Back at the pool in Tucson, Smiths in his bodysuit again. Its the final round of the solo competition, and hes in third place. Hes behind two other competitors, one of whom is Sara Lowe, a 24-year-old former Aquamaid and Olympic-team member who swims for Stanford University. Shes competing with a severely sprained ankle that her team doctor called a season-ending injury.

Smith gets in the water, but during his routine he cant seem to get his legs completely flat against the surface when doing upside-down splits. Hes been working on the skill by stretching for at least an hour every day, sometimes propping his leg on a book to extend it farther. Its an on-and-off thing, he says. On a good day I can do it.

This is not a good day. After he exits the pool, he stands on the deck to wait for his score. He keeps his costume on this time. A smile is frozen on his face. The score—94.33—is not enough to overtake the girls.

Lowe is the winner, and she climbs onto the podium. Smith, having put on his red tracksuit and sunglasses, is too busy cramming sandwiches and cookies into his gym bag to clap as shes awarded her gold medal. When his name is announced, he dutifully kisses her (and the second-place winner) before stepping onto the lowest tier of the stand. Afterward Lowe admits shes glad she wasnt beaten by Smith. Im a very competitive person, she says. I dont like losing to anyone, but it would be more difficult for me to lose to a guy.

Smith is philosophical about it. Being the only guy in synchro has that effect. You just have to get on with it. Hes hopeful that the rules might change so that he can compete at the 2012 Olympics; beyond that, he can imagine himself performing in Las Vegas shows. Im not upset about it, he says. Im going to try to win next year.