Underdog, The

Inflation Types:
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Jeanne Guilder sat on a bench off the arena's main floor, trying to keep her nerves from getting to her. She looked up at the scoreboard and winced at the numbers looking back down at her. In an improbable turn of events, it all came down to her and she was in a position to win it all. It would take one hell of an effort, but it was within reach just enough that the idea of losing - no longer the slam-dunk certainty that it once was - tied her stomach in knots.

And the situation truly was improbable, one in which Jeanne never expected to find herself. A virtual nobody coming out of high school, she was lightly recruited by a handful of schools, her short, petite build deemed inadequate for college competition despite decent results in high school. She was only offered a scholarship by a commuter school two days before signing day when their best player suffered a career-ending injury while training. Jeanne submitted her letter of intent before the school could change its mind. Then the freshman was suddenly thrust into the main rotation when one of the seniors on the team got knocked up by her boyfriend and was medically disqualified for the season.

So it was improbable enough that Jeanne Guilder, an inexperienced, overlooked history major who had only been on campus for five months, was a regular contributor at a Division I program like Archer City Municipal University. Even more improbable was ACMU's second place finish in their conference, the school's best ever. Even more improbable was ACMU's unexpected run through the regional and super-regional postseason meets, landing them in the National Championship meet with seven elite schools. ACMU hung in there just enough while the other schools' players suffered from late season fatigue, illness, injury, and inevitably some choking on such a big stage.

So, on the third and final day of competition the very last slot went to Archer City, the most improbable of Cinderella stories, with Jeanne the only remaining person on the team left to compete, in fourth place but within striking distance of first. A more seasoned athlete would relish the opportunity and rise to the occasion; Jeanne felt like running to the locker room and throwing up.

A loud cheer rose from the stands as the previous contestant was escorted off the floor. Katie Florin, a senior from Regents University, had just single-handedly vaulted her team into the top spot. And what a job she had done, scoring a 48 - tying her own Division 1 record - in her last collegiate competition. The girl had already led Regents to a team championship the previous year, was the three-time defending individual champion, and had likely just sewn up another pair of titles. She had been clutch her entire college career, and she was poised to make a lot of money in the pros.

Jeanne watched Katie make her way out of the arena to her team's holding area. She would then shed her Regents red and go get fitted for the customary gold uniform that the individual champion donned for the awards ceremony. The noise from the crowd dulled a bit during the break and Jeanne turned to look down the length of her team's empty bench. Like the girls from Regents, Jeanne's teammates were all in ACMU's holding area watching on closed circuit TV. She wished they were there with her to offer encouragement or advice. Her coach had run off somewhere a couple minutes prior, but not before giving Jeanne the customary pep talk.

A referee approached the ACMU bench. "Are you ready?" she asked.

Jeanne took a deep breath, sighed, and stood up. "Yes." She removed the tracksuit she had been wearing on top of her team uniform, a rich blue spandex suit that bore a bold white "ARCHER CITY" across the chest and her uniform number 9 on her stomach and back. As the referee led her to the center of the arena, Jeanne again glanced at the scoreboard. The magic number was 40 to tie Katie Florin and Regents, and 41 to win.

"I can do 41," she tried to reassure herself. She had achieved 38 in practice a couple of times, but practice is practice, and she had never done better than 33 in real competition. Plus, no one of her physical stature had ever attained 41 in competition before. For that matter, none of her taller, more experienced teammates had either. Katie Florin, on the other hand, could score a 41 with the flu while half-asleep.

The Regents section of the crowd was still cheering as if they had already won. The rest of the arena was still buzzing a little, most of the fans happy to root for an underdog if their own team was out of the running. Most women's sports are not well attended, but this being the one sport better suited to women than men, the arena was packed and millions were watching on live TV.

Jeanne took her position in the middle of the arena floor. The referee wrapped an elastic band around her waist, then took her position a few feet away. Jeanne took this time to begin focusing. The arena was a bit colder than she was used to, perhaps around 70 degrees. The lights were brighter. Her nose was a little itchy from her allergies. She would have to account for all those things, not to mention the noise from the crowd and her nerves.

"Your attention, please," the public address announcer said. "Competing in the final position of the championship round: Jeanne Guilder, Archer City Municipal University. Number nine."

The echoes of the booming bass voice hadn't subsided before another cheer rose from the crowd. She looked over to the referee one more time and nodded to acknowledge that she was ready. The referee then turned to the judges' table and gave them a thumbs-up.

A series of tones, one second apart, came over the PA. This was it: a ten-second countdown, then fifteen minutes to win the whole shooting match. Jeanne closed her eyes in anticipation and concentration.

The last tone was followed loudly by the buzzer. The clock was running. An instant later, Jeanne began absorbing the air around her.

In the sport of women's expansion, there were various strategies that could be employed during competition. You could start fast, end fast, or simply proceed at a steady pace. Jeanne switched up her pace throughout her routine but she always started slow; that would leave her the stamina to finish strong. The last five minutes were always the hardest.

Jeanne's spandex uniform and the elastic band began stretching around her waist as her stomach swelled up smoothly, approaching the size and shape of a basketball. Jeanne opened her eyes only long enough to see that the scoreboard was still blank, the measuring device around her waist not yet able to properly calculate her size. Still, she could tell that the cold of the arena was slowing her down a bit. 41 feet would be a tall order.

The referee stood closer, carefully inspecting Jeanne's midsection as it continued inflating, listening to the sound of the air passing through Jeanne's pores and into her body. Jeanne knew the referee was there but needed to maintain her focus, feeling the perimeter of her stomach gradually push further and further out. Without opening her eyes she gently reached her hands out and tried to bring them together in front of her belly. Finding herself unable, she redirected some of her air intake toward her legs. Inflating those next would give her the lower body stability she needed once her upper body became larger. She repeatedly planted her feet further apart as her legs bulged within the spandex suit, reaching nearly four times their former width before she redirected the air back to her torso.

Her breasts and stomach surged outward, the text across her chest stretching in effort to catch up to the greatly distorted "9" just below. Jeanne allowed her back to swell out next, starting at the small of her back and then spreading upward to her shoulder blades. Her back and front were beginning to blend together at her hips, causing her entire torso to begin growing rounder. She opened her eyes again, finding a wide swath of blue spandex covering her breasts and blocking the view of anything below. She glanced at the scoreboard in time to see it light up with its first digit, her midsection (albeit disproportional) now round enough to produce a proper number. In three minutes she had reached five feet wide.

Jeanne was a little behind her normal pace, but it was now time to make up for lost time. Closing her eyes once more and concentrating on the air around her, she kicked into high gear, forcing all parts of her body to take on air. Everything began growing in unison, including her as-yet-unaffected arms. She began staggering her feet slightly wider as her legs gradually spread apart once again. She could hear a cheer rise up from the Archer City fans in the stands as the number on the scoreboard began climbing.

It was around this time that Jeanne felt hands on the front of her massive stomach. This was normal; the referee was checking her to make sure that she was growing according to regulations. Rampant use of inflation-enhancing drugs had been a huge scandal several years prior and it was now largely up to the referees, themselves former athletes in the sport, to look and feel for signs of illegal drug use. The referee's hands traced various parts of Jeanne's widening body, moving from breasts to back and all points in between, feeling for the tell-tale signs of cheating. Finally she stepped back, signaling that Jeanne was clean.

Jeanne's legs had become immobile and her bloated arms stuck out stiffly from her rounding upper body. When she felt her feet leave the floor as her crotch advanced downward, she again accelerated her growth for just a short time, watching the scoreboard hit double digits with ten minutes left. Her arms met the same fate as her now-non-existent legs and seconds later her breasts flattened, leaving Jeanne as a blue spandex ball in the middle of the arena. The giant "9" on her front and back made her resemble a billiard ball despite being the incorrect color for the number. The crowd cheered again.

The numbers on the scoreboard steadily ticked up, first eclipsing fifteen feet and then twenty before Jeanne backed off to pace herself. Now growing at just a snail's pace with just seven minutes left, she needed to conserve what little energy she had left during the next four minutes. Then she would make another run at what she hoped would be a big finish.

But there was still that defeatist attitude in the back of her mind, reminding her that it would take a Herculean effort just to surpass her own personal best in competition and then another 24% beyond that to win. Worried of getting so close and failing anyway, Jeanne considered the prospect of playing it safe. She still had three years ahead of her, so there was no reason to embarrass herself so early. Sure, most of the team would be graduating and next year would be a rebuilding year, but---

A rising dull roar from the crowd brought her attention back from her own thoughts. Jeanne's mind had wandered only a couple of minutes as she struggled with her inner dilemma, but in that time she had reached 29 feet. Nearly eight feet in only two minutes while barely trying. Five minutes left.

"Oh God," Jeanne thought, "I could actually win this thing."

She crossed the 30 foot mark and thought back to the look on Katie Florin's face as they rolled her off of the arena floor just a few minutes ago - tired and spent, but also smug, confident, and business-like all at the same time. The look of a winner, a defending champion who despite her numerous accolades had still left everything on the field to ensure that losing would not be her fault. Jeanne wanted to be like that, and for the first time in her life she began to develop a killer instinct.

"I WANT to win this thing."

With a little over four minutes to go, Jeanne furrowed her brow and forced herself to give full effort, foregoing all of her previous training. She quickly blew past her competition best, feeling her body absorbing her hands and feet; for most women this didn't happen until around the 40-foot mark but it happened much sooner on Jeanne's smaller frame. The Archer City crowd was beginning to go nuts as the realization dawned on them that Jeanne may actually bring this thing home. Jeanne pushed herself even harder, concentrating as much as she could on taking in more air.

39. Three minutes to go. Jeanne had eclipsed her overall largest achieved in practice and knew she had more left in the tank.

40. Clinching at least a tie of the title, Archer City was guaranteed to go down in the record books. The roar of the crowd rose along with Jeanne.

41. Jubilation. She had done it, with plenty of time to spare. But she didn't want to stop. There was still business to attend to.

42. Jeanne's skin reverberated with the din coming from the stands.

43. Two minutes left. The cheering of the audience turned to gasps as they realized that Jeanne, having locked up the team title, was now gunning for Katie Florin's individual record.

44. The wrist and ankle cuffs of Jeanne's suit, stretched into wide empty circles, began to tear as she exceeded the suit's petite capacity. Pale skin began peeking through slivers of the ripped blue spandex on her sides and toward her shoulders and underside.

45. Jeanne knew she was running out of steam, but she needed to keep going. She would get as close to Katie Florin as she could.

46. One minute left. The noise from the audience had faded back to a dull roar as most fans, even those of other teams, watched in bewilderment.

47. 25 seconds to go. The rips in Jeanne's suit were spreading; the right side had split open from arm to leg, her left arm hole had split open up to her collar, and a third rip was traveling up her stomach from the left leg hole. It looked as if the elastic waistband instrument would be the only thing holding her suit together before too long.

Jeanne was exhausted and was trying to blink beads of sweat away from her eyes. The clock was ticking down to the final seconds of her magical upset, but she took a deep breath and made one more push.

48. A mere instant later the buzzer sounded, and the crowd erupted in a cheer that surpassed anything the whole competition had heard that weekend. A huge underdog - and a freshman, at that - had just made history, winning the team competition and tying arguably the best individual player the game had ever seen.

By the time Jeanne had gotten her wits about her, she was already being rolled off the floor and the waistband was being removed. She blushed a little when the various hands moving her touched exposed skin in areas her uniform was intended to provide the comfort of modesty. As her head pitched toward the floor she saw the referee and entire table of officials and TV and radio commentators giving her a standing ovation - a huge breach of protocol, but nevertheless warranted in this instance. Fans of other schools were jumping and waving. The enormity of her feat was only beginning to dawn on her.

As Jeanne was rolled through the large exit on one side of the arena and into the adjacent team paddocks, her teammates were positioned right at the front to greet her. The girls who had competed two days ago were less than half her size, while those who had competed earlier in the day had barely shrunk at all. Camera operators had been dropped on top of the girls to walk atop them and capture the team moment for the TV audience, but with all of the girls completely immobile instead of hugging and whatever else, the sport did not lend itself to exciting victory celebrations.

After a few minutes with her team, an official told her that it was time to go. "To the awards ceremony?" Jeanne asked.

"No," the official responded, "to change your uniform."

Off in the distance, in the corner of the paddock, was Katie Florin with no other red globes nearby. Then Jeanne understood.

A group of team assistants had just finished removing Katie's red uniform when Jeanne was rolled up next to her. The view that Jeanne had at first was not entirely flattering, but from the other side of Katie's body came a voice:

"Nice job, kid."

Jeanne did not feel comfortable essentially carrying on a conversation with Katie's anatomy, so she waited a few seconds while the tailors began stretching the gold spandex suit over her, rotating her as they went. When Katie's face finally came into view, she simply responded, "Thanks."

"How did you figure it out?" Katie asked as she was being squeezed into the champion's uniform.

"Figure... what out?"

"The secret to unlocking your potential. Most girls never do, much less by your age."

Jeanne's brow furrowed. "I didn't know I figured anything out. My mind just wandered while I was resting and I kept growing without even trying."

Katie raised an eyebrow. "Give me a break. You did that," motioning with her eyes to Jeanne's body, "without even trying?"

"Well... I tried for most of it."

Katie chuckled, partially in disbelief and partially out of amusement at how ridiculous that sounded. "Maybe you haven't figured it out after all."

"So what's the secret, then?" Jeanne prodded.

"Ha," Katie blurted, and then grinned. "Sorry, but that's something everyone has to figure out on their own. But if you're truly this good, you may not need to."

Jeanne fell silent, giving herself a moment to allow such high praise to sink in. Katie's brilliant gold uniform was pulled up snugly beside her face - a perfect fit. Meanwhile, the assistants removed the remaining shreds of Jeanne's uniform, causing Jeanne to blush once again, naked in front of the seasoned champion she had just matched.

"You ought to get used to this," Katie called out as they rolled her asunder to affix her uniform number 22 to her belly. "Something tells me this won't be the last time you'll be sporting gold." And then the shimmering ball of Katie was rolling away. "See you on the podium," Katie called out. "...and in the League."


Archer City never won a second national championship during Jeanne's college career. The talent at other schools began developing and Archer City was not the most attractive destination for top-flight recruits. As improbable as the first championship was, it was even more improbable that Archer City would usher in a new world order in inflation athletics.

Jeanne herself, however, developed into a star, going on to win three more individual championships, smashing her and Katie's shared record with a 51 during the first week of competition her sophomore year, and then breaking her own record six more times. Solely because of Jeanne, Archer City was still good enough to attend the national meet each year, never sniffing the podium but always touting the best player.

Katie continued developing in the pros as well, setting numerous records in the WPIL and leading her team to two Zeppelin Bowl championships in her first three years. When Jeanne was drafted after graduating college, the two began a friendly rivalry that lasted over a decade and resulted in huge popularity for the league. It was also an expensive rivalry for WPIL teams, requiring their arena height requirements to be increased three times.

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