Stefan Volery is sauntering past the set of benches where the British swimmers are sat. He's a picture of the kind of arrogance that comes with a genuine level of accomplishment, that still has failed quite scale the heights. Olympic swimming finalist, but nowhere near the medals.
My 13 year old self would kill to be as good looking and fast as him of course (while the current me would love to have that record), but I don't think I'd be quite so pleased with myself if I did.
One wag in our group agrees with me and fires a barrage from his machine water pistol in him Swiss face, so Volery promptly stalks up to his face, screams some abuse, whips the aqua- sniper's hat from his shaven head, deftly dunking in the pool before replacing it on the shocked comedian's head.
For the rest of our four days in Germany, whenever Volery gets on the starting blocks or the podium (he will win mens 50 metres freestyle) everyone will hear the sound of around thirty British swimmers booing as loud as their teenage voices are able.
We're hear for the Darmstadt international, which, in 1987, is arguably the most important swim meet in Europe, outside of the European championships. It's at an open air, ten lane beauty of a pool. There are international teams from all over.
From one perspective, it's all about the swimming. Everyone is here to compete and do well.
On the other, you have well over five hundred athletes, mostly under twenty, far away from home and parents, afforded the kind of freedoms most have to wait until college to enjoy.
In four days time we will have the mother of all closing parties in the evening sunshine. The Germans won't seem to care about legal drinking ages and I will experience drunkennes for the first time, which will lead to an equally shitfaced Canadian backstoker.
The will be faces on the journey home deathly pale from hangovers and embarrasment. This is yet to come though.
Right now, the Volery episode has broken my concentration. I'm trying to mentally prepare for the 200m backstroke. I'm in with a real chance of winning.
The other opportunity will be 200 medley, but I will be beaten into second by a towering British swimmer called Jamie Randall.
There are no heats and final in the age groups in this meet. The heats are organised around entry times and you just go out and swim. The best time in your age group wins. It's only the men who then have a final.
This is a worry to me. I usually do okay in the heats, but then experience some mental gear change and swim much faster in finals. Somehow I only perform when it really matters.
My body is still buzzing from the warm up swim. The pool felt good. It's so wide and deep that turbulence is a minimum. I've meticulously counted the strokes from the flags erected ten meters from each wall. In backstroke, if you turn to look around, you've lost. Timing to hit the wall at the end of the stroke is critical.
The call comes for me to go into the paddock with other swimmers. I go over with in my tracksuit, towel and entry called clutched in my hands.We are arranged into our respective groups of ten for each heat, slowly moving down the line for our race. Each gradual progression sees us getting more active. Jiggling our muscles, doing little jumps and endless arm windmills to loosen our shoulders.
A few people talk to each other, others actually crack a few jokes. I'm completely silent. It could be mistaken for arrogance or rudeness, but the truth is, I'm so nervous all I can do is think about the race.
Also, the closer we get, the more I yawn. I don't know when or where this happens, but before the big events that matter, I always develop a chronic yawning habit. Years and years later, I won't be able to stop yawning before going into big pitches, just as, years later, I'm a chaos of jagged nerves, my mind racing, just as when I used to get on the starting blocks all those years ago, when the powerpoint is fired up, some sort of internal switch flicks and I'm fine.
I don't understand this in 1987, I just feel both incredibly calm and voiolently coiled up. Ready to explode off those blocks.In my mind's eye I'm counting the strokes for each length, visualising my arms windmilling above me, feeling my shoulders roll while my body tries to stay as flat as possible.
In 2013, I'll read how introverts are able to literally become someone else when they feel prepared about something and genuinely care about it.
They blow the whistle, we all jump in the pool and hug the blocks as tightly as possible. Then the gun goes and we launch off the blocks, going a good twenty metres under water, propelling ourselves forward with a dolphin kick.
The next thing I'm aware of is smacking the blocks at the finish as hard as I can. I never remember a race. The final metre is always like waking up from some sort of dream.
I look at the digital clock and see I've won my heat.The time is pretty good.
It's only when I return to our team's benches that I get to check everyone's time and realise I've won.
Winning is always an ant-climax. Losing, or failing is always a more intense feeling than winning. A best time, placing where you should, or even coming first or just experiences of having escaped failure. There is little elation, just a feeling of relief. It's only when you surprise everyone, especially yourself that it feels special.
This should feel great. I was only in with a slim chance of winning, this was at least a moderate surprise, but there was no 'final' no shoot-out. The only enemy was the clock. It feels strangely hollow.
When I lose the medley later, I'm next to the guy who wins. I can feel the moment in the final freestyle sprint when the invisible elastic band between in snaps and I've lost him. It will drag much lower than winning has lifted me up.
Just like winning pitches will rarely feel particularly special, you're mostly just relieved and afraid. You solved the puzzle this time, it kind of worked, but you'll have to do it again, only this time with that weight of expectation. There is nothing more daunting than a blank piece of paper.
But when I talk to Mum on the payphone and I hear the pride in her voice, it suddenly feels great.
Then it's time to relax, cheer on team mates, watch the grown up do their finals and abuse Volery.
The strangeness of the experience for us all, far away from home, struggling with expectation, the fear of failure and the strange numbness of winning, along with the brutal nature of training mean we're all close. It's easy to make friends with kids from other countries, because it's the same for all of us.
When we all get home and back to school, we all experience our Clark Kent moments. We're all trying to adjust to a world where no one else really has our frame of reference. On day you're in the foreign sun with kids from all over the world, experiencing very grown up sensations and dealing with the un-reality of it all.
The next you're struggling with quadratic equations.
It's only all these years later that understand how special it all was and how truly lucky I was too.