Six days a weekfor six months of the year, at 7 o'clock in the morning and again at 4 o'clockin the afternoon, some 25 powerfully built young men walk across thetree-studded campus of Indiana University in Bloomington on their way to abrisk workout in the lime-green water of a sleek new half-million-dollarswimming pool. Together—in a year when U.S. collegiate swimming is burstingwith top talent from California to Connecticut—these 25 youths make up what is,more than likely, the best team in the history of collegiate swimming. Amongthem are five world-record relay swimmers, an Olympic champion and fourindividual world record holders, including a young man named Chester AndrewJastremski Jr., who at this moment is beyond argument the best swimmer in theworld.
Last summer, inwhat amounted to an orgy of competitive swimming, Chet Jastremski—whopronounces the J in his name as J, not Y—broke world records in his specialty,the breaststroke, not once but again and again, and in doing so changed thebasic conception of the stroke itself.
Jastremski beganhis spree in Chicago by tying one record, continued it two weeks later inEvansville by breaking another, then—in 15 days in Japan—lowered those marksevery single time he entered the water. Finally, during one magnificent Augustweek in California, he broke all four listed breaststroke records once again(next page) and joined his Indiana teammates, Tom Stock, Lary Schulhof andPeter Sintz, in setting a new world record for the 400-meter medley relay. Whenit was all over, the world record claims of three Russians, a Red Chinese andan Australian had been torpedoed and sunk.
The 21-year-oldwho accomplished all this is a short, tanned, ruggedly handsome premedicalstudent who is so husky that he can't float. He is built, in fact, much morelike a wrestler than a swimmer, with broad shoulders, thick, powerfully muscledarms and a barrel chest tapering down to a waist as slim as a dress model's.Although he has been swimming since he was 9 years old and has won more than300 trophies, he has suffered many setbacks and frustrations. Twice in the pasthe was barred from Olympic competition on maddening technicalities andmisunderstandings. "In the 1956 Olympic trials," he recalls, "I hadthe second-fastest qualifying time in the 200-meter breaststroke, but I nevergot to the finals. An official said I had kicked one leg six inches deeper thanthe other while coming out of a turn and I was disqualified." Four yearslater, in Detroit, Jastremski finished the 1960 trials second in the 200-meterrace and fourth in the 100—which normally would have put him on the team. Butthe 1960 officials somehow got the impression (quite false) that only twobreaststrokers were eligible from each country, so Jastremski was leftbehind.
Chet entered thewater first when his father, an assistant foreman at the Champion Spark PlugCo. in Toledo, took him to the local Y for swimming lessons. "It took menine months to learn," Chet grins, "because I kept cheating on mybreathing. I'd turn my head but wouldn't take a breath. I always had to stopafter 10 yards." One day his instructor, Tom Edwards, told him, "Swim30 yards or else." Gasping for air, Chet swam the 30 and, at long last, waspromoted from Minnow to Flying Fish. At the age of 10 he was swimming for theToledo YMCA first team. "Chet had tremendous potential from the verystart," says Edwards, now Dean of Students at Kenyon College. "Youcould see he was going to be a champion. His main asset was a muscle definitionfar in advance of other boys that age."
As aseventh-grader, Jastremski was racing, and beating, college swimmers in allfour strokes. He placed eighth in the men's national AAU competition at 13.Then Edwards left the Toledo Y for Kenyon, and Jastremski, whose high schoolhad no team, was cast adrift. With neither coach nor competition to push him inpractice, his early momentum faded, and national rivals edged past him. To gainspeed, he even gave up his second love, playing the double bass in aneight-piece dance band at school. But he could not catch up. By the time he wasready for college in 1959, most coaches regarded him as just another burned-outswimmer. One notable exception was Indiana's 41-year-old Dr. James (Doc)Counsilman, a large, bald, deceptively passive man with an inventive andoriginal mind (SI, Aug. 1, 1960). "Even though I saw him gettingbeaten," Counsilman explains, "I saw his fast movements and knew hefitted our theory of what a breaststroke man should be."
Chet acceptedIndiana's offer of a scholarship partly because the university's medical schoolprovided what he wanted for the future, but mostly because of the atmospherethat surrounded Counsilman himself. The young swimmer was surprised by "theunbelievable friendliness" of everyone connected with the coach. "Doc'shouse was never locked," he says. "One of the first times we were therea swimmer ran in with a bunch offish he had speared in a quarry, gave them toMarge [Mrs. Counsilman] and was gone." Looking back now on his choice ofcoach and college, Chet adds, "I don't see how a swimmer could go any placeelse."
One wayCounsilman gets his swimmers to both like and work for him is to keep theirminds distracted with an endless outpouring of sly good humor. On a recentautomobile trip he told one joke after another for the better part of 11 hoursalmost without pause. This way Doc can put his boys through workouts for whicha less high-spirited impresario would likely be thrown in jail. And, not soincidentally, Indiana's swimming team has real need right now of a coach withDoc's sense of humor. The acknowledged top team in the country, it is barredfrom winning the national title because its big brother, the Indiana footballteam, is in trouble with the NCAA for doubtful recruiting practices.
At firstJastremski found Doc's instructions as difficult to master as the teacher's atthe YMCA. "When I told Chet he was a breaststroker he was a bitdisappointed, poor guy," chuckles Counsilman. "He was a frustratedbutterflyer." "I also had a Nakasone complex," Jastremski says,referring to his Hawaiian classmate, Ken Nakasone, whom he still considers hischief rival. "I never thought I'd beat him. He still beats me in workouts.Every time he swims one more lap than I do, I get worried." Nevertheless,Jastremski stayed with the breaststroke, losing often to Nakasone for twoyears. "We kept experimenting and changing," says Counsilman, "andhe did pretty lousy. But he never questioned me. He's a quality boy."
The properbreaststroke, according to Counsilman's new and successful theory, is rapidacceleration achieved by short, fast arm pulls and leg kicks, rather than thewide, slow, stylized motion so long accepted. The result is that, as he chugsstraight up the pool like a tugboat plowing through a choppy river, Jastremskilooks violent in comparison with his more graceful rivals.
"Doc made mystroke narrower because that cuts down water resistance," says Chet."Instead of lifting the entire body to breathe, I lift my head by usingonly the neck, so I can ride low in the water rather than high. That avoidsworking against gravity and cuts down surface tension. Actually, you can gofaster underwater than on the surface, so I start with a deep, sharply angleddive and take a long, underwater glide off each turn. I also take several morestrokes per lap than most breaststrokers. Doc has me breathe every strokeinstead of every other."
Jastremski now isthe acknowledged world master of this complicated technique. Confident but notcocky ("I still get deathly sick before a race"), quiet butgood-humored, he is a proud, intensely loyal individual who resents even asuggestion that Counsilman drives his boys pretty hard. "We enjoy workoutswith Doc," he stoutly insists. Chet's loyalty is stronger still to hisparents, who went into debt when Mr. Jastremski took time off from work whiledriving Chet to meets all over the country. To help rebuild the familyfinances, his mother took enough part-time courses at the University of Toledoto get a fourth-grade teaching job. "I feel my scholarship was paid manytimes over by the amount my parents spent helping me compete," saysChet.
Chets parents,however, are not the only ones who have sacrificed for his career. Because ofthe long, arduous hours he must spend at the pool, Chet himself has nowherenear the time he would like to have with a quiet, attractive brunette namedSandy Heisterkamp. Chet and Sandy met during the second semester of theirfreshman year. "I had to do some maneuvering to get a desk near hers,"says Chet of the meeting in a chemistry class, "and then it took me abouttwo months to ask her out." Now the two have been engaged for over a year,but except for classes and one brief idyllic interlude each week, they still,because of Chefs rigorous schedule, see little of one another. The idyllicinterlude? It comes once a week when they go together to do their laundry at anearby laundromat!
One more forDoc
Like histeammates, Jastremski has found that Counsilman's rigorous routines, requiringmore than 500 miles of all-out swimming every year, have toughened him againstall life's hardships. In contrast to the usual trackman-swimmer type, Chetnever frets about little things—like food. "We don't worry about what weeat. We just eat," he said two hours before the recent Big Ten Relays inAnn Arbor, Mich. as he wolfed down a large glass of grape juice, followed by abreaded pork chop ("At least, I think it's a pork chop," he said), plusmashed potatoes, gravy, corn and cherry pie. His only concession to dietarytradition: hot tea in place of his favorite drink, milk. Nor were he and histeammates at all disturbed by the fact that they had been up most of the night,driving four cars to Ann Arbor through fog and ice. They had risen early for abig breakfast, belted through a two-hour session of sprints in the Michiganpool and were still calling for "one more, Doc" when Counsilman sentthem out for the luncheon described above.
In silent tributenot only to their enormous skill and expert coaching, but to digestive systemsthat must be second to none in all the world, Chet Jastremski and his teammatesthereupon returned to the pool to win eight out of the next 11 races andanother trophy for Indiana—a tall one this time, made of gold.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
CHET'S RECORDS IN THE BREASTSTROKE