A the swimming trials in Detroit last week to pick our 1956 Olympic team, almost every winner came into the finish breaking some sort of record. Between them, the men and women set six new American records. Five winners made times that would have won their events in the last Games at Helsinki. The 40 members who won places on the 1956 team have been called—and quite correctly—our best ever. The same could have been said, of course, about almost any of our past teams. As most coaches know, to judge by the cold face of a stop watch—even after all the record smashing at Detroit—in the race for most of the Olympic gold medals we are still only second best to the Australians.
In several events at the Detroit trials, we did close some of the distance separating us from the front-running Australians. In the women's 100-meter freestyle, Shelley Mann turned in an unprecedented heat time of 1:04.6 that puts her up in the fight for first, second or third. In swimming his best time ever—4:33.1—to win the 400-meter freestyle, the world's first-ranking distance man, George Breen, put himself within a few seconds of the best Australian, Murray Rose.
In the over-all results at Detroit, there were several intangible blessings worth counting. For one thing, by using our traditional system of picking the team on the basis of this single trial, we ran the traditional risk of losing (as happened in track and field) good performers who might be seized by the jitters or simply not at their best on the decisive day. As it turned out, the 40 men and women who made the team were just about the ones any coach would pick. There were several sad and unexpected misses. After placing third to Breen and Bill Woolsey in the 400-meter freestyle at the national championships, Ford Konno, the little Hawaiian king of the 1952 Olympics, could not hold the pace in the last quarter of the 400 meters, but managed to make the team as a candidate for the 800-meter relay. Without a doubt, the greatest loss of all to our team strength was the 15-year-old Walter Reed freestyle sprinter, Wanda Werner. Really a shoo-in for one of the individual or relay positions at 100 meters, Werner overpaced herself in the first 50 meters and, like Konno, died on the run for home, failing to make the finals by a fifth of a second.
A CHANCE FOR A MEDAL
August 19, 1956
It's a tendency among people who don't keep their nose in the record books to feel that at swimming there is nothing quite like the American girl. It is, possibly, the persistent vision of girls in bathing suits that prompts this delusion. There is indeed nothing in bathing suits anywhere to equal our divers, such as Mrs. Pat McCormick who will probably win both diving medals again in Australia. In swimming, in the last three Olympics, only one American girl, Ann Curtis, swimming the 400-meter freestyle at London, has won an individual gold medal. This year Shelley Mann has a solid chance for one and possibly two first places—she is a threat now to the Australians in the 100-meter freestyle and, with a good performance at Detroit only 5/10 of a second off the world record of 1:11.8 she set a month ago, she is the world's best in the butterfly.
In the trials 14-year-old Sylvia Ruuska lowered the American long-course mark for 400 meters to 5:10. In the heat Mary Jane Sears of the Walter Reed Club lowered her American breaststroke mark to 2:58.2; and in the heat Carin Cone lowered her backstroke record to 1:14.4. Since all of these girls are still at least a half body length behind the best Australians, the little Dutch girls and the veteran Hungarian women, it would be best to forget these broken records, cease trumpeting and let the girls keep working to catch the opposition.
We can include among our blessings the fact that most of the experienced swimmers who made the team left Detroit with the very realistic idea of getting back in the water and doing more work. Coming home first in the 100-meter freestyle in 57 seconds—a 10th under the Olympic record—Bill Woolsey mopped the slosh from his hair and felt far from satisfied as his time rang out from the loudspeakers. "When Henricks came up from Australia last year," Woolsey said deliberately, "he beat us. He's a tough one. I never found how he works out. He gets in the water and does it. He's a hard man to get close to both in the water and out. We've got to do better when we get in the water with him next time."
There were only two performances by men at Detroit to warrant loud shouting. The first of these, by butterfly swimmer Bill Yorzyk, who went to Springfield and has been coached principally by Red Sylvia, had such an ingrained realist as Bob Kiphuth of Yale whooping like a high schooler. As Yorzyk hit the halfway mark in 1:05.9, Kiphuth was on his feet. "Now here," Kiphuth boomed at the three-quarter mark, "is darn good swimming. Look at him, look at him," Kiphuth shouted over the heads of a bewildered clot of ladies. And for the last half lap, as Yorzyk continued to ride amazingly well on his dolphin kick, Kiphuth was standing, waving his arm like a Princeton boy singing Old Nassau and shouting, "Go on, Bill. Go, Bill. Go!"
"Is he your son?" a lady asked.
"Go, Bill," Kiphuth shouted. "He's going to do it...16...17...18." Kiphuth's voice was lost in the roar as Yorzyk hit the wall in 2:19 flat, a full four seconds better than anything done by the Japanese. "Well," Kiphuth said. "He's out there now where no one can reach him." Then he turned to the lady beside him. "I'm sorry I was shouting so, but this is what this boy has been working at for four years."
The other most promising performer at Detroit, George Breen, who swims his own rather strange splashing style farther and faster than anyone, wound up four years of work by winning the 1,500-meter freestyle in 18:13.7. To judge them coldly by the clock, the best foreigners would be five body lengths behind. "What do I do?" Breen asked his coach, Jim Counsilman, after winning a place on the team. "Someone on the committee told me to lay off until September 15th."
Coach Counsilman set his jaw. "If anybody says anything like that to you again," he said, "tell him to go to—tell him to go sink. We can put away the watch and take the pressure off some, but we've got work to do."