-- Mike Bottom got the call in his Omaha, Nebraska, hotel room between preliminary heats and finals on the last day of the U.S. Olympic swim trials in early July. He can tell you exactly what happened next.
Bottom swung his feet from the bed onto the floor. His free hand clapped onto his head, as if it might spin off. He kept his speech controlled and his responses befitting the son of a naval officer.
"Yes, sir,'' Bottom said. "No, sir. You can count on me, sir.''
The University of Michigan and Club Wolverine head coach hung up, turned to associate coach Josh White, and repeated the other end of the conversation: National team director Frank Busch had just named him to the staff of the 2016 Olympic men's team.
Both men started crying. Gratification deferred for 36 years had finally arrived.
As a 24-year-old in 1980, Bottom qualified to swim the 100-meter butterfly for an Olympic team that didn't compete because of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games. Bottom earned two degrees in psychology, worked outside the sport for a decade, then returned to channel the energy of his diverted aspirations into other athletes.
Since then, over the course of coaching stints at Auburn University, the University of Southern California (his alma mater), the University of California-Berkeley, and The Race Club, a private Florida-based training program, Bottom has helped several dozen swimmers from multiple countries qualify for the Summer Games. He is best known for molding sprint freestylers, including 50-meter Olympic gold medalists Gary Hall and Anthony Ervin and silver medalist Duje Draganja of Croatia.
Thanks to those individual associations, he's been on the Olympic pool deck for various highlights, including Hall and Ervin's historic first-place tie at the Sydney Games in 2000.
Hall called Bottom "a genius psychologist [who] applied his talent to the measurable outcome of swimming.''
"Mike can assess a team of 25 individual personalities and know exactly what motivates each one in varying ways,'' Hall wrote in an email. "Some need to be yelled at, some need to be coddled. No coach, that I know of, has been as effective as Mike Bottom in tailoring approaches in coaching, sports psychology and motivation."
Yet Bottom had long ago made peace with the fact that he might never go to an Olympics as an official member of the U.S. delegation.
Coaching assistants are chosen at the discretion of the national team director and the U.S. men's and women's head coaches, though selections are usually roughly based on each coach's success in getting athletes on the team. Like the swimmers themselves, coaches can see opportunities slip away by fractions of seconds. Bottom also said he probably didn't lobby hard enough for himself. It just wasn't his main motivation.
"Had I made the team in '80, I don't think this is what I have chosen to do,'' he said. "I get to see joy in a way that's even greater than personal joy. One is looking at yourself. The other is looking outward. It's driven me to try to give that experience to as many people as I can.''
Bottom, a married father of three daughters, succeeded current Arizona State University and head men's Olympic coach Bob Bowman at Michigan in 2008 and now oversees both the men's and women's teams. White, an endurance guru with a PhD in human performance, has helped draw distance swimmers to Ann Arbor. Wolverines Connor Jaeger (1,500-meter freestyle) and Sean Ryan (10-kilometer open water) qualified for the Rio-bound U.S. team.
At Cal, Bottom also worked with defending Olympic 100-meter freestyle champion Nathan Adrian, who will try to retain his title next month, and the 35-year-old Ervin, who will compete in the 50 freestyle 16 years after he tied Hall for gold.
Bottom's Olympic journey began at one of the strangest swim meets ever held: the 1980 trials in Irvine, California, in late July, which began a few days after the actual Olympic swimming competition had concluded in Moscow.
American officials wanted to make a competitive point, so they moved the dates of the trials, posted the times from Moscow atop the scoreboard during each event and kept a running "medal table.'' In today's terminology, it was a virtual Olympics.
"Our coaches did an incredible job of keeping us focused on finishing the job,'' said Glenn Mills, who swam for the powerhouse Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins team and won the 200-meter breaststroke at the 1980 trials. "Everybody was fighting to win and do world records and do what they could.''
Three world records were set and a number of virtual medals were "won" in Irvine. Afterward, the team went to Hollywood to be outfitted in official gear, and then on to the White House to meet then-President Jimmy Carter, who had imposed the boycott.
The 1980 swimmers had a range of reactions to the boycott and virtual Games, but Bottom, who has three generations of Navy men in his family tree and whose father was a Korean War veteran, tried to view it through a constructive prism.
"This was the way I thought about it: If we didn't go, I would be giving up something of meaning for my country,'' Bottom said. "The Vietnam War was so close. Local guys I grew up with had gone. That was naïve, but that was my viewpoint.''
Years later, with Russia still occupying Afghanistan, Bottom had reason to question his own thinking. But he said he still feels privileged to have shaken Carter's hand.
Every member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team received the Congressional Gold Medal from Carter, but like many aspects of that team's existence, it came with an asterisk. Congress declared its intention to give the athletes its highest civilian honor (not to be confused with the Medal of Honor awarded for military valor), but proper protocol wasn't followed and the medals weren't recorded in official government paperwork. The medal status was formally upgraded in 2007 after two team members researched the issue.
Bottom's brothers Joe and Dave also were accomplished elite swimmers. Joe held the world record in the 100-meter butterfly and won Olympic silver in the event in 1976. Dave, a former American record holder in the 100-meter backstroke, was a captain of the Stanford University team.
Their father, George, died when Mike was 26, and amid the family's sense of loss was the knowledge of what could have been in the summer of 1980. But Bottom has never felt sorry for himself.
"Mike hasn't dwelled on it at all, because he's been so focused on getting other people there,'' said Mills, a coach and producer of instructional videos. "When talking about motivating kids, it's a benefit to teaching -- it's not just about winning and getting medals and going to meets. It's about setting goals and making them.''
Bottom appreciates the fact that many people in the sport wanted this for him as much as he has wanted it for them.
"Everyone can relate to the disappointment of almost getting there and having that dream vanish,'' he said. "My story taps into a lot of people's stories.''