Helge Meeuw at the 2008 German Swimming Championships in Berlin made a new European record in the 100 meter backstroke. At the men’s relay in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing he placed last in a race. The commentators said of his bearded face:

Commentator 1: Why wouldn’t he shave that?

Commentator 2: Why risk it?

Commentator 1: That’s crazy.


Maybe he wanted to be different:

every competitor hairless,

tiny goggles suctioned to their faces,

flattened, indented chests,

long bodies, speedy eels,

all identical fighting upstream

to the undeniable.


Maybe his sweetheart, Helene, told

him the beard improved

his strength, a Samsonite athlete.

Suddenly his razor and shaving

gel vanished. She swore on

her father’s grave she hadn’t

done it; convinced him

of her reasoning.


Or he’d been swallowed by that

great, gray whale. Inside the hollow

mouth, he swam from its teeth

to its tongue, back and forth

for years, a bowled goldfish,

and he now knew

escape was unattainable.

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