At times last week the National AAU Outdoor Swimming Championships at Los Angeles resembled nothing so much as a wet game of chess. To be sure, there was a generous helping of in-pool dramatics, and there was the toppling of a whole raft of records. But the heart of the matter lay in the ploy and counterploy, the intrigue and the conniving that surrounded four events: the 100-, 200-, 400- and 1,500-meter free-styles.
The man who set off most of the feverish cerebration was transplanted Australian Murray Rose, who swims for the Los Angeles Athletic Club and thinks for himself. The man who had to combat Rose's "planning" was tough little Tsuyoshi Yamanaka, Japan's best swimmer and an archrival of Rose in two Olympics and many international competitions. Rose usually beats Yamanaka. For that matter, Rose usually beats everybody, and one of his stocks in trade is the technique of psychological harassment—called "psyching" by swimmers. Explains another Rose rival: "Murray works on the other guy. You can depend on that. With different people he uses different techniques. For instance, he's always very friendly with Yamanaka when I'm around, but he acts as though I don't exist. He knows this annoys me. Murray is a psych artist. He always comes up with something."
In Los Angeles, Rose came up with the announcement that he might not enter the 1,500, an opening-day event that he had won in the 1956 Olympics. He said he might enter the 100 instead, explaining that this would leave him more rested for the other races. He did not point out that it would also let Yamanaka swim his head off in the 1,500, thereby giving Rose an advantage in their later meetings.
But Yamanaka couldn't believe that Rose would duck the 1,500, and neither could 16-year-old Roy Saari, another strong contender. "I don't dare think Murray's not going to be there," said Saari. "If I counted on him not showing up—and then he did show up—I would really be depressed."
August 27, 1961
But Rose did not show. Instead, he lolled at poolside as Saari, Yamanaka and-five others knifed into the water in the most debilitating swim of the meet. Yamanaka, who smiles and says little, stuck with the field through the first half of the race, then slackened his pace with the obvious intention of conserving his strength for the coming races with Rose. He finished sixth behind Saari and explained with a straight face: "The water was heavy, and so was my body." What Rose had hoped would be a grueling ordeal for his friendly enemy had been converted by Yamanaka into a nice relaxing dip on a summer's day.
Winner by an arm
The next day, in the 200 meters, the bemused crowd found out just how "tired" the Japanese star was. Both he and the well-rested Rose qualified in times that bettered the American record. In the finals the two 22-year-old swimmers hung a little behind the field for the first 150 meters, then shot ahead in a vicious finish, with Yamanaka winning by an arm. The time, 2:00.4, bettered his own recognized world record of 2:01.5 set in Osaka. Rose, whose own time of 2:00.9 also broke the record, now realized he had tailed an Oriental tiger. To make matters worse, he had failed by a tenth of a second to qualify in the 100, the race for which he had passed up the 1,500.
Now all that was left was the 400, Rose's specialty. He began working out a new "psych" to salvage one victory. As he explained later: "My usual way of beating Yamanaka in the 400 is to stay with him through the first half of the race and pull away in the third hundred meters. There were good psych possibilities in doing it this way again, because when he saw me pulling away at that stage of the race he would say to himself, 'Here we go again, this is the way he always beats me,' and he would be outpsyched. But then I also got to thinking that there were psych possibilities in changing my pattern, in trying to take him earlier instead. I finally decided on this."
Rose sliced into the water like a man trying to break every existing sprint record. He swam the first 50 meters in 28.7 seconds, a pace which would have made most swimmers turn belly up and scream for a lifeguard. But Yamanaka doggedly hung on. For 350 meters he swam half a body's length behind Rose. Then Rose began to lose it; Yamanaka inched even, and in one final burst of power he touched the wall four inches ahead of Rose. The time: 4:17.5, a new American record.
"Before I die," Yamanaka had said last spring, "I want to beat Murray Rose." Now he pulled himself out of the pool, a wide grin on his face, and said nothing. Rose, so exhausted he found it difficult to stand, explained: "I went too fast at first. I didn't have anything left on the last lap." He nodded his head in agreement with his coach, Peter Daland, who summed up the matter succinctly. "You might say," Daland observed, "that Yamanaka was a very unpsyched swimmer today."
Records may have been made to be broken, as baseball fans are fond of saying, but no one at Los Angeles could remember a single swimming meet in which new marks were set with such humdrum regularity. In the first seven races six world records were established. The eighth race—the 200-meter individual medley, won by Ted Stickles in 2:15.9—will not be a world mark only because the International Amateur Swimming Federation does not recognize the event. The incredible breaststroker, Indiana University's Chet Jastremski, cut 6.9 full seconds off the 200-meter record in a race that left spectators rubbing their eyes; five of the six finishers topped the world record. For Jastremski, it marked the seventh consecutive time he had bettered an established world breaststroke mark. For good measure, he lopped four seconds off the 100-meter breaststroke record the next day. The 18-year-old Steve Clark, national indoor 100- and 220-yard champion, barely qualified for the 100-meter finals, then ripped off a world record of 54.4. Left gasping in fourth place was Brazil's great Manuel Dos Santos, who had upset Clark recently in Japan. Carl Robie, a 16-year-old peanut-sized swimmer from Drexel Hill, Pa., set a world record in the 200-meter butterfly; the former record holder, Mike Troy of Indianapolis, had to settle for an ignominious fifth. In all, 10 world and three American records were chalked up in the most memorable swimming competition in American history.