On the hem of the large weaving of Gothic architecture that houses Yale University stands a 10-story cathedral of athletics that would have made a Goth blink with wonder. Inside are three basketball courts, 36 squash and handball courts, two practice rooms apiece for polo and golf, two running tracks, steam rooms, two dozen or so dressing rooms containing 3,798 lockers, a baronial trophy hall and, among numerous other things, two swimming pools. Yale has named this $7.5 million temple of sport the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, and nothing finer of its sort exists anywhere. Yet of all the elaborate fixings for exercise in this gym to end gyms, the 165-foot practice pool (divisible into two pools by means of a rolling bulkhead) and the 75-foot exhibition pool encircled by 2,187 seats are the particular marvels. In them and largely because of them, Yale has cultivated a record of swimming superiority that has no parallel in the history of American team sports. Since 1918, when Coach Robert John Herman Kiphuth took over, Yale swimmers have lost only 12 of their 483 dual meets.
Currently working on a string of 130 consecutive victories since 1945, Yale entertained Cornell last Saturday as its fourth victim of the season. Everybody—the Yale team, the Cornell team and the 400 or so spectators who wandered out of a Connecticut ice storm to watch—knew that the races were strictly a formal exercise in Yale's inevitable progress toward another undefeated season. Anxious to give a workout to as many as possible of the 60-odd swimmers on his squad and not wishing to pour on the power, Coach Kiphuth refused to swim any man more than once. Nonetheless, his full complement of 23 entrants piled a lopsided 64-20 defeat on the visitors, winning first place in every event and setting new Yale and Yale Pool records in the breast stroke and individual medley. Despite only a week of workouts sandwiched in between midyear exams during the week following the long Christmas holiday, Kiphuth's latest assembly job at his famous waterworks looked like one of the best in his 38 years of coaching.
The roll call of Yale's swimming achievements under Kiphuth is more than slightly staggering. Until the Intercollegiate Swimming Association (consisting entirely of eastern colleges) was disbanded in 1936, Yale had won the team title continuously since 1906. Beginning with Kiphuth's first year, they did not lose a dual meet until 1924, when they were beaten by Princeton and Navy. Then they won 175 straight meets until Harvard upset them in 1937. Their next string—63 straight—started in 1940 and was ended by Army in 1945. That was the last loss. During this period Yale swimmers have set 29 individual world records and 22 world relay records. They have won four national intercollegiate championships since the NCAA began compiling team scores in 1937. Using the nom de sport of the New Haven Swim Club so they could swim freshman and graduate students who would be ineligible to represent the varsity, Yale men under Kiphuth have won the last seven AAU indoor team championships.
No one disputes that the credit for the Yale swimming dynasty rests wholly with Bob Kiphuth himself, and there is no great secret about his methods. Cornell Coach Gordon Little explained it briefly after his loss on Saturday: "Bob Kiphuth is the greatest conditioner of athletes in the world today."
January 23, 1956
The obvious implication here is that Kiphuth's raw material consists of some already polished performers; or to put it another, less gentle way, that Yale attracts—in one way or another—many of the country's top prep school and high school swimmers. So it does. This year's freshman squad, for example, contains 10 prep and high school All-Americas—among them Tim Jecko, who placed fourth in the butterfly at the national AAU championships in Los Angeles last summer—but the point is emphatically and frequently stated around New Haven that Yale has no special berths for athletes, even swimmers. They may be drawn there by an urge to study under Kiphuth; Bob himself may even point out to a good swimmer the advantages of a Yale degree. Yet the athlete has to make it in scholastic competition with the double domes. Kiphuth shakes his head sadly when he thinks of some wonderful prospects who couldn't get in, or couldn't stay once they did.
Yet there have been more than enough who made it. In recent years there was Alan Ford, first man to break 50 seconds for 100 yards, the swimming equivalent of the four-minute mile. During his college years (1941-45) he was undoubtedly the finest freestyle sprinter in the world with three world records to his name. Then came Alan Stack, who dominated the world's backstrokers in the late '40s, setting five world records and winning the Olympic title in London. Yet nothing Kiphuth ever had at Yale quite equaled the 1950 freshman class of John Marshall, Jimmy McLane and Wayne Moore. As a team of three they won the AAU indoor championship, taking first and second in the 220, 440, 880 and 1,500 meters. During one two-year period Marshall, an Australian whom Kiphuth had met at the 1948 Olympics and told about Yale, broke 19 world records—an accomplishment un-equaled in swimming history.
Yale's present crop of swimmers is by no means a pale comparison. Hendrik (Sandy) Gideonse, the rangy young blond whose Harvard-bred father is a professor of mathematics at Rutgers, rates on Kiphuth's list of the 10 best swimmers in America today. A freestyler who can also go backstroke, Sandy looks like a cinch for this year's Olympic team if he can work it out with the Marine Corps, which wants him after his graduation in June. Another top freestyler is Dave Armstrong, a Brooklynite whose hornrimmed specs give him a scholarly look he confirms in the classroom. Rex Aubrey, Kiphuth's second recent Australian import, is one of the great freestyle sprinters now in action, but he, of course, will have to represent his own country in Melbourne if he swims there. Finally, there are Charles (Deed) Hardin, a tall, skinny and handsome sophomore who promises to be one of Yale's greatest breaststrokers (it was he who broke the pool record against Cornell), and Joe Robinson, a junior whom Kiphuth has converted from middle-distance freestyling to medley.
Oddly enough, there are drawbacks to such a wealth of talent as Yale now owns. Sandy Gideonse pointed it out last week when he said: "We just don't get enough competition. Robert [as he calls his coach] likes to give everyone a chance to swim, and that means we aren't as sharp as we might be when we get to a tough meet and have to swim several times. It almost cost us the Harvard meet last year. I was really dragging by the time that one was over." Yale just squeaked through, 44-40, by winning the final relay.
Swimming, as practiced by the academicians at Yale, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford and other advanced centers of the art, has come a long piece since Duke Kahanamoku and Johnny Weissmuller speeded up the old Australian crawl by kicking six to the arm beat. There was the fellow in Brooklyn in 1934 who astonished and confused officials by doing the once-sedate breaststroke with a simultaneous overhand thrashing of the arms—something they finally called the butterfly. It wasn't until last year that the swimming authorities finally and formally separated the breaststroke from the butterfly as an event. By that time an innovation called the dolphin kick had made the butterfly as fast as the backstroke. Then the Japanese discovered that the conventional breaststroke could be swum faster underwater where a full follow-through of the arms is possible, so that event (to the utter disregard of the spectator) is performed below the surface except when an occasional breath of air is necessary.
Although Bob Kiphuth ranks among the two or three leading international swimming authorities, he claims and gets no credit for these innovations. As befits his title of Professor of Physical Education, he is a scholar and teacher rather than an inventor. His particular contribution has been to teach the Yales and the countless others who come to him for advice how to perfect the styles in vogue. He wraps up his theory with these words: "You are given certain physical assets. Everyone has a certain neuromuscular pattern—a certain rhythm—they apply to swimming or any other sport. You probably can't change it, but you can help them get the most out of it."
The Kiphuth system, coming, as it does, from a body-building specialist who started coaching Yale swimming because no one else was around, is based principally on conditioning. "We start them in the fall," says the little fireplug of a man who is now a graying but sturdy 65, "with several months of calisthenics and body building. They don't even go into the water until December but by then their swimming muscles are ready.
"Once the squad is in the pool we don't stand for any loafing," he continues in his booming baritone. "We have a saying around here, 'if you want to take a bath, get a cake of soap.' We send the backstrokers and breaststrokers out at 4 and swim them in heats for an hour—first about 30 laps to warm up, then wind sprints 10 laps at a time. Swimming in heats like that keeps up their spirit of competition and team morale. At 5 we bring in the freestylers and go through the same thing, although the distance men naturally get longer stretches. By the time the meet comes, the race is no problem.
"Once an athlete knows how to perform correctly and is in shape, the rest is in his mind. Take the four-minute mile. Once it had been done, the psychological barrier was removed and four or five people did it soon afterward. The same is true of swimming. We have no idea how much we can take off our best times."
Impressive as the Yale record is, it is marred in some minds because lately it has failed to include dual meets with the great teams of the Middlewest—Michigan, Ohio State and, more recently, Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana. At the moment they promise to contribute just as much to the Olympic squad as Yale, perhaps even more. Much of their talent is Hawaiian in origin—champions like Ford Konno (Ohio State) and Bill Woolsey (Indiana) in the middle distances and Yoshi Oyakawa (Ohio State) in the backstroke. Ohio State with nine victories and Michigan with six have both outshone Yale in the national intercollegiates during past years.
This year may again be a Yale year, Kiphuth thinks or at least allows himself to hope. The team, as he puts it, is "good in the breast, good in the back, fair in the sprint, fair in the middle distance, no dive." Explaining that last item, which is a frequent Yale shortcoming, he adds sadly: "You can't get a diver into Yale. The good ones are like ballet dancers or figure skaters; they're so dedicated they hardly know anything else."
Whether or not Yale recaptures the intercollegiate title from the Middle-west, there is no denying the generous tribute offered last week by Michigan State's Coach Charles McCaffree: "Yale and Bob Kiphuth represent the finest in swimming. They have the best coaching, the best training program and the best facilities."
SWIMMING MEETS TO SEE
Feb. 11, Indiana vs. Mich. State at Bloomington, Ind. Hawaiian Bill Woolsey, one of world's top middle-distance stars, leads Indiana team which could be hurt by eligibility problems against State's promising sophomores.
Feb. 24, Iowa vs. Indiana at Bloomington, Ind. Iowa surprised with 48-45 win over Michigan last week when Hawkeyes broke NCAA long-course record in 300-yard medley relay, and Lincoln Hurring set new collegiate 200-yard breaststroke mark.
Feb. 25, Ohio State vs. Michigan at Columbus, Ohio. Jack Wardrop, Michigan's—and Scotland's—200-meter freestyle world-record holder meets OSU's one-man team, Al Wiggins, divers Don Harper and Fletcher Gilders. A duel between perennial college powers.
Mar. 1-3, Atlantic Coast Conference Championships at Chapel Hill, N.C. N.C. State appears to have lost too much through graduation to gain third straight conference win. 1954 runner-up, North Carolina, paced by medley ace, Charles Krepp, should be champion this time.
Mar. 1-3, Big Ten Championships at Lafayette, Ind. Defending champion Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Mich. State and Indiana all have personnel to take this one. Jack Wardrop set world mark in 220-yard freestyle at last year's carnival.
Mar. 8-10, Big Seven Championships at Boulder, Col. Oklahoma is champion and should repeat this year. Reports indicate Matt Mann (former Michigan coach) is loaded with talented South Africans. Iowa State will provide the competition.
Mar. 10, Yale vs. Harvard at New Haven, Conn. Both clubs came into this one undefeated in 1955, with Yale taking the final event to win, 44-40. The East's top two teams should make it just as close this year.
Mar. 15-17, Eastern Intercollegiate Championships at Ithaca, N.Y. Yale's powerhouse in a meet which attracts some 30 eastern colleges. Defending champions include: little Cortland State's George Breen (1,500-meter freestyle), Harvard's—and Australia's—Dave Hawkins (200-meter butterfly) and Yale's Hendrik Gideonse (indiv. medley).
Mar. 29-31, NCAA Championships, New Haven, Conn. Mike Peppe's defending Ohio State team out for 10th title despite loss of Hawaiian champions Ford Konno and Yoshi Oyakawa through graduation. Big Ten leaders, Yale favored in 33rd renewal of country's oldest indoor meet.
Apr. 5-7, AAU Indoor Championships at New Haven, Conn. The most important indoor meet of the year. Held annually since 1925. Massive entry list includes top college, high school, club and unattached swimmers and divers of U.S. and several foreign countries. This will be first major 1956 appearances of High Schoolers George Harrison of Berkeley, Calif. (distance events) and Frank McKinney of Indianapolis (backstroke).