Try throwing a gauntlet into a swimming pool and see what happens. It sinks, right? But not at Southern California. USC Swim Coach Peter Daland has tossed down the gauntlet 98 times in dual meets over the past 11 years and hasn't lost once. Add five NCAA championships and eight AAU titles, and it makes a clear picture of USC invincibility. Almost. Last week Stanford came to Los Angeles to take on the USC swimmers, and the preparations took on crisis proportions. The fear of Stanford stemmed from events of a year ago when the Indians met the Trojans in Palo Alto and—wonder of wonders—tied the Southern Californians to impose the only blemish on that 11-year record. Then, five weeks later, Stanford won the NCAA championships, beating USC by 15 fat points. Now Stanford was back in the pool again, picking up Pete Daland's gauntlet, with a husky young squad that was almost intact from the year before. The Indians boasted two Olympians and six who had won or shared national titles. Their individual times generally were better than the Trojans' and they were desperately eager to show everyone just which end of California was the swimming world's capital.
Well, the NCAA title may still end up in Stanford's trophy case next month, but in the matter of dual meets—no change. The Indians thrashed and heaved and bled from the eyeballs and chased USC right down to the next-to-last event before expiring, but when the Trojans' Ken Ziskin won second place and three coup de gr√¢ce points in the 200-yard breaststroke, the sigh of relief in Southern California nearly cleared the Los Angeles area of auto fumes.
It might be stretching a point to say that USC and Stanford both started prepping for this meet right after last year's tie but they were certainly thinking about it, and early last week both teams were thinking about it full time. Until then they ostensibly had been involved in dogged, persistent season-long preparation for the NCAA championships. Stanford Coach Jim Gaughran, for instance, had had his sprinters chugging right along with his distance swimmers, 7,000 yards a day, for two-thirds of the season. What comes from that is a whole slew of ordinary times and tough, durable bodies that can conceivably swim to Hawaii and back without breathing hard. It is Gaughran's theory that records are as mystical as they are physical, and the way to get those records is to build mind and body slowly and steadily. Then, when the time comes for the big effort at the NCAA and AAU meets, it is less a swim than it is an explosion. Daland at USC goes at it much the same way. A dual meet is, theoretically, just a whistle stop on the main line.
But the emotion for this dual meet was running too high for that ordinary approach. Last week Stanford's sprinters were cutting down on their marathon swims and working on pure speed, refining their turns and starts and generally getting themselves in a fidgety state more commonly seen on the eve of an Olympic race. But, practically speaking, Stanford was in a better position last year to end USC's unbeaten streak than this time. First off, Southern California was much stronger and deeper than in 1967, and Stanford had been having the worst kind of luck. Last summer Mike Wall and Dick Roth, both Olympic heroes in 1964, and Pete Siebert, who made up three-quarters of Stanford's record-breaking 800-yard freestyle relay team, came down with typhoid fever. It ruined their summer season and set them back appreciably in their march toward world domination. Then Greg Buckingham, the man who anchored that relay team, was an All-America in six events, set three NCAA records and personally picked up 53 points in the championships, was declared to have used up his college eligibility because of earlier frolicking in a junior college pool.
February 26, 1968
For a while it looked as though Gaughran's luck had turned. Late in 1967 the NCAA decided that freshmen would be allowed to compete with the varsity. There are all kinds of freshmen, but Stanford's probably are the most spectacular bunch ever to come marching on to anyone's campus—including a world record holder, an AAU champion and no less than 12 prep school All-Americas. Even better, the young rascals were best where Gaughran needed them most—in the distance events. Suddenly Gaughran had the depth he needed to contend with USC's army of swimmers. And then suddenly he didn't. The Pacific Eight schools decided that freshmen could not swim for the varsity no matter what the NCAA ruled.
So Gaughran was stuck with what he had, which was fine as far as it went. But Stanford's ranks were thin and its best swimmers not only would have to go against that endless line of talent that USC seems to come up with year after year, but some would have to triple up. After two grueling races the last person you want to see up there on the starting blocks next to you is a fresh young face.
So the key to Gaughran's battle plan was the first event—the 400-yard medley relay, seven points to the winner, none to the loser. "We have to go for it," he said. "If they put seven quick ones up on the board, the squeeze is on the rest of the way." Gaughran stacked his team with the best he had. Siebert would lead off in the backstroke. The opposition obviously would be Mark Mader, and the USC backstroker is not only the longest in the world (6'9"), he is probably the fastest. Siebert had no chance of beating Mader, but he had to stay within a second of the USC super tanker. Then Bob Momsen, the Stanford captain and a fiery sort who brings so much emotion to his events that form charts get soggy, and Luis Nicolao, the Argentinean who held the record in the 100-meter butterfly until last year, hopefully would make up what was lost in the first leg and then some. After that Stanford's hopes would rest with anchor man Morgan Manning, who would have to hold off SC's Donald Havens, one of the fastest sprinters around when he puts his mind to it. Thanks a lot.
Down in Los Angeles, Daland was going through the same mental contortions, except that the USC coach never goes at it in quite the same way as anyone else. "Here's what they'll probably do," Daland will say, "only they will probably think that we'll think that that is what they are thinking, if you follow me. So, if they sneak Roth in here [he draws an X on one of the ten or so charts he has at the ready] we'll spring Mader on them here [another X on the chart] and hope they'll try to stay with us. But if they think that we think we're going to finesse the 200 medley, then they'll pull a sneakie [a red X for a sneakie], but if Roth is still woozy from last summer...."
Of the five trillion possible combinations, Daland had considered all five trillion—and one more. If USC lost, he had this straight razor stashed away. It did seem an extreme precaution because USC was ready. USC is always up for a meet. The Trojan team that eventually suffers defeat and breaks the unbeaten string will voluntarily dive to the bottom of the pool and stay there until the following semester.
Despite a snub by the local papers, tickets were so hot for the meet that the USC pool, which seats about 200-10 comfortably—was obviously not the answer. The action was shifted to the Beverly Hills High School gym, a very tricky place with a basketball court that slides out over the pool when the occasion calls for it and seats 1,200 either way. It still was not enough—and if a crowd of 1,200-plus doesn't sound overwhelming to you, it was like 85,000 baseball fans showing up for an exhibition game at Cooperstown.
And it turned out to be a disaster for Stanford, starting with splash one. USC's Mader got the jump on Siebert in the opening leg of the relay, which was expected, of course, but Momsen and Nicolao not only failed to make up the deficit on Ken Ziskin and Phil Houser, they increased it. That was it, and those seven quick ones Gaughran dreaded were up there staring him in the face.
Stanford kept struggling, getting improbable points here and heroic points there, but there was absolutely nothing they could do about USC's Greg Charlton, a sophomore who looks tall and frail but who is, in fact, tall and strong as a whale. Charlton is well on his way to being this year's version of Greg Buckingham, and if you are up against him in any freestyle race from 200 yards on up, go like hell and pray for three points for finishing second. The 200 and 500 were his in a breeze.
Even so, Stanford could have put the whole meet on the line in the final relay, except for a disaster in the 100-yard freestyle, in which Stanford should have had a one-two sweep and eight points to USC's one point for third place. But Morgan Manning, who was comfortably in second place (Ken Hammer was well in the lead) going into the last turn, thought he saw the end of the pool when what he actually saw was shadow. Manning ducked, turned and kicked out with everything he had and went exactly nowhere. Instead of an 8-1 point spread, Stanford had to settle for 5-4 and a measly one-point gain.
The only hope then was for Mike Wall to get a second in the 500 freestyle and for Momsen and Roth to sweep the 200-yard breaststroke. Wall got his second and Momsen won the breaststroke, but Roth was swimming for the third time, and only eight minutes after a rugged 200 backstroke. It was too much, and USC's Ziskin was too fresh. If you're interested, there are still three or four tickets left for the 1969 Stanford-USC dual meet in Palo Alto.