The last time Americans sent an expeditionary force to Montreal was on Nov. 13, 1775, when Continental Army troops under General Richard Montgomery began a seven-month occupation of the city. It is of historical interest, then, that the U.S. Olympic swimming squad now invading the Canadian city includes Indiana University star Jim Montgomery, a freestyler who may be able to trace his lineage to the 18th-century general. "My grandmother says we had an ancestor in the Revolutionary War," Montgomery relates uncertainly. "But I always thought he was only a lieutenant colonel or something."
Whatever Montgomery's pedigree, he and the other U.S. men swimmers appear ready to conquer Montreal all over again. Montgomery will swim four events at the Games, with gold medals a virtual cinch in the two men's relays and merely probable in the 100-meter freestyle, in which he holds the world record of 50.59. At that, Montgomery may be less busy than backstroker-freestyler John Naber, who could compete in as many as five events and bring home gold in, among others, the 200 back, which he swam at the U.S. Trials at Long Beach; Calif. in a world-record 2:00.64. However, neither Montgomery nor Naber figures to be all-conquering. The two meet head on in the 200 free, and in that event both will be underdogs to USC's Bruce Furniss, whose best clocking is 1:50.32—another world record, naturally.
Given the obvious possibilities for strife on Coach James (Doc) Counsilman's U.S. men's team—Americans hold world records in 10 of the 13 men's Olympic events—it is reassuring that Montgomery is able to say, "The guys aren't into hate psychology—we're all pulling for each other." With the once-mighty U.S. women in danger of being swamped by their East German rivals, it will be largely up to the men to uphold the honor of American swimming. In Munich swimmers accounted for 17 of the 33 golds won by the U.S.
Swimmers of other nations will be doing their best to keep the Olympics from resembling the AAU championships. One American facing stiff foreign opposition is John Hencken, a Stanford engineering major who at the men's training camp in Canton, Ohio lived up to his nickname of "Rocket Man" by filling the sky with a daily barrage of miniature solid-fuel missiles. Hencken won the 200-meter breaststroke at Munich and now holds world records in the 100 as well as the 200, but at Montreal he will be challenged by Great Britain's David Wilkie and Japan's Nobutaka Taguchi, the come-from-behind winner in the 100 in '72. The 25-year-old Taguchi claims to have become more of a take-charge swimmer, warning with great formality, "I'm sure Mr. Hencken is going to be surprised to see this new style of mine."
July 18, 1976
Other potential Olympic standouts include Hungarians Zoltan Verraszto and Andras Hargitay, current and past world-record holders in the 400-meter individual medley, and such Canadian hopefuls as veteran butterflyer Bruce Robertson, USC-bound backstroker Steve Pickell and 17-year-old breaststroker-medleyist Graham Smith, any of whom could give the home folks in the 9,000-seat Montreal pool something to cheer about. The U.S. men are particularly strong in freestyle—medal sweeps are possible in both the 200 and 400—but Montgomery and countrymen Joe Bottom and Jack Babashoff must be wary in the 100 of Russia's '72 bronze medal winner Vladimir Bure. Now 26, Bure startled his Soviet teammates during a recent workout by continuing to swim on while literally screaming with pain from leg cramps.
It is East Germany, though, that has the best chance of upstaging the Americans. That country's 23-member squad (vs. the U.S.' 51) is led by Roland Matthes and Kornelia Ender, whose recently announced engagement will titillate geneticists everywhere: they have in common dimpled chins, stately bearings and a grand total of 43 world records. Matthes, now 25, won the 100 and 200 backstrokes at both Mexico City and Munich but has suffered a rash of recent illnesses that, he says, "gave me the little break from training I needed." Matthes has apparently been passed up in the 200 by the likes of Naber, Verraszto and the U.S.' Peter Rocca, all of whom are younger, but he should be in the thick of things in the 100.
The GDR women will be in the thick of it everywhere. They hold world records in 12 of 13 Olympic events, much of this havoc being wrought by the 17-year-old Ender. Powerful off the blocks and explosive on turns, the 5'11", 170-pound star will enter at least five events at Montreal: the 100 and 200 free, the 100 butterfly and both women's relays; she may also swim in a sixth, the 100 backstroke. While her rivals ritually shave body hair to make themselves slicker in the water, Ender has never bothered to do so. This gives her a psychological weapon that she is brandishing skillfully. "Shaving is Quatsch [nonsense]," she said at the recent GDR championships. Then, slyly, she added, "But I might just shave in Montreal."
Unintimidated by either Ender or her poised razor, U.S. Women's Coach Jack Nelson insists bravely, "We can't afford to get discouraged—we can beat the East Germans." Nelson's hopefuls include UCLA grad Karen Thornton, who won the 200 butterfly at Munich as Karen Moe. Now married, she came out of retirement to win the Trials in an American record of 2:14.23, and, at 23, is the oldest woman on the U.S. team. Thornton now faces, neatly enough, the GDR's oldest woman, 20-year-old Rosemarie Kother Gabriel, who holds the world record of 2:11.22. Gabriel, referred to as "Grandmother" by her teammates, is married, too; her wedding took place last year in the people's swimming center in Luckenwalde, after which newlyweds and guests all went for a dip.
The best American hope for stemming the East German tide remains 19-year-old Shirley Babashoff, holder of the only women's world record not in GDR hands. At the women's training camp at West Point the broad-shouldered Babashoff cut a menacing figure as she splashed through the water clad in two swimsuits, goggles, bathing cap and hand paddles; when she drew near them, the other American women respectfully scattered. Babashoffs five individual events at Montreal include every freestyle distance from 100 to 800 meters and, because she also qualified in the 400 individual medley, every stroke as well. "I like to keep busy," she says of her demanding program. "Otherwise I start losing momentum."
Babashoffs brightest prospects for gold are in the freestyle events beyond 100 meters. In the 200 she will be out to upset world-record holder Ender, just as she did at last year's world championships in Cali, Colombia, when the East German built a huge lead only to be touched out by the onrushing Babashoff. Spooked by that loss, Ender still frets, "My biggest weakness is that I have a bad sense of pace." East Germany's Barbara Krause, who broke Babashoffs world record in the 400 free last month, is out of the Olympics with a throat inflammation, and it is difficult to imagine anyone beating the American star in this event. The 800 is the race in which Babashoff now owns the world record, her 8:39.63 at the Trials making her the third woman in three weeks to have the mark in her possession. The others were Australia's Jenny Turrall and the GDR's Petra Th√ºmer, and the showdown among these three at Montreal could be marred only by the fact that Turrall is a good 10 pounds over her normal weight of 117.
"We persuaded Jenny's mother to cook less fattening foods," sighs Forbes Carlile, Turrall's coach. "Everybody in the family lost weight except Jenny."
In the men's distance races, the one to beat will be 17-year-old Brian Goodell, who at the Trials broke fellow Californian Tim Shaw's world record in the 400 free and Australian Steve Holland's in the 1,500. Shaw, who also made the U.S. team, is recovered from anemia, setting up a rematch with Goodell in the 400. The 1,500 pits Goodell, whose record is 15:06.66, and U.S. teammates Bobby Hackett and Paul Hartloff against Holland. There are expectations that the world record, which dropped below 17 minutes in 1964 and 16 minutes in 1972, is now ready to go under the 15-minute mark.
Confined as they are to lanes, swimmers cannot offer the kind of pack racing that may take place on a running track, but the jockeying should be intriguing just the same. The 16-year-old Hackett, a senior at Fordham Prep in the Bronx, likes to play rabbit, and so does the Stanford-bound Hartloff. Holland, blessed with the rapid-fire stroke typical of Australians, is given to crushing foes at around 800 meters. As for Goodell, he has the most raw speed and is known for swift finishes. Holland, who trained alongside Goodell for a while last year at the latter's home club of Mission Viejo, dismisses talk of world records, insisting, "All I want is the gold." Maybe so, but anticipating a sub-15-minute 1,500 is almost irresistible.
Another historic quest in the Olympic pool will involve diving rather than swimming. This is the bid by 16-year-old California schoolboy Greg Louganis, the sport's new sensation, to become the first man in 48 years to win golds in both three-meter and platform events. The slight, mild-mannered Louganis, of Samoan ancestry but adopted as an infant by a Greek-American couple, won both events at the U.S. Trials. Louganis arches his takeoffs high above the board, "rips" his entries with nary a splash and is so proficient in between that some experts insist he is about to dethrone Italy's 28-year-old Klaus Dibiasi, gold medalist in the platform in the last two Olympics. Anybody who suggests that Louganis' chances might be better in 1980 will hear from his coach. Dr. Sammy Lee. "To hell with that," snaps Lee, himself a two-time Olympic platform champion. "I might not be here in 1980. Greg's going to do it now."
One man who will have to do it now, if ever, is Gary Hall, who, with Mark Spitz, was co-captain of the Indiana swim team. While Spitz was winning his seven golds at Munich, an overtrained and overwrought Hall finished out of the medals in the 200 and 400 IM, both of which he was favored to win. The 24-year-old Hall has acquired a wife and son and is in his third year of medical school, but he remains sufficiently haunted by his '72 disappointment to have tried out for the U.S. team in the 100 butterfly, Spitz' best event. And he remains sufficiently talented to have made it.
Now Hall has another shot at Olympic gold. "It would have been hard to live with myself if I hadn't at least tried," he says. Hall's mission at Montreal may not be as ambitious as those of the Montgomerys, Nabers, Enders and Babashoffs. It is, obviously, every bit as serious.