Staged as they were in a country under a recently imposed state of siege, the World Aquatics Championships produced a hero so suited for the role that he might have come from Central Casting. Indeed, if U.S. swimmer Tim Shaw's primary mission in Cali, Colombia was to win gold medals, his secondary one appeared to be avoiding any land-bound acts or utterances which might further inflame the passions that had resulted in rifle-toting shock troops sullenly patrolling all three pools where the championships were held. Yet there was the feeling that a few carefully considered words from the quiet and pensive Shaw could have immediately defused any but the gravest crisis.
As quickly became evident beneath Cali's orange-tiled roofs and towering royal palms, Shaw was capable of working his tempering influence in various ways. Emerging as the star of the 10-day championships, which also included competitions in diving, water polo and synchronized swimming, the 17-year-old freestyler displayed his versatility by winning three events at distances ranging from 200 to 1,500 meters, meanwhile doing his level best to disabuse onlookers of the persistent notion that he was another Mark Spitz. Peering out from behind bookish glasses, his pale and well-chiseled features virtually expressionless, Shaw said repeatedly, "Spitz and I are totally different." Asked by one persistent interviewer whether that meant in water or on land, he replied, "Both."
Shaw also responded with sobriety following the disqualification of the U.S. relay team, a blow that deprived him of both a fourth gold medal and a share of a world record. The 800-meter freestyle crew that also had included Robin Backhaus, Jim Montgomery and Bruce Furniss had splashed home in 7:30.35, nearly three seconds under the mark set by the U.S. at the first world championships held in Belgrade two years ago. The Americans were still whooping it up when it was ruled that anchorman Furniss had entered the water before Shaw, who swam the third leg, had touched the wall. Runner-up West Germany was declared the winner, leaving Furniss, a teammate of Shaw's at the Long Beach (Calif.) Swim Club, disconsolate. Backhaus and Montgomery comforted him as Shaw calmly tried to lay the matter to rest. Putting an arm around Furniss, he said, "We're not mad at you one bit. It could have been any of us." Then he went off to watch a water polo game.
At such moments Shaw, his tender years notwithstanding, gave the appearance of being a battle-hardened veteran. As well he might. At the 1973 Belgrade championships Shaw, then 15, was the youngest member of the U.S. men's team, yet swam to fourth place in the 400 freestyle. Then, last summer, he came into his own, and has been on a world-record spree ever since. Due to enroll at hometown Long Beach State this fall, the 5'11", 170-pound Shaw is the current world-record holder in the 400-, 800-and 1,500-meter freestyles. He also held the 200 freestyle record until Furniss broke it in the U.S. world-championship trials in June.
Once so shy as to be unapproachable, Shaw has begun to loosen up. He is even capable of hellishness, as he showed when he greatly inconvenienced some of his Long Beach Swim Club teammates by spiking their orange juice with Ex-Lax, but he still feels ill at ease with the press. He spoke of this while relaxing one morning in the courtyard of the Cali hotel housing the U.S. team. "It embarrasses me when I'm with my friends, and reporters come around," he confessed. "They're all good athletes, too, and I don't want to be singled out as anybody special."
But the only place Shaw could be sure of eluding newsmen was in the water—and there no one could catch him. Competing in the 6,000-seat pool built for the 1971 Pan American Games, he began by outswimming Furniss in the 200 freestyle, coming from behind to win in 1:51.04, just .15 off Furniss' world record. Two nights later he again defeated the unfortunate Furniss, falling less than a second shy of his own world record of 3:53.95 for the 400. Finally, last Saturday, he fought off the combination of American rival Brian Goodell, a light drizzle and a touch of turista to take the 1,500. The time was 15:28.92, some eight seconds above his world record. In fact, only five world records were set at the meet, a relatively meager haul for so major a competition in a sport where the most durable records date back only 35 months. The dearth was blamed by some on blustery weather and by Dick Jochums, Shaw's Long Beach coach, on Cali's 3,140-foot elevation.
"The altitude isn't too high here, but it's enough to affect longer races," said Jochums. "At sea level I'm sure that Tim's time in the 400, for example, would have been three seconds faster."
Whether or not Jochums' estimates of the amount of time lost because of the altitude are correct, the fact is that none of the five world records came at distances requiring an individual to swim farther than 200 meters: the G.D.R.'s Birgit Treiber broke her own mark in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:15.46, Kornelia Ender set a 100-meter butterfly record (1:01.24), the East German women's 400-meter freestyle relay team of Ender (who simultaneously set a 100 free mark of 56.27), Barbara Krause, Claudia Hempel and Ute Br√ºckner was timed in 3:49.37, and the U.S. men's 400 free relay team of Furniss, Montgomery, Andy Coan and John Murphy established a new mark of 3:24.85.
All his protestations notwithstanding, Shaw's performance at Cali did invite comparison with the fabled deeds of Spitz, who in winning his seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, swam no distance greater than 200 meters. Shaw's feat of winning the 200, 400 and 1,500 establishes him as the farthest-ranging freestyler since Australia's Jon Konrads in the late 1950s. Shaw himself says it is virtually impossible to simultaneously train for such diverse distances. "You train for the 1,500," he said. "Then, when you start resting, you hope to pick up enough speed for the 400 and 200."
Slightly tarnishing Shaw's win in the 1,500 was the absence from Cali of Australia's Stephen Holland, his archrival at the distance and one of a handful of top swimmers who stayed home, apparently preferring to concentrate on the '76 Olympics. Among other notable absentees were world record holder John Hencken (breaststroke) and U.S. record holder John Naber (backstroke). In their absence Britain's David Wilkie won the 100-and 200-meter breaststrokes while the backstrokes were divided up, East German's aging Roland Matthes winning the 100, then being upset by Hungary's Zoltan Verraszto in the 200.
Even with their disqualification in the 800 freestyle relay, the U.S. men won eight of 15 events, outscoring runner-up Great Britain 178 points to 86. Counting all sports, and both men's and women's events, the norteamericanos amassed 16 of 37 gold medals. The Santa Clara (Calif.) Aquamaids, representing the U.S. in synchronized swimming, swept team, duet and solo competitions, while Air Force Lieut. Phil Boggs and Olympic veteran Janet Ely took the three-meter springboard and platform diving, respectively. In water polo an all-California team placed a disappointing eighth behind champion U.S.S.R. and, by finishing out of the top six, missed qualifying for the Olympics. The U.S. will get a final crack at landing an Olympic berth in October at the Pan American Games in Mexico City.
The U.S. women's swim team, meanwhile, was showing signs of recovering from the thrashing inflicted by the East Germans at the '73 Belgrade Games. Orbiting around its star Shirley Babashoff, the Americans were fairly brimming with newfound confidence, at least part of it traceable to a course in "self-image psychology"—given at the behest of U.S. coaches at the team's California training camp. The course was conducted by the Pacific Institute of America, whose president, Jeffrey Goforth, joined the squad in Cali.
Some of the swimmers referred to the aptly named Goforth as the "team shrink," but he denied serving in such a capacity. "Basically we're just trying to help people paint pictures in their minds that might lead to success," he said. "They should be positive images. For example, the night before a race, swimmers might try to visualize their fingers hitting the touch pad and the crowd going bananas."
So much for the night before. When dawn broke, the G.D.R. Wunderm√§dchen won 10 of 14 events and outscored their U.S. rivals 191 to 150. But the Americans did have Babashoff, an 18-year-old whiz and the possessor of the sole women's world record in U.S. hands, a 4:14.76 clocking in the 400 freestyle. The de facto women's team leader also had some psyching equipment of her own invention: no fewer than 10 bottles of nail polish, which she applied on whim—green one day, purple the next, gold sparkle the third. All told, Babashoff swam in seven events, including relays, winning not only her 400 freestyle speciality in 4:16.87 but also outdueling the G.D.R.'s Ender in the 200 free.
"Kornelia's a drop-dead sprinter," Babashoff said beforehand. "She goes out hard and tries to hold on. I'll wait a while, and then blast it home." The race turned out exactly that way, with Ender covering the first 100 in a torrid 58.06 only to be overtaken by the onrushing Babashoff, who touched out in 2:02.5, just two-tenths of a second over the East German's world record. A powerfully constructed daughter of an officer in the People's State Army, Ender recovered to lower her world record in the 100 butterfly, despite the fact the pool lights flickered as she swam, an event that failed to shake her poise.
The only other victory for the U.S. women came when Kathy Heddy, a pixiesh blonde from Summit, N.J.—her nail polish was red, white and blue—upset the G.D.R.'s Ulrike Tauber in the 200-meter individual medley. Heddy credited the self-image cram course with helping her "get tough," yet there was also the contrary case of Kim Dunson. "When I'm swimming I picture a switchboard in my mind," Dunson said. "Then I focus onto the switch that will turn off the pain I'm feeling." Whereupon the switched-off Dunson went out and failed to make it into the 100 breaststroke finals.
While the U.S. women battled with the East Germans, Tim Shaw found his chief challenger closer to home in Bruce Furniss. The Southern Cal-bound Furniss is basically a sprinter and, as the breed seems to demand, is outgoing and emotional. Shaw, true to the distance man's image, keeps his feelings to himself and inspires awe back in Long Beach for his prodigious workouts. At first the two rivals were billeted together in Cali, but Furniss arranged to be moved to another room. "Tim and I have to swim against each other," he said. "Things might get a little strained if we're in the same room."
Shaw viewed matters differently. "Bruce and I could have roomed together here," he said. "We're not going to cut each other up. We're friends." And so they were. Mounting the blocks for both the 200 and the 400, Shaw could be seen stroking the side of his nose with a finger, and there was Furniss doing the same. It was a ritual that the two Long Beach teammates borrowed from Robert Redford and Paul Newman, the lovable con artists in The Sting who exchanged that signal when they were about to set up another pigeon. The difference was that Shaw and Furniss were setting up each other.
For Furniss, losing to his hometown rival in the 200 and 400 was bad enough, but the 800 relay disqualification was devastating. His premature takeoff had been detected by an electronic timing device linking the starting block and touch pad, then was confirmed by an overhead videotape camera. After the announcement and initial shock, the four U.S. relay members gathered in a TV control truck to watch a replay of the crucial instant. For all concerned The Sting was far more enjoyable cinema. As the slow-motion film rolled, first forward and then in reverse, Furniss fought back the tears. "I jumped," he conceded. "I really blew it."
The saddest part was that the U.S., finishing eight body lengths ahead of the West Germans, had no need to gamble. Not to win, anyway. Furniss' overzealousness was spurred instead by lust for the world record that Ron Ballatore, the U.S. men's coach, had been predicting all day. It was a chastened Ballatore who admitted afterward, "We shouldn't have worried about world records. What matters is winning."
Which is what Tim Shaw, despite his air of innocence, realized all along. Or so it sounded when, one day in Cali, he discussed his world record in the 800. The distance is seldom swum as a separate event; records in it are ordinarily broken only in the course of the 1,500. But when Shaw lowered the mark to 8:09.6 during a U.S. team exhibition last month in Mission Viejo, Calif., it was in an 800 expressly arranged for that purpose. "I didn't want to swim it," Shaw said. "I don't believe in competing just to set records. The 800 is a dumb record." Strange for someone to say who was at once a triple world champion, a member of a disqualified world-record relay team and Mark Spitz' heir apparent. But, then, those were the only intemperate words to escape Tim Shaw's lips all week.