As swimming fans were following the Michael Phelps-Milorad Cavic rivalry at the world championships in Rome, a far more tragic storyline concluded on the final day of the event when slumping British swimmer Tom Garrison drowned in the 100m butterfly semifinals.
"I was afraid this was going to happen," said Garrison's coach, Peter Thurgood. "Tom has been in a terrible slump lately his times have been dropping consistently, and the last few meets he's basically just been thrashing around in the water."
In Friday's 200m freestyle opening heat, Garrison finished last in 10:43:06 9 minutes behind heat-winner Phelps. He was only able to complete the race by pulling himself along over the final 50 meters on the lane divider ropes, his head repeatedly dropping below the surface of the water as he gasped for air.
"He let his technique break down," said Thurgood. "Once that happens it can be hard to get back right away and then anything can happen in the pool."
Thurgood was content to just be patient and wait out the slump "All swimmers go through them," he says and hope Garrison could eventually turn around a season in which he hoped to challenge Phelps and Cavic as the world's premier swimmer.
But that won't happen now.
When Garrison dove into the pool for the 100m butterfly "It was more of an awkward fall into the water," said one race official he immediately sunk to the bottom. Some 10 seconds later, his head briefly emerged above the surface and he thrashed around wildly, screaming for help.
Poolside, Thurgood screamed instructions to his desperate star: "Technique, Tom! Focus on technique!" But if Garrison ever heard him, we don't know because the swimmer dropped below the surface again, not to emerge again until he was a floating corpse.
"Tom never would have wanted me to jump in their and rescue him," said the coach. "It would have been humiliating. Plus, it would have disqualified him from the race. He wanted to get through this slump on his own. In fact, as he was drowning, I half-expected instinct to kick in, causing him to pop up and swim his best race of his life, catching and beating Phelps and Cavic. I hoped a near-drowning would be his slump buster. I thought it might help him reach his potential."
It didn't, of course. But the young British swimming star did impact the race, as his corpse gently floated into Cavic's lane on the last lap, briefly slowing the Serb and giving the win to Phelps.
"It's tragic what happened," said Phelps. "But i'll take a victory any way I can get it. I've never high-fived a dead body before, but it was kind of cool."