Cup, householding herself instead for Nationals and the CIAUs.
And of course she doesn't get home to see her parents much these days. "But I'm getting used to it," she sighs. "They come to see me now, when they can."
But if Olympic medals have a way of taking over one's social calendar, Limpert is nevertheless a swimmer who deals with it by knowing herself better and better. She chooses her competitions herself, taking the time of year, quality of competition, school and finances into account. The Mare Nostrum tour is attractive not only for the cash prizes, but also for the chance to "get some good racing in back to back."
"I'm not a trainer, I'm a racer," she says. "I was a bit worried coming here (to Europe) because I hadn't raced since the CIAUs, but it's been good."
For the record, Limpert won the 200 IM at all three competitions, posting a 2:16.48 in Monaco.
"I like these meets because I have to adjust to different things like heat, cold, and different food."
Limpert's ability to adapt has no doubt contributed to her success. After following her coach, Claude Saint-Jean, to Montreal, where she enrolled in university, Limpert discovered that the travelling time to the Claude Robillard Centre was just too much. For the sake of convenience, she began training part of the time at McGill with Fran¨ois Laurin. The arrangement has worked out, and while the two coaches still communicate regularly, Limpert will remain with Laurin for the duration of the summer. "I got more attention from Fran¨ois because there were fewer people, and I think I needed that this year," says the only child who professes to have the "attention span of a gerbil."
Pleased with her results in Europe, Limpert is confident that either program can work for her. "I'm doing mainly IM work although I'll still swim some freestyle," she says of her work with Laurin. "We do a lot of heartrate sets, and a lot of 50s working on the IM splits."
After the Mare Nostrum tour, Limpert accorded herself a short trip to visit family in Germany. "I haven't seen them all for a few years and my grandmother just turned 90. I brought my medal along to show her."
The infamous medal, now so much a part of her, still has an aura of unreality. "Sometimes, when I show it to people, I look at it and think "Wow! I really won this!" But its colour - so close to gold - is also part of what is pushing her on to Sydney. "I know I can swim a lot faster," she says.
In Germany, Limpert managed to train during public swim hour at a local pool. Her Uncle Helmut stood on the side, video camera in hand, recording her strokes for posterity. "He's always got the video camera out!" Limpert laughs, her modesty showing red in her cheeks.
Good thing though, because given his niece's agenda, it will be a while before the next visit.