It was a show-bizzy week in Ames, the rustic home of Iowa State. The Ali-Frazier fight film was doing a brisk business at the Collegian; Love Story was playing at the Varsity and Ronald McDonald, the eponymous clown who appears in the McDonald hamburger commercials, was signing autographs and giving away balloons at a stand on South Duff Street. They had to call out the police to handle the crowd at that one. By far the biggest attraction, however, was the three-day NCAA swimming and diving championships in Beyer Hall, where SRO audiences showed up to see the nation's finest swimmers—or, more precisely, to see if Indiana University could win its fourth straight title and live up to its advance billing as the Greatest College Team Ever.
Well, to paraphrase Flip Wilson, what the fans came to see is what they got. The Hoosiers turned the meet into a rout as early as the second event, the 200-yard individual medley. Indiana's top hope was Gary Hall, a sophomore who resembles a piece of muscular spaghetti and is the best all-round swimmer in the world. He won in 1:52.2—an NCAA and American record—but, more significantly, Hoosiers also finished third, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth for an unprecedented 53 points in a single event. "Oh my," or words to that effect, said USC Coach Peter Daland, who could see the handwriting on the, uh, scoreboard. "From now on it's for second place."
When the meet finally closed its record-breaking stand, the Hoosiers' domination was complete. They won eight out of 13 individual events; set four American and seven NCAA records; had, in Hall, the only triple winner of the meet and wound up with 351 points to 260 for perennial runner-up USC—a margin that would have been greater had not John Kinsella and Mark Spitz committed a. faux pas at the end of the 800-yard freestyle relay.
As the lead-off swimmers took their marks, everyone knew the relay was between Indiana and USC; the Hoosier team had turned in a 6:48.84 qualifying time to break USC's American and NCAA records. But nobody was taking the Trojans for granted, especially after Jim McConica and Kim Tutt opened up a length lead over Spitz and Gary Conelly. On the third leg Kinsella drew almost even with Tom McBreen. That left it up to the anchor men—Hall and Andy Strenk—and Hall was tired. Earlier that night he had swum the 400 IM in 3:58.25—an American and NCAA record—and Strenk touched him out. But both teams had reason to be proud. The times—6:39.05 for USC and 6:39.57 for Indiana—were more than nine seconds better than the American record.
April 5, 1971
Then came the announcement: "Indiana has been disqualified." What happened was Kinsella and Spitz jumped in the pool to congratulate Hall before the anchor men from the other four finalists had finished. It was a niggling offense, but the fine was dear: 26 points.
"That was a little too much team spirit," said the Indiana coach, Dr. James E. (Doc) Counsilman. "But all this means is that we're leading by 74 points instead of 100."
"It was dumb," said Kinsella.
Kinsella had earlier won the 500-yard freestyle in a smart 4:27.39 (an NCAA record, natch). "I was a little disappointed, though," he said. "I wanted to go faster." He did, in a sense, in the 1,650-yard free (66 lengths of the pool), which he swam in 15:26.51—almost 10 seconds below his own American record. "At the end my stomach was hurting," he said. "I think I ate too much breakfast. I was burping the whole way."
As for the spirited Spitz, he shook off the effects of a cold to win both butterfly events, and set an NCAA record (49.42) for the 100 in a heat.
The other member of Indiana's Big Four, freshman backstroker Mike Stamm, had a more dispiriting week. He qualified for the 100 with an NCAA record (51.5) but in the final he was upset by one of his own teammates, Santiago Esteva, a member of Spain's Olympic team.
In the 200 Stamm again qualified in NCAA record time (1:51.74) and again lost to a teammate in the final, although his time (1:51.47) was a personal best. Hall, the winner, took a big early lead and held on to win, surprising everyone with a 1:50.6, which smashed all smashable records.
"I pulled a Hall, and Hall pulled a Stamm," said Stamm. "I didn't expect him to go out like that, and I just couldn't catch him."
"We didn't try to psych each other before the race," said Hall. "We're good friends, no conflicts. It's just too bad we have to overlap."
Indiana wasn't the only team with record-breaking performers. Tennessee's Dave Edgar enhanced his reputation as the World's Fastest Human (Afloat) by winning both freestyle sprints. On the first night he took the 50 in 20.3, an NCAA record. "That was O.K.," he said, "but doggone it, I still think I can break 20." A few minutes later, in the 400 medley relay, Edgar had an amazing split of 43.3 (with a flying start), which gave Tennessee a fourth-place finish.
Edgar's 21st birthday came up on the final day of the meet, and he celebrated by breaking the 100-yard mark three straight times. His 44.74 in a heat made him the first ever to break 45 seconds. In the final he lowered his record to 44.69. When Edgar climbed on the victory stand, his teammates interrupted a standing ovation with an a cappella rendition of Happy Birthday. Then, at the start of the 400 freestyle relay, Edgar informed the timers that he was going for the record again. He got it, with a 44.51, and, thanks largely to him, the Vols came in second behind USC and wound up in sixth place overall, the highest finish ever for a Southern team. And how did Edgar feel? "I'm shooting for 44 in the 100," he said.
Stanford also had a double winner in breaststroker Brian Job. In a qualifying heat he lost his American record in the 100 to UCLA's Tom Bruce (56.87), but came back to beat Bruce in the final. Afterward, the 19-year-old Job was asked if being introduced as the "former record holder" had upset him. "Nah," he said, "you can't start thinking you're a has-been at my age."
On the final day of competition Job qualified for the 100 in 2:03.4, breaking his American and NCAA records, then rebroke them in the final with a 2:03.39. Job also swam the breaststroke leg on Stanford's medley relay team, which touched out Indiana in an American record 3:22.52. "I'm tired," said Job. "In fact, I've been tired for a long time."
For USC, McConica won the 200-yard free, with teammates Frank Heckl second, Tutt fourth and McBreen ninth. That gave the Trojans 44 points, which was the main reason they were able to nose out their West Coast rivals—UCLA, Stanford and Long Beach State—for second place. "This means a lot to us," said Daland, "especially since we lost to UCLA in a dual meet and in our conference meet." (The same thing happened to Florida and Tennessee, the SEC powers. Florida shaved down for the conference meet and beat the Vols by 11 points, but Tennessee peaked for the nationals, and Florida was a distant 12th.)
Long Beach, which came to Ames with more foreign swimmers than Americans, was virtually knocked out even before the competition began. Two weeks before the meet, Coach Don Gambril discovered that Gunnar Larsson, the world record holder in the 200-meter IM and the 400-meter free, had been receiving $80 a month from his home club in Sweden. Gambril turned the case over to the NCAA for arbitration. Two hours before the nationals began, Gambril received a telegram from Long Beach's athletic director ordering him to scratch Larsson from all events. "That cost us at least 50 points," said Gambril.
The way Hall swam, though, Larsson was better off in the grandstand. Hall was The Man for Indiana. Last season, as a freshman, he was disappointing in the NCAAs, winning only one gold medal. Part of the reason was the altitude at Salt Lake City but, as Hall said, "I was uptight. I didn't really feel caught up in the team spirit."
This season, however, Hall has relaxed, gained confidence and immersed himself in the team. "I like to think of myself as being a team-type swimmer," he said. "Last year we didn't really have that much team spirit at the NCAAs, but this year we pulled together and did the best we could. This meet was important to me, not for myself but for what I was doing for Doc and Indiana."
"Right now Gary is the best all-round swimmer in the world, past or present," said Mark Wallace, Indiana's longtime manager and unofficial assistant coach. "Except for the breaststrokes, he could have won any race he wanted."
After the final event the Hoosiers pushed Counsilman and Diving Coach Hobie Billingsley into the pool. As an ending, it was predictable and corny. But a lot happier than Love Story and a little more cathartic than a Ronald McDonald autograph and a free balloon.