A gray-flannel émigré from the East builds an empire out West

March 25, 1963
March 25, 1963

Table of Contents
March 25, 1963

Heavyweight Muddle
Shooting For Cincy
Roger Penske
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

A gray-flannel émigré from the East builds an empire out West

Fearful of withering on an ivy vine back home, Swimming Coach Peter Daland (below) took off for southern California, where he now manages a classy pack of past, present and future champions

He still wears the clothes of the conservative East and he enunciates his words with the precise authority of a Harvard man, but the dash with which he moves about and the abrupt logic in the things he says reflect the open-collared overconfidence of the big, wide West. Despite these conflicting attributes, and partly because of them, 41-year-old Peter Daland, formerly of New York and Philadelphia and more recently of Los Angeles, is a successful swimming coach. In the swimming kingdom of Greater Los Angeles, where he currently prevails, Daland serves year round as coach, trainer, general manager and chief exhorter for a disparate collection of swimmers of both sexes and all ages. On his various workout rosters there are 9- and 10-year-olds and comely, budding 15-year-olds such as Janet Crooks, whom he is counseling in the picture at the left; on his rosters also there are collegians and world record holders (both foreign and domestic) and Olympians, some of whom are still swimming strong and some of whom are on the wane.

This is an article from the March 25, 1963 issue Original Layout

Daland has two fairly permanent jobs and another tentative one. He is coach of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, whose men and women do handsomely in national competition every year, and of the University of Southern California, whose freshmen and varsity men have won or tied for first at every indoor national championship since 1958. Daland is also coach of the U.S. women's team for the next Olympic Games, an honor that right now must be considered tentative. No one asked him if he wanted to be the Olympic coach; one official merely told him he was the coach after Daland had read it in the papers.

In his dual jobs at LAAC and USC, Daland works steadily with pliant, resilient young swimmers and also with competitors who have been swimming hard for a decade or more. Thus his lot is an enviable one, although odd in one respect. Since he often has two or three teams in the same meet, he is in effect knifing himself. This does not bother him at all, since he has been coaching long enough to know that ultimately it is individual achievement that counts. And so he offers the proper measure of advice, cheer and scorn to all his swimmers, regardless of what particular brand label of the Daland swimming factory they happen to wear. He has become accustomed to cheering for every swimmer in a race, for often in West Coast competition all the lanes of a final are filled with his protégés. In the Southern Pacific Championships three weeks ago, swimmers wearing various Daland labels won 21 of the 23 first places and 58 of the 69 medals. This week Daland's men and women start moving east to the women's AAU championships in Berea, Ohio, the men's championships in New Haven, Conn. and the NCAA meet in Raleigh, N.C., and in all three major battles Daland's forces will run into more trouble than they need. Ordinarily, his teams might have a good chance in the men's AAU, but this year Indiana University, the swimming colossus of the Midwest, stands in their way. Contrary to the usual Big Ten policy, Indiana can compete in the AAU this year as a team because the meet serves also as the trials for the Pan American Games.

With the chances for a team title dimmer than usual, March is not the most cheerful of all possible times for Daland, but his stopwatch heart ticks proudly on. Individually, the Daland crop still has luster, notably his leading ladies, Sharon Finneran and Carolyn House, who are the most durable swimmers in the world—either of them capable of swimming four races in six hours and knocking off a record here or there.

Competitive swimming verges on asceticism; every year it takes more work and time to stay at the top, to the point where even the constant words of the coach can become monotony. Daland's saving grace is his abrupt and sometimes oblique logic interlaced with bizarre images and jabbing remarks. However, some of his swimmers who hate the stinging, smoggy Los Angeles air are still wondering about Daland's logic. Reputedly, he told them the smog was really a blessing since it kept them from noticing the strong chlorine in the water. At the noon meal before the Stanford dual meet this year, Sprinter Barry Parker asked Daland what he thought about fruit salad as prerace food. "It is our 50-yard race," Daland replied, carrying all the weight of Judgment Day in his voice, "but it's your stomach, so I say you'll have to decide that one for yourself." As five of his finest swimmers—Roy Saari, the American 1,500-meter record holder; Hans Rosendahl of Sweden, Olympian Hans Klein of Germany, Olympian Tsuyoshi Yamanaka of Japan and Olympian John Konrads of Australia—finish a race, from the gallery Daland blandly announces like a disappointed $2 ticket holder, "Nobody under 1:50. All bums." Shortly afterward, to a gritty freestyler named Tom Warren he says, "Tom, you are a swimming bum, but an excellent one." He introduces a distance man to a reporter thus: "This is Brian Foss, 17:26 at Bartlesville last year." Later, pointing out Saari (who did 16:54.1 at Bartlesville), he observes, "Roy Saari is an easy-moving, semi-reptilian animal who is constantly dangerous." Daland calls powerful John Konrads "the bear that swims like a man and sometimes vice versa."

After Konrads finished a smashing series of 200-yard swims in practice several weeks back, Daland leaned down from the pool deck and said quietly, "Nice series, John. You'll be getting in shape if you're not careful." To a sprinter who objected to swimming three races and a relay, Daland retorted, "Any sprinter who can't swim three events and do 50.5 on a relay is not a sprinter, he's an impostor." To backstroker Gail Human, who was standing dejected after dawdling through a 100-yard practice series, Daland shouted from the LAAC balcony, "Hold up your head, Gail. Breathe in that good fresh air coming through the windows. Who opened those windows for you? Your coach did. Your coach did this for you because he is always loyal to his team!"

All such nannyhooting to the contrary, Daland is also a superstudent of the necessary details. At any moment he is apt to start spouting times—poor times, good times, winning and losing and record times, 100-yard split times and series times and descending series times—and he will keep spouting such stopwatchery until everyone in earshot has his chin on the deck.

His success as a coach is a product of the same sort of undeviating zeal that Stonewall Jackson felt for reading the Bible and outsmarting Yankees in the Shenandoah. Daland can discourse sensibly on the international political mess and a variety of arts other than swimming, but he rarely allows himself the time for such nonaquatic matters.

The real wonder of Daland is not his success but why he became a swimming coach at all. He was born in New York City and grew up in the affluence of suburban Philadelphia. He attended Pomfret School and, like his father and his father's father before him, went on to Harvard. Although today he is not altogether sure which, he seemed destined either for some kind of gray-flanneled success in the office cells of New York or for slower death in Philadelphia or Boston. But at Harvard in '40 and '41 he was, in his own terms, "a prewar drifter." Before he had a chance to mend his flunking ways, he was claimed by the Signal Corps, an outfit that apparently had developed drifting into a fine art. The Signal Corps gave him nine months of radar training and sent him to the University of California to learn French, which was not taught there to Army personnel. Daland was given six months of Russian instead and was then sent, typically enough, to France as a telephone lineman.

All in all, Daland concludes that the long, half-aimless military life had its worth, for when he was finally turned loose in the States, he was determined never to waste time again. He enrolled in Swarthmore College and covered three academic years in two. Although he is now at the top of his profession, somewhere inside him there is a stopwatch ticking off irretrievable seconds, impelling him on. While he is doing business in one or another of his several offices and while he is hurrying 50 miles a day through the snarled traffic of Los Angeles to various practice sessions, Daland is constantly consulting his watch like the White Rabbit in Alice's Wonderland and crying out, "I'm late!" In winter, because his schedule is so tight, he must eat his lunch as he drives from one practice to the next. If he does not get three bites of a sandwich and two carrot sticks down before he hits the railroad crossing on Imperial Highway, his whole day is out of kilter.

At prep school and during his fumbling days at Harvard, Daland did some running (2:10 for the 880, 4:50 for the mile). While stationed in Florida before going overseas in the war, he went out for the Camp Murphy swimming team, primarily, he now recalls, because the team did not have to stand retreat. The motive was perhaps shabby, but regardless, once the chlorine got in him it was there to stay. After the war, at Swarthmore, he captained the swimming team and coached it two days a week while the regular paid coach was out earning the rest of his living. (The most famous of Daland's Swarthmore swimmers is the Balloonist Don Piccard, who still holds the world record for falling straight down in a burst balloon: 4,200 feet in 1:55 flat.) At Swarthmore, Captain-Coach Daland himself clocked about 5:35 for the 440. This was passable time for a small-college performer then. Today a number of Daland's girl swimmers could do as well while towing a Rose Bowl float.

An eye on the kids

After college Daland worked two years for a medical book firm in Philadelphia, enduring great waves of boredom that might have floated him back into his drifting ways if he had not retained a spectator interest in track and swimming. "I was," he explains, "an enthusiast with a good statistical knowledge," or, to put it briefly, "a statistical nut," doting on the great distances and clockings of the strong and swift. Swimming prevailed over track as his choice of a profession largely because of a peculiar circumstance that physiologists have recognized for some time, although most people are barely aware of it. Track and baseball and football were—and to a marked extent still are—inhibited in their dealings with youth. Swimming rarely has been and certainly is not now. Even 15 years ago, while baseball, football and track coaches were waiting for the young males to grow at least 4 feet tall, in swimming pools little boys and girls were taking extraordinary punishment in practice and teen-agers were at the gate of big-time competition. (In 1946, before Daland had floundered his first quarter mile for Swarthmore, a 15-year-old Ohio kid named Jimmy McLane was beating the men in four-mile races and priming for the '48 Games.) As Daland now sums it up, "Swimming has been getting first pick of the good, strong bodies."

In the early '50s Daland decided swimming was for him. He served four years as an apprentice under Bob Kiphuth at Yale. While working for Kiphuth, Daland persuaded him that they should publish a monthly mailer of swimming performances. "I proposed my time and his money," Daland explains. This partnership had two significant results: 1) Kiphuth lost $600 a year and, 2) in collating swimming summaries for the monthly, Daland got a close look at the sport across the U.S.

When it came time for him to move out on his own, Daland picked California, but not for reasons that would occur to just anybody. The geography, the cultural and economic climate and the generally equable year-round temperature of California all suggest a perfect land for competitive swimming. But as a student of swimming, Daland knew that the only climate that matters must be man-made and the only temperature that counts is the fever in the coach and team. When these requirements are met, a great swimming team is possible anywhere, among the penguins of Antarctica or under the auspices of Santa Claus at the North Pole. This is the First Law of Competitive Swimming, and it can be validated by the record books.

As the records attest, in the '20s, when competitive swimming became a serious affair. California was a booming, sun-blessed land, but virtually a wasteland of competitive swimming. In the '20s—indeed, in the '30s and '40s—the majority of the great swimmers were born under the bitter winter winds of the Midwest, in the chlorine-stenched waters of the East and in the irrigation ditches of Hawaii, where there were coaches who gave the sport 25 hours a day.

What interested Daland about the California wasteland in the early '50s was another peculiar circumstance. Though still short on talent, California was a land of swimming pools, into which well-dressed celebrities occasionally fell or were pushed and into which, sadly, small children also fell and drowned. Swimming schools where children could be waterproofed had sprung up all around Los Angeles. To keep the kids interested, the instructors naturally staged meets. By the time the AAU Age Group swimming program was rolling, southern California kids were lined up, ready to affiliate. The good, strong bodies were already in the swim, so Daland packed up his zeal and went west.

He remembers his plane flight out very well. His first California job promised him a base pay slightly better than he could have made running an elevator. On the plane he met friends of some of his prep school friends. These new acquaintances were getting off at Dallas to look into some oil wells that promised to net them a bundle. They were astonished to learn that a smart, snappy Easterner like Daland was going all the way to California to coach swimming. They simply did not believe it.

"Are you interested in oil or money?" Daland asked his new friends, who were not interested in oil. Then, with his usual abrupt logic, Daland said, "I am interested in swimming."