For hours John Moffet had sat through massages and ice packs and even a Xylocaine injection, yet by the middle of the afternoon Sunday, while fans assembled at the Olympic pool for what would turn out to be a spectacular opening session of swimming finals—including two world records—Moffet's newly torn muscle in his upper right thigh had only worsened. He was no longer sure if he could even swim in his final of the 100-meter breast-stroke, in which he was favored. "I knew it wasn't anything minor," Moffet would say later, smiling sadly, "because I could barely walk."
The muscle had given out midway through Moffet's morning qualifying swim. Gliding along on pace to equal or better his own month-old world record of 1:02.13, Moffet had pushed too hard coming out of his flip-turn at 50 meters. From then on, the pain had throbbed with each frog-like thrust of his breast-stroke kick. Moffet had held on to qualify first in 1:02.16, but he'd left the pool limping. By the time he tried a warmup swim just an hour before his final, he couldn't kick with any power—and his kicking is perhaps his greatest strength. Moffet, a quiet 20-year-old from Costa Mesa, Calif., a former age-group star who had learned to swim before he could walk, had waited a lifetime for this chance at the Games; his mother, Judy, had even lit the pilot light of the Moffet family stove from the Olympic flame. But Moffet's hopes died with his warmup swim. "It was a disaster," said U.S. head coach Don Gambril later. "He got out and told me he didn't think he could even go 1:10."
Moffet's longtime rival, former world-record holder Steve Lundquist, was not unaware of this. "I knew there was a commotion among the coaches to get him well," said Lunk, who had qualified fifth in the 100 breast with a typically sluggish morning swim of 1:03.55. Lundquist, 23, will soon get a business degree from SMU, and he had approached these Games as both a gifted athlete and an enterprising self-marketer. Awaiting him are careers in modeling and promotion, and he had wasted no opportunity to turn on his wit, smile and likable Southern humor for press or business contacts. This would be the last 100-meter breaststroke race ever for Lundquist, who had triumphed dramatically at every major competition of his career. In corporate jargon, Lundquist is A Winner. Here, to his delight, he would have 10,690 roaring spectators and a world-wide TV audience watching him.
At the gun Lundquist took off with a high jackknife dive—his flamboyant trademark—and surfaced with a two-foot lead. Moffet, his upper right thigh tightly swaddled with a bandage, was struggling desperately to challenge, but to no avail. "Right before we went out," said Lundquist later, "John told me, 'If something goes wrong with my leg, get the gold for the U.S.A.' " At 50 meters Lundquist had a full meter on second-place Victor Davis of Canada, flip-turning at 28.88 seconds, world-record pace. Moffet hit 50 meters in 30.08, dead last in the field of eight.
August 5, 1984
Davis, the world's best 200-meter breaststroker, started closing slightly on Lundquist in the final 50, but Lunk's pace was still astonishing. Quite clearly, Moffet's world record was being demolished. At the touch it was Lundquist in 1:01.65 and Davis in 1:01.99. The stadium rocked with noise. Moffet came in unnoticed, a gutsy fifth in 1:03.29.
Lundquist had broken the 100-breast world record for the fifth time in two years. "I felt like the Grinch that stole Christmas," he said again and again. But he was soon reminded that he might well have ended up like Moffet, a mere ham-and-green-egger. In a walkway beneath the bleachers Lundquist ran into Dr. Ted Becker, the team trainer who had brought him through the long months of rehabilitation that followed the severe shoulder separation he suffered while water skiing last September. As they met now, Becker was crying. Lundquist embraced him. "What that man has done for me I could never repay in two lifetimes," Lundquist would say. "Part of the medal is his."
And part was Moffet's. "I wouldn't be half as good as I am today without John Moffet," said Lundquist. He had consoled his friend at the end of the race, but Moffet's eyes were still teary an hour later. He was on crutches. "At least he knows he gave it his best," said Gambril. "You don't want to be looking back 20 years from now and saying, 'If only I had tried....' " Anyone who saw Sunday's race will recall how Moffet tried.
Those looking back on the Games 20 years from now will also recall Sunday's curious yet historic women's 100 freestyle final. The race ended with so close a battle for first place between U.S. teammates Carrie Steinseifer and Nancy Hogshead that even the electronic timing system couldn't figure it out.
What happened was that Steinseifer, who had come on with a late-race surge, and Hogshead, who had led for the last 30 meters, reached for the wall simultaneously. They looked up through the glaring afternoon sun at the scoreboard and saw identical 55.92s beside their names. But Steinseifer, for no apparent reason, was listed as the winner. For a moment, no one knew what had happened. Then Steinseifer, a 16-year-old high-schooler from Saratoga, Calif., threw a fist in the air and began a celebration. She's something of a footloose spirit who floats around pool decks wearing a Walkman, white-rimmed sunglasses and pink high-top Converses. Here she more or less went berserk. After all, she had become the first American woman in 12 years to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual swimming event. Or at least that's what she thought.
Hogshead, 22, from Jacksonville, Fla., a sharp-minded young woman who plans to become an attorney someday, quickly straightened her out. "Carrie was over there hooting and hollering," said Hogshead, "and I just looked at her time and my time..."
"...and told me, 'Hey, we're tied,' " said Steinseifer with a grin. The meet officials confirmed it. And so together the two had become America's first individual women swimming champions since the 1972 Munich Games. "I knew we were close, but not that close," said Steinseifer. "This whole team is really close," noted Hogshead.
No Olympic swimming final had ever ended in a tie, although in the men's 400-meter individual medley final at Munich, both Gunnar Larsson of Sweden and Tim McKee of the U.S. (ironically, one of Hogshead's former coaches) had recorded official times of 4:31.98. That race was awarded to Larsson when they took the times out to thousandths of a second; Larsson had touched .002 sooner than McKee, the equivalent of about one-tenth of a inch.
The protests that followed that '72 race, however, led to a turning back of the clocks; international swimming rules no longer allow for the use of thousandths in timing. It's not that the timing devices aren't accurate enough, but rather that the pool walls themselves aren't perfectly uniform. A swimmer could finish .001 ahead because his electronic touch pad happened to be a tiny fraction of an inch closer than his rival's. And so on Sunday, Hogshead and Steinseifer each received a gold medal, and their nearest pursuer, Annemarie Verstappen of The Netherlands, was given a bronze. No silver was awarded.
The closeness of the women was no mere joke line. Hogshead and Steinseifer had been roommates all week at the USC Olympic Village, and on Sunday afternoon had watched the Three Stooges on television together. Steinseifer, a young swimmer on the rise, was amazed to learn that Hogshead had started her swimming career in 1969—one year after Steinseifer was born—yet had not taken up the 100 free until this year. In turn, Hogshead, who's retiring after the Games, fed off Steinseifer's teenage energy. Said Hogshead, who had retired from swimming—and been in a pool but once—between September 1981 and January 1983 because of mental burnout, "This is the best experience of my life by far. It's like fantasyland." She hated to see Sunday night end.
Both Hogshead and Steinseifer had benefited from the presence of a third roommate-teammate, veteran Tracy Caulkins. "I can't express to you how much I respect Tracy," said Hogshead, who had competed against Caulkins in senior nationals as far back as 1977. "She's a nice friend and a team leader. She had lunch with Carrie today because she knew Carrie was nervous. Tracy's like that, kind of behind the scenes."
Caulkins, 21, still has the familiar lantern jaw and the softly polite Nashville accent and the marvelously fluid swimming strokes that have carried her to 66 world and American records in the last seven years. But until Sunday's 400 IM final, she had gone through her entire career—and become the world's best-known swimmer—without either competing in an Olympics or enjoying the one culminating moment of public acclamation that she deserved. Sunday's race, at last, offered her both.
The 400 IM final itself, of course, was really no race at all, for no one but East Germany's Kathleen Nord (missing because of the Soviet bloc boycott) can even begin to challenge Caulkins in the event. At the end of 200 meters, off a strong backstroke leg (1:10.28), Caulkins was not only nearly a second ahead of American-record pace but almost five seconds—roughly 23 feet—ahead of the field. After the third leg, 100 meters of what Caulkins later called "the best breaststroke of my career," she was leading by more than eight seconds and was even further ahead of U.S.-record pace. As Caulkins entered her final, freestyle, leg the spectators rose to their feet.
The applause built as she turned for home with 50 meters to go. It built for the memory of that frail 15-year-old who had smiled through a mouthful of braces back at the 1978 world championships in Berlin even as she was winning five events, including two relays, setting four world records and leading the U.S. women to their finest swimming showing of the last decade. It built for the Florida senior who has now earned 48 national and 12 collegiate titles, more than any other swimmer in history. It built and built until Caulkins had touched her final wall and put up on the scoreboard a time of 4:39.24—1.37 seconds better than the American record she established in 1980. Even Nord has never swum that fast in her life. Silver medalist Suzanne Landells of Australia, meanwhile, finished more than nine seconds back.
When she received her gold medal and spray of flowers, and put her hand to her heart for the national anthem, the normally undemonstrative Caulkins finally gave in to tears. In a press tent afterward she was still fighting for control. "People told me regardless of what happened I'd done a lot for the sport...that they'd still care for me," she said. When the award ceremony was mentioned, both Caulkins and Landells began crying. "I start getting teary-eyed just thinking about it," said Tracy. "It's just...a once-in-a-lifetime thing." Having missed out on a possible four Olympic medals in 1980 because of the U.S. boycott, Caulkins had every reason to savor her victory, which she did.
All that was left of Sunday's competition was the first flight of the Albatross—Michael Gross, West Germany's 6'7½", 20-year-old wonderbird. Gross, the double world-record holder from Frankfurt, was set to face new U.S. freestyle star Mike Heath of Dallas, 19, in the 200. Few Europeans expected Gross's world mark of 1:47.55 to survive the race; many Americans, on the other hand, suspected that Gross himself would also crumble. "All I know is the press is making him out as God and he could go out of here with nothing but silver medals—or less," said 200 freestyler Jeff Float, a U.S. team captain. "I'm going to be right on his tail and he's going to be sweating."
"It's going to be one of the crucial races of the Games," predicted Heath's coach, Randy Reese. "Especially for Gross. It could make him or break him."
For his part, Gross was typically unconcerned. When asked about Heath, who swam a U.S. record of 1:47.92 at the American trials in Indianapolis last month, Gross said, "I expected that one American would be very fast in each event this year. I didn't know who, but it is not important." And what about the 24-year-old Float, who'd clocked a solid 1:49.70 at Indy? "I think he cannot improve his performance from the trials," said Gross, "because he is very old." How about his own race tactics? "I plan no tactics. I swim how I like to."
Reese, disguised in dark glasses and a swimsuit, had snuck in to watch Gross work out on Wednesday and claimed to be unimpressed. But his own swimmer was having problems. "We've been working pretty hard until just a couple of days ago, and that has me kind of scared," said Heath on Wednesday. "I don't feel very good in the water. I know Randy tapers you to feel good the day you swim...." Heath paused. "I sure wish I had some of that feeling now."
Sunday's preliminary swims—an easy 1:48.03 for Gross and a rougher 1:49.97 for Heath—suggested that the good feelings were all with the Albatross. The finals confirmed that convincingly.
Gross's long, smooth strokes took him through three relatively pedestrian—for him—lengths of the pool. Heath, out fairly well for the first 100 meters, "felt like I was spinning in place" for the remainder of the race; he had no chance of running down Gross in the final 50 meters. Nor did anyone else.
Gross blazed home to a time of 1:47.44, his fourth reduction of the 200-free world record in the last 14 months. Heath took the silver medal in 1:49.10, with Float a disappointed fourth in 1:50.18.
Afterward, 1976 Olympic breastroke champion John Naber said of Gross, "I think he's the best swimmer ever. If he were an American he could win three relays plus four other golds. He's better than Mark Spitz."
Gross chose not even to enter this week's Olympic 400-meter freestyle, an event he would probably win, explaining, "[Vladimir] Salnikov [the Soviet world-record holder] and [East Germany's Sven] Lodziewski are not here. Therefore the winner of the 400 freestyle will not be the best man." Gross, in his standard fashion, left other questions unanswered by failing to show up for a postrace press conference. Which only left more time and attention for the other winners.
"Where's Nancy Hogshead?" asked a stadium usher who wandered into the press area as the last reporters left.
"Who wants to know?" sniffed Hogshead, holding back a smile.
For that, even history-maker Hogshead rushed off.