Mark Spitz the Beautiful had just won his Saturday morning heat in the 200-meter freestyle and was swimming a few leisurely laps in the warmup pool to cool off. Mark's mother was standing by the pool with an elderly couple, her relatives, who were trying to get the boy's attention. "Mark, Mark," the old gentleman called, "get out of that beginners' pool." Mark climbed out at the other end of the pool, all right, but then he disappeared swiftly in the crowd, throwing one furtive glance over his shoulder at his disappointed kinfolk. Young Spitz needed to do some concentrating. He was after Don Schollander's world record in the 200 freestyle, and he meant to get it that afternoon.
Most U.S. swimmers who competed in the Santa Clara International Invitational Swimming and Diving Meet last week were still in an early stage of training. They had not tapered down or rested for the meet, which they regarded as a test to find out where they stood in their training and what they needed to do to peak for the national championships in Louisville next month. But a number of top foreign athletes, including just about everybody who can beat the Americans, were on hand, and the competition on three sunny days at Santa Clara's beautiful International Swim Center became so fierce that some swimmers were amazed at their own performances. Not so Mark Spitz.
Spitz is a young man in a hurry, as impatient with long training periods as he is to get the world records he does not have. On Friday in the 100-meter butterfly he had tied his own world record of 55.6 seconds, and he had been disappointed. "I wanted to break it," he said. "I had six weeks of training. I put on 10 pounds of muscle, and I'm faster now. I'm looking forward to the 200 freestyle tomorrow, because I don't have the record yet in that. Schollander has it. I still have to take it away from him." Though this sounds like the old Mark Spitz, it is worth noting that he has changed somewhat. Spitz no longer comes from behind to take his opponents in the final sprint. He takes the lead at once and churns away, to everybody's frustration. "He is fantastic," said Martyn Woodroffe, the 18-year-old Welshman who finished third in the 100 butterfly. "He has so much power, and his arm recovery is so relaxed."
In the 200 freestyle Spitz led all the way, and when he hit the wall for the last time he had tied Schollander's world mark at 1:54.3. "What were the three times?" he asked his coach, George Haines of the Santa Clara Swim Club. Haines went to consult the timers. "All three are the same," he reported. "I don't like to hold the record jointly with somebody," Mark said, frowning. A reporter suggested that no one in the race had pushed him. "There wasn't anybody to push Schollander when he set it," Mark reported. "I need another month of straight training." Ironically, when Spitz took the victory stand he was presented with a set of silver bowls as a special award. The award was called the Don Schollander Trophy.
July 20, 1969
Spitz was the outstanding athlete of the meet—he also won the 100-meter freestyle—but others added to the luster of the invitational. Gary Hall, 17, of Garden Grove, Calif, who had been chasing Charlie Hickcox for two years, broke Hickcox's world record in the 400-meter individual medley by three-tenths of a second when he was clocked in 4:38.7. He also won the 1,500 freestyle the following day. In the fall Hall will join Spitz at the University of Indiana.
Brian Job, Santa Clara wonderboy in the breaststroke, broke the existing American and world records over 200 meters twice, in the heats with a 2:27.3 and in the finals with a 2:25.8, but Russian Nikolai Pankin has a pending world record of 2:25.4. Job also set an American record in the 100-meter breaststroke of 1:07.0. No American has been a threat in the breaststroke in several years, but now Job can see a world record in his future. "This really came as a total shock to me," he said. "I'm not at my top form or anything yet." Job beat Felipe Mu√±oz, who won an Olympic gold medal for Mexico in the 200 breaststroke, in both races. On the victory stand Mu√±oz said to Job, "You are crazy to swim that fast."
Felipe Mu√±oz was just one of the many foreign stars who had flown to California to make the invitational the biggest and most international meet in its three years of existence. From across the Pacific came a Japanese team, and Canada sent silver medalist Ralph Hut-ton. West Germany's Hans Fassnacht, now a Long Beach resident training under Don Gambril, was there to win the 400-meter freestyle, and chubby Andrea Gyarmati from Budapest, who is 15 years old and giggles a lot, took the 100-meter butterfly, although she had been terrified of the American girls when she arrived. On the other hand, Roland Matthes, the quiet, shy East German who won gold medals in the two Olympic backstroke events and holds the world records in both, was not afraid of anyone. He knew he was the best, and he proved it. First he bettered Char-t lie Hickcox's American record in the 100 backstroke, and on the next day he lowered his own world record in the 200 backstroke by one-tenth of a second with a clocking of 2:07.4. Matthes is a tall, skinny 18-year-old high school boy from Erfurt, Thuringia. He wanted to come to the meet with his female coach, Marlies Grohe, but Dr. Rudolf Schramme decided that he would go instead. "He is the boss of the [swimming.] federation," said Matthes.
Dr. Schramme never smiled once, but Matthes did after he finished his 200-meter race. He had taken a big early lead, and Mitch Ivey of the Santa Clara Swim Club had been pleased. "I looked over after 75 meters," Ivey said later, "and I noticed he was way out there. I was glad that he took it out that way, because I thought I would have more stamina at the end. I was going to outsprint him." Ivey closed on Matthes, and at 150 meters they turned together, but the German picked up the beat and won by a stroke. Still in the water, Matthes smiled his little smile. Everybody was talking about his new world record, but he could not understand English. Finally, someone called the time to him in German. "Oh," said Matthes, shaking his head in surprise. Then he went over to Mitch Ivey and put his arm around him.
No records were set in the women's events, but Debbie Meyer was back and winning. She took both her freestyle events and the 400 individual medley. Debbie had not swum the 400 in an outdoor meet for a couple of years, and when she tried it in the indoor nationals this year, she finished third "I have been training very hard since May," said Debbie, still a down-to-earth, friendly girl after all those Olympic medals. "This meet is very important to me. I need to know where I stand." Now every swimmer knows that she has to try a lot harder to knock off Debbie Meyer. Her coach, Sherm Chavoor of the Arden Hills Swim Club, said, "It was tough getting her up there again. How do you rekindle a fire after a great Olympics? She is 16. She is too young to retire. But she hadn't done well until last month. She gets a little panicky. Everybody is her enemy. She did so much traveling after the Olympics. She trained, but it wasn't real training, she was just getting wet. About a month ago she started getting in shape."
Another American girl who had not been too sure of herself lately was Lieutenant Micki King, the Air Force diver. Micki will turn 25 next week, but she does not plan to retire until after the Munich Olympics. At Mexico City, while leading the competition in the three-meter springboard event, just two dives away from a gold medal, she broke her left arm hitting the board. At Santa Clara, Micki competed in her first major meet since Mexico City, and she won the three-meter event. In the 10-meter dive, however, Micki did not expect to be so successful. Ten meters is just over 33 feet, but Micki likes to say, "It's 33 feet up and 100 feet down." Her chief opponent was Milena Duchkova, the 17-year-old gold medalist from Czechoslovakia. Diving has been Milena's favorite occupation since she was 8, and last year she beat the world, except Micki, of course, who never had a chance to compete in the platform event at Mexico City. During all these years Milena has been the pupil of Dr. Maria Cermakova, a diving and swimming teacher at the University of Prague who was in Santa Clara with her.
Milena is a little girl, only 5'2½" tall. "When her mother brought her to me, because she wanted her to become a diver." said Dr. Cermakova, "I did not want to take her. She was 8 years old, but she looked like a 6-year-old. She was just standing there, not saying a word, looking at me with those eyes. I could not send her away."
In the platform competition at Santa Clara, either Micki or Milena could have taken it on the last dive. Micki was leading after eight dives by 1.35 points, a very negligible margin. Both had chosen a difficult dive for the last one—Micki a back 1½ somersault with a 2½ twist, and Milena an inward 2½ somersault in pike position. The degree of difficulty was the same, 2.7. Both dives were excellent, but Micki's got the higher score. She beat Milena by 5.40 points. Slowly, with a serious look, Milena walked back to Dr. Cermakova. "Next time," she said.
And that, of course, was what the meet was supposed to be all about.