If there was any mystery about the identity of this country's leading male swimmer, UCLA's Brian Goodell certainly helped clear it up last week at the NCAA championships. A year ago Goodell joined Mark Spitz and John Naber as the only freshmen to win three races at the same NCAA meet, and he won the identical events again this time, easily outdistancing all challengers in Cleveland State University's pool. Goodell also proved beyond doubt that his physical problems of last summer were not serious and that he is once again the same dependable young man who did so well in the 1976 Olympics.
Until last summer, Goodell had an aura of invincibility about him, of relentlessness, although, deceptively, he looked and acted like the kid next door. At 17, Goodell won the 400-meter and 1,500-meter freestyles at Montreal, and he continued to dominate distance swimming in 1977 before starring in last year's NCAAs. Then last summer at The Woodlands, Texas, he faltered in the AAU nationals and didn't make the 45-member U.S. team for the world championships in West Berlin. He was suffering from a strep throat, but his failure at the AAUs was shocking just the same: Brian Goodell. Olympic champion, simply wasn't supposed to lose.
All of which pressed on his mind in Cleveland, along with certain other matters. For instance, it was finals week back at UCLA, and Goodell and several Bruin teammates were scheduled to take a three-hour exam in Math 1B in their hotel practically on the eve of the NCAA meet. So there was Goodell poring over a slender volume called A Primer for Calculus. "I sure don't feel like studying math," he said. An assistant coach from UCLA proctored the examination, and Goodell was happy when it was over. Emerging from the room after the test, he said with a relieved air, "It wasn't too hard. I think I did O.K."
That freed Goodell for his well-plotted heroics at the NCAAs. On his return to UCLA after his big disappointment last summer, he found a new weight room, a new crop of freshmen and a new coach. Ron Ballatore, George Haines having quit to return to club coaching. Goodell swam spectacularly during the Bruins' dual-meet season, lowering his collegiate record for 1,000 yards by 9.15 seconds (to 8:52.45) in a win over Texas and also leading the Bruins to victories over defending NCAA champion Tennessee and perennial power Southern Cal. "I came back to school recharged and ready to go and I still feel that way," Goodell said last week. "There are a lot of good swimmers in this meet, but if I'm feeling good I don't think anybody will be close to me."
Before it was over, the NCAA meet produced eight American or U.S. open records, but Goodell missed his own record of 4:16.40 in the 500-yard freestyle, the meet's opening event, which he won in 4:16.43. Still, when Goodell hit the wall, his closest pursuer, Harvard's Bobby Hackett, was a gaping six yards behind. The next night Goodell got a record, pulling away from University of California freshman Jim Johnson to win the 400 individual medley in 3:50.80, breaking Jesse Vassallo's 3:51.69. On Saturday night he went after his own American record of 14:54.54 in the 1,650 freestyle and surged into an early and growing lead. As he moved into the final 150 yards, the crowd rose and roared for a new record. Goodell got one by a hairbreadth, touching in 14:54.13.
Despite his steady, strong performances, Goodell was generally disappointed in his times. In the 1,650, for example, he had hoped to break 14:50 but, as he explained, "I got out front and kind of lost concentration during the middle of the race." He added, "I think I can go faster than that."
In two weeks Goodell will be competing in the AAU short-course nationals in Los Angeles, where eager high school swimmers will be challenging him and other collegians for spots on the U.S. team at this summer's Pan-American Games. Beyond that, barely a year away, loom the 1980 Olympics, where Goodell hopes to defend his 400 and 1,500 titles and also, perhaps, to enter the 200 freestyle and the 800 freestyle relay. He is sure to be a marked man every watery inch of the way.
Goodell also was disappointed, as were his teammates, by the way the race for the NCAA team title went. UCLA had hoped to win its first championship, but Goodell received less support than expected and the Bruins finished fifth in a hot race among six teams from the Pac 10 and the Southeastern Conference. California also was looking for its first NCAA team title and got it, winning seven of 16 events to outscore runner-up Southern California 287 to 227. Florida was third, followed by Tennessee, UCLA and Auburn.
Cal's victory was a triumph for its coach, Nort Thornton, who took over in 1974 after a successful career at Foothill Junior College in Los Altos Hills, Calif. The Golden Bears hadn't even scored at the just-completed NCAA meet, but Thornton pulled off an early coup by landing Peter Rocca, a solid backstroker from nearby Orinda, Calif., who wound up winning two silver medals behind John Naber at Montreal. Thornton says that otherwise he didn't have much luck competing against USC and UCLA for homegrown talent, so he began recruiting foreign athletes.
Rocca, now a senior, helped Cal reach the top of the collegiate heap last week by winning the 200 backstroke, while Swedish import Par Arvidsson took both the 100 and 200 butterfly. But Cal's big gun was Canadian Olympian Graham Smith, who swam at the Pac 10 meet three weeks ago in a bushy beard and ponytail and didn't make the finals in any event. Last week he applied shears and razor ("I'll have to reintroduce myself to my professors") and matched Goodell triumph for triumph to win three races, too, including an American-record 54.91 in the 100 breaststroke. And he contributed a strong breaststroke leg to a winning 400 medley relay team that finished in 3:15.22, also a record.
Smith is a muscular fellow with a tiny maple leaf tattooed on his rippling chest. "When I came to Berkeley the first time, my grandmother pleaded with me not to become Americanized," he explains. "I got myself tattooed in her honor, to symbolize that I'm proud to be Canadian." Smith is apparently an influential young man. Following his example, two other Canadians swimming for U.S. schools—Southern Cal's George Nagy and Florida's Bill Sawchuk—recently had maple-leaf tattoos applied to their bodies. One of Smith's teammates, American Jeff Freeman, has also gotten tattoo fever. "I wanted to show that I'm as crazy as Graham," he says, thereby explaining why he had the inscription USA SWIMMING tattooed on his shoulder.
Somehow a tattoo would seem all wrong on all-American boy Brian Goodell, the personification of discipline and hard work. A product of the powerful Mission Viejo Nadadores, Goodell progressed in the sport thanks in no small measure to grueling workouts he eagerly performed in what Coach Mark Schubert calls the "animal lane." So loath was Goodell to waste time in workouts that when some teammates began engaging in horseplay in Schubert's absence, he left the pool in disgust.
Goodell is still an ardent worker. "He has bad workouts just like anybody else," says Tony Bartle, a UCLA teammate who is also Goodell's fraternity brother in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. "But when he hits a good workout, he can wind up with some incredible times in practice." Bartle is also impressed by Goodell's powers of concentration. "Brian lives in the fraternity, and sometimes I don't know how he can do it and still swim," Bartle says. "I don't live in the house because I couldn't handle it. I'd fool around too much and be bothered by all the noise. But Brian is able to ignore a lot of things and study or go to bed when he should. He also budgets his time very well."
By Goodell's own reckoning, however, he suffered a lapse in self-discipline when he came to UCLA in the fall of 1977, a lapse that he feels contributed to his woes last summer. "I was living in the dormitory then and it was my first time away from home," he says. "I went kind of crazy from all the freedom. I ran around, got sick and missed a lot of time in the water. It caught up with me at the nationals. I don't think the strep throat would have bothered me so much except for the way I'd trained in the fall. I didn't have enough background."
Whatever the exact explanation for his failure to qualify for the world championships, Goodell says the experience taught him a lesson. "I now realize I should never take anything for granted. I'd been telling everybody I was going to Berlin. I wrote a friend in West Germany and told her that I'd be there. I made a fool of myself. When I didn't make the team, I had to write and tell her. It was awful."
In West Berlin the 400 and 1,500 were won by the Soviet Union's Vladimir Salnikov, who came perilously close to Goodell's world records. Today Goodell says, "I'm glad he didn't break my records. But I'm also glad that he came so close. I needed the challenge of having somebody I had to beat. In a way, it might have been good if he'd got my records."
Last December Salnikov and five other Soviet swimmers trained for two weeks at Mission Viejo, and Goodell, home for Christmas, worked out alongside his rival for several days. The Soviets and their Mission Viejo hosts also took part in a meet at UCLA, where Goodell beat Salnikov in the 1,650. It was Salnikov's first stab at the event, but Goodell says, "Anytime I can beat him I consider it to my advantage."
He obviously feels the same way about Bobby Hackett, who has lost many times to Goodell, the 1,500 at Montreal, in which Hackett settled for the silver medal, being the most notable example. Until now Hackett has tended to play rabbit while Goodell has swum at what coaches call a "negative-split" pace, meaning that he covered the second half of races faster than the first, overtaking Hackett at the end. In Cleveland, during a morning preliminary heat in the 500 freestyle, public-address announcer Guy Barnicoat, whose children are teammates of Goodell's at Mission Viejo during the summer, took note of this by referring to Goodell as "the greatest negative-split swimmer in the world."
That angered Harvard Coach Joe Bernal, who rushed up to Barnicoat and accused him of a pro-Goodell bias. "Why don't you just say he's going to win tonight?" Bernal asked sarcastically, referring to the evening final in which Goodell and Hackett were to meet.
"Because I don't know if he's going to," answered Barnicoat.
What makes this exchange particularly ludicrous is that it is getting harder to call Goodell a negative-split swimmer. He will turn 20 next week, and at 5'10" and 160 pounds, two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than he was at Montreal, he has become stronger, faster and more inclined to take charge in a race. "I'm able to go out harder now and still come back strong," Goodell says. "I'm getting closer to even splits." Sure enough, in the final of the 500, Goodell went out hard against Hackett, turned inches ahead of him at both 100 and 200 yards, then pulled away to win—a new tactic but a familiar result.
It is Goodell's improving speed that has emboldened him to consider adding the 200 freestyle to his Olympic program. His potential at the distance was evident in Cleveland when, leading off UCLA's 800-yard freestyle relay, he went up against Tennessee's Andy Coan, who earlier that evening had set an American record of 1:35.62 in the 200 freestyle and later in the meet would also establish one in the 100. Goodell had swum shortly before, too, and no final conclusions can be drawn from the confrontation between two tired men. Still, it seems at least noteworthy that Goodell easily out-swam the Tennessean on his leg, touching in an impressive 1:35.93.
But can Goodell realistically hope to swim the 200, 400 and 1,500 at Moscow? The fact is that nobody has ever swept those three events at the Olympics, and while Tim Shaw did so at the 1975 world championships, he was the first to admit that there was no logical way to train for all three events simultaneously. Goodell believes otherwise, that it is possible. Still, in view of the lesson he learned last summer, he is not talking about dazzling Moscow. But that didn't stop a friend from saying so, right? "Brian can do it," Bartle added. "There's no doubt about it." Goodell smiled slyly, the way any kid next door might.