With the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team Trials coming to Nathan Benderson Park on April 17-24, a major problem has risen to the surface.
Previously unseen in the 400-acre lake in Benderson Park, a gigantic alligator, perhaps one of the biggest on record in Florida, has been regularly tracking boats as they train.
The alligator, nicknamed "Buddy" by park personnel, has not been aggressive, but its massive size, which has been estimated to be 18 feet long and almost 1,000 pounds, is scaring the daylights out of some of the competitors.
"We don't have a whole lot of contact with alligators in Paris," said French rower, Jacques Padel. "So all I knew is what I see in the movies. I don't think it's very sporting of the Americans to throw off our training by scaring the wits out of our heads. It's typical stuff."
Other competitors, such as Australian Rupert Murdoch, Jr., said the presence of the alligator is no big deal.
"We have crocs at home that make this little bloke look like that silly Geico lizard," Murdoch said. "I don't know what all the fuss is about. We need to sit down, have a couple of beers and relax. If they really need that alligator out of the lake, I can get a couple of my mates and we will take care of it."
The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center, Inc., has a close watch on the situation, and has gone to the University of Florida biology science department for advice.
"I know people see those massive jaws and razor teeth and they think the worst," said University of Florida Professor Rip Tillion. "The fact is that this alligator looks benign. The big fellow seems to enjoy racing against the rowers.
"We have found enough animal carcasses along the shore -- a steer, raccoons, opossum, dogs -- that we know he isn't hungry. This is standard operating procedure for us. We find that people always think the worst and panic even though this is just another example of the beauty of nature. Nobody has been ripped to shreds yet, have they?"
Also keeping a close watch is the United States Rowing Association. "We actually have found our times to be dropping," said U.S, coach Auberbear Ing. "It gives them a little more incentive when they see those eyes come up over the surface. We always say that we are prepared to give our all to bring back to gold, so this is just another great example that we are willing to put it all out there.
"If we do well at the Olympics, we might just introduce an alligator into our training in our Pocatello, Idaho national training center."
One thing is certain, the presence of "Buddy" is bringing more interest to rowing. People are beginning to line the lake, sitting in their lawn chairs and showing off banners that read, "Go Buddy, beat the boats!"
As new rowing fan Liz Ord said, "This is better than NASCAR."