In the world of competitive swimming, even in an ordinary year, the old order gives way to the new at a bewildering, giddy rate. In an Olympic year absolute anarchy prevails. The kings and queens of the sport are beheaded almost before their monarchial status has been recognized by the world at large, and some prodigy who has just traded in his diapers for a tank suit stands dripping on the victory stand instead. Last week, at the National AAU championships in Los Altos Hills, Calif., the inevitable caught up with Australia's famed Murray Rose. The axman, in this case, was a blond, muscular 18-year-old out of California named Don Schollander.
Schollander is not a real prodigy, of course, having passed that stage several record-wrecking seasons ago, and Rose, at 25, is fast approaching the age when even Johnny Weissmuller was racing against crocodiles instead of men. But their duels, at 400 and 200 meters, were the highlights of a meet where nine world records were displaced, and the man who claimed two of them was Schollander.
To judge the two swimmers by the cold hand of the stopwatch, Schollander was the slight favorite on Friday in the 400 meters, but this is Rose's best distance and it is generally conceded by experts who have watched him over the years that his masterful tactics are worth a second or two in any race. In the eight years since he won his first three Olympic gold medals at Melbourne, Rose has often disappeared from the scene. He keeps reappearing quietly, though, emerging from the smog of Los Angeles or from the shadows of the Sydney Harbour Bridge—a persistent old troll who cannot shake the habit of scaring young swimming champions out of their wits.
But whatever fright Rose had planned for Schollander in the 400 meters last week, he could never get close enough to yell "boo." At the gun Schollander simply took off. Swimming with little regard for Rose—or anyone else—and with complete disregard for the niceties of pace, Schollander covered the first 200 meters in 2:03.3. At the halfway mark he had a five-yard lead. He held it all the way home, hitting the wall in 4:12.7, to take both the race and the world record away from Rose. Rose's time of 4:15.7 was the second fastest of his career. On Saturday, Schollander won again at 200 meters with a new world record of 1:57.6, and this time Murray Rose was fourth. And on the final day, while Rose wisely concentrated on the Schollander-less 1,500 meters, young Don tied the American record of .54 in the 100-meter sprint.
It may be a year or two before Schollander completely masters his art, but there is no doubt that he is already the finest combination of speed and durability that has ever stepped onto a block. If he decides to gamble across the board in the Olympic trials in New York three weeks from now he could very well end up representing the U.S. in every freestyle event at Tokyo. The principal reasons for his success are the usual ones: hard, honest work in a good racing stable, the Santa Clara Swim Club, under a good coach, George Haines. Quite beyond the obvious, Schollander has a few intangibles working for him. His mother, Martha Schollander, was, in her formative years, a swimming nut. In the old Tarzan movies that are still shown on television it is not Maureen O'Sullivan, but her stunt double, Martha Schollander, who is seen cavorting around in the water with Johnny Weissmuller.
From his father's line, Don Schollander apparently has inherited the stubbornness to persist against odds. Schollander and his father and his grandfather have all proved to be fairly tough men, but Great-grandfather Alfred Schollander, a Swedish immigrant to North Dakota, was the absolute most. At the age of 90 Great-grandfather Schollander fell and broke a leg. After recovering from that, he was badly roughed up by a train that ran into him while he was walking across the track. A few years later he spent a whole night wandering around outdoors, lost in a blizzard. Great-grandfather Schollander was taken away by the Lord to a gentler land only a year and a half ago. He was 107.
Three years ago, while there were three older generations still alive to cheer him on, Don Schollander began cutting his way through the top ranks of swimming as a high school sophomore. As might be expected, before his graduation this June two dozen colleges let him know that they would like him to use their swimming pool for the next four years. In the West and Midwest there was great mourning when Schollander picked Yale, an eastern institution of higher swimming that has of late become a very popular waterhole for Westerners.
Since the quadrennial Olympics coincide rather neatly with his academic schedule, Schollander probably will try out four years hence for the Olympic team once again, before going on to medical school. If he does, and if he improves at a reasonable rate, he will become the first American male swimmer since Weissmuller to play a dominant part in two Olympic Games. Having Schollander around for four more years is a cheerful prospect for America.
Whether or not Murray Rose is still a cheerful prospect for Australia remains to be seen. On Sunday he gained some measure of revenge against another young California world record holder, Roy Saari, at 1,500 meters. With the orderly control and precision that have long been his trademarks, Rose won the race in 17:01.8, recapturing a world record he had not owned in eight years. The time was almost a minute better than he needed for an Olympic gold medal eight years ago at Melbourne. But Saari was carrying an entire water polo team on his back—he has spent the summer helping to beef up the El Segundo team coached by his father and of which his 16-year-old brother is a member, in hopes that it might qualify for Tokyo—and, besides, because he did not bother to return home for the national championships last winter, the Australians may not even let Rose swim in the 1964 Olympics. About all that Murray Rose really proved is something swimmers have known all along: that for skill and determination and longevity, this may be the finest champion the sport has ever known.
If Rose was disappointed by his finishes in the earlier races last week, he was not the only saddened veteran. The first event, the women's 1,500-meter freestyle, was won by Patty Caretto, a 13-year-old only slightly larger and less bashful than Minnie Mouse. Using a fast, water-slapping stroke and swimming as if exhaustion were impossible, little Miss Caretto knocked 13½ seconds off the world record, lowering it to 18:30.5, and in the process she left behind her not only Sharon Finneran, who, by and large, is the toughest distance-swimming lady active today, but also Ginnie Duenkel, the defending champion, and Carolyn House, the world record holder.
Before his 1,500-meter attempt, Saari tried the 400-meter individual medley, an event he would normally be favored to win even under the most discouraging circumstances. As a matter of fact, he bettered the existing world record, swimming the first 200 meters like a man possessed—and the last 50 meters as if that water polo team were hanging on his ankles. With the wholesome disregard that all teen-agers have for world record holders, 16-year-old Dick Roth swam right past Saari to lower the old world medley record to 4:48.6.
One ancient veteran of 17 who should be investigated—perhaps by the Attorney General's office—is Donna de Varona of the Santa Clara Swim Club, who does not fit Bobby Kennedy's lament for America's "athletic dropouts" (SI, July 27) one bit. While many girls begin competitive swimming at 7, Miss de Varona frittered away the first nine years of her life. She never competed in a national championship until she was 12, although she has since had what you might call a fair streak of luck. She made the Olympic team at 13. At one time or another she has held four world records. She has competed 44 times in quest of national titles and has won 18, including 200-and 400-meter medleys last week. If she does well in the Olympic trials, she could win anywhere from one to four gold medals at Tokyo.
It would seem that if the U.S. can keep such ancients as de Varona and Schollander in competition until they reach 20 or 22, our swimming program may not be ready to gurgle and go under just yet.