PALO ALTO -- At 16, he had the long, tapering swimmer's muscles that made it impossible for anyone who saw Brian Job in a pool to miss what he was -- a budding champion, who that year would win a bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City -- or to imagine what he would one day become: homeless.
Job, who pronounces his name like the Bible's long-suffering character, had become the first high school swimmer to break the one-minute barrier in the 100-yard breaststroke on March 29, 1968. Forty-five years later to the day, Job was released from the Santa Clara County main jail after his arrest for interfering with firefighters, who, according to a Palo Alto Police Department spokesman, were attempting to extinguish a fire Job had built in a restaurant parking lot. Job insists he and some of his fellow "outdoor citizens" were merely having a late-night barbecue.
Already on probation for disturbing the peace, with at least a half-dozen arrests for petty crimes pending against him, Job suffers from bipolar disorder and assorted addictions, according to his family. Job is convinced his family has spent years plotting against him and maintains he is resolutely "unipolar." The things he accomplished to become a star for the mighty Santa Clara Swim Club -- overcoming a club foot, months in a painful body cast, a broken neck, going headfirst through the windshield of a car -- were so remarkable that sorting out fact and fiction is nearly impossible.
One thing is certain: In the four decades since he gave up competitive swimming, Job gradually moved from the world he once inhabited -- based on long, grinding hours of practice and split-second victories -- to an alternate reality where he is in complete control.
At some point, the rush of water and adrenaline that made Job a star at the Santa Clara International Swim Center, and later for Stanford University, was transformed into a torrent of words, flowing from him unchecked by the customary brakes of logic or circumspection.
"He's mentally ill and totally delusional," says Lisa Uzzell, Job's sister. "We had to get a restraining order to keep him away from my parents' house after he almost burned it down when he caught the rug on fire. He's manic-depressive, but he thinks nothing is wrong with him, so he doesn't take his medication."
But if Job has fallen far from his former Olympian heights, his landing on the streets has been mercifully short on self-awareness. He says he has given away a fortune that, by his own accounting, would amount to billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars. He owns very little, and needs less, including food and sleep. The token of his life's greatest moment, the Olympic bronze medal, remains at his parents' home in Los Altos. He has touched it exactly once since 1968.
When he was 18, with the whole world chasing him, Job dreamed of putting himself so far ahead of the churning contrail of his competition in the 200 breaststroke that no one could possibly get near him. He was obsessed with putting the world record out of reach, "where nobody can touch it," and in 1970 he did just that, obliterating the old mark by nearly 2 seconds. That same year, during his freshman season at Stanford, he lowered the U.S. mark every time he entered the pool at the NCAA and AAU championships, 10 records in two weeks.
He would continue to impose his will on the rest of the world for another two years, until an untimely debacle at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, where Job went from holding the world record to not even getting to swim in the finals of his event. Even his world record was wiped out in Munich by his Santa Clara Swim Center teammate, John Hencken, who took the gold medal Job had been favored to win.
Job's only memories of Munich, where members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed by terrorists, are clearly a figment of his overheated imagination -- a le Carré-like tale of "going over the wall with the terrorists, thinking they were Israelis." But he has no recollection of his own disaster in the pool, where he inexplicably failed to get past a qualifying heat in the event he was favored to win. Today, he says he was swimming cautiously to avoid disqualification and simply didn't post a time good enough to advance.
"I don't remember, to tell you the truth," he says, closing his eyes for a moment. "I'm rolling the tape back and I'm getting a blank stare."
Most dangerous man
Job often draws blank stares as he jabbers at people passing by along El Camino Real, or in Lytton Park downtown, where he is a regular. Whether he is there, or buttonholing passengers at the Caltrain station, Job often dons special sunglasses that he says double as a video camera. "People are not really supposed to know what I look like, because I'm the most dangerous person in the world order," he says in a low voice. Then he mentions a "trillion-dollar company" that he owns, and explains his Spartan existence is the result of giving away all his money.
Before he supposedly invented 3-D printing, gave Apple's Steve Jobs the domain name "me.com" -- "Steve called me to apologize for screwing it up," he says -- and provided the impetus and inspiration for dozens of Silicon Valley's most famous ideas, Job was, in actual fact, a Santa Clara Swim Club teammate of Mark Spitz and Don Schollander, who won 14 Olympic gold medals between them. Spitz was a natural in the pool in every discipline and distance, but if he hadn't enlisted Job as his study partner at Santa Clara High, he might never have graduated. No lie, says Job's sister.
Like Spitz, who moved from the Central Valley to swim for legendary Santa Clara coach George Haines, Schollander came from Oregon as a teenager, and Job moved west from Ohio at age 15. "He was being pushed," Job's sister Brenda told Sports Illustrated in a 1970 article about the exploits of the entire family. The shove came from their mother, Mary Job, who made all four children swim laps in the lake they grew up on, morning and night. "I hated it with a passion," Brian told the magazine. "It got to the point that we were crying while we were doing our laps." His brother and sisters all quit swimming, but Brian felt obligated to carry on for his mother's sake, and continued to suffer bizarre injuries. At one point, a horse fell on him.
Last week, Brian Job said, "What our parents did to us would be considered child abuse now," and his sister Lisa theorized that their mother, who was their coach, may have suffered from the same manic-depression that she believes afflicts Brian. Lisa became a national age-group champion, Brenda was a state swimming champion in Ohio and their older brother, Stephen, swam with Schollander on a national champion medley relay team at Yale University.
When Schollander returned to Santa Clara in 2006 for a reunion of the swim club and its Olympic stars, he hadn't seen Job in years. "He was dressed very nattily," Schollander recalls by phone from Lake Oswego, Ore., where he became a real estate developer. "He was a very dandy-looking guy -- kind of eccentric."
As they stood on the pool deck, Job told him about his years at Harvard Business School, followed by Silicon Valley startups Networked Picture Systems and Via Video, where he was founder, chairman and CEO -- all true, apparently, though Job's claim that he had become a venture capital investor wasn't. It's likely that when Schollander returned to his hotel that night, Job returned to one of the many squats he has occupied since becoming homeless.
"He told me all these things that he had done successfully in terms of startup companies and high-tech companies," Schollander says. "I came away from that thinking, 'God, that guy's probably the most successful one of all.' I did!"
Even now, old friends from Job's days as a top swimmer find his predicament hard to believe. "He's really a brilliant guy, which is why this is so sad," says Anne Cribbs, who won a gold in the 4x100 medley relay at the Rome Olympics in 1960, and has been a mainstay of amateur sports on the Peninsula. "I had a lot of conversations with him on the phone. He took to calling some of us in the middle of the night, so it got to where you didn't answer your phone. It's just so sad."
According to Job's résumé (http://job1.com/pb/wp_7842be71.html?0.11849421076381961) -- which is available at the website created for his current, more fanciful operation, called Job 1 -- he "retired" from running companies in 1987. That was around the same time that his sister says he lost his Sunnyvale home to foreclosure, blowing wads of money on a Ferrari, a huge satellite dish, and stereo speakers so enormous they needed helium tanks to run. "He started getting goofier and goofier," Uzzell says.
When he was still on top of the world in 1971, Job seemed to see his own shadow at the bottom of the pool, and in it a glimpse of the fate that awaited him. "If you ... have ability, you can get better," he said. "But it's so darned easy to blow it."
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.