Matt Biondi had some tough days at the Boneyard last week. In the mornings and evenings, the lanky sprinter was the sensation of the U.S. swimming world championships team trials in Orlando, Fla., but in the afternoons and at night, Biondi literally had his hat handed to him at the card table, where he and his University of California teammates played a game of their own devising. "It's crazy eights with more wild cards," Biondi says. The deck is lovingly called "the Boneyard."
Early in the week Biondi had to don the ceremonial scuba gloves that are worn by the player with the worst hand. He had held, in the parlance of the 'yard, "a fistful of yen." For most of Tuesday afternoon, before his 100-meter freestyle final, Biondi had the worst score and wore a cardboard Burger King hat that crowns the King of the Boneyard.
At the nearby Justus Aquatic Center, where Biondi was also king, the U.S. was being dealt its hand for the world championships next month in Madrid. The team that American coach Richard Quick will take to Spain set four world and five American records in Orlando. Not since the 1978 long-course meet had a U.S. championship produced such a pool of records. Quick drew a number of new-face cards, but he also held four aces: Biondi, Pablo Morales, Mary T. Meagher and Betsy Mitchell.
Biondi started the week by winning the 200-meter freestyle in 1:49.04, then broke his own world record of 48.95 in the 100 free with a 48.74 clocking two days later. He still had the 50 free to swim on Thursday, but no one had ever swept the three freestyle sprints—50, 100 and 200—in one national long-course meet.
Biondi had come close at last summer's meet in Mission Viejo, Calif., where he won the 100 and 200 before losing the 50 by .08 to UCLA's Tom Jager. "Tom showed up, beat me, packed his bags and went home," Biondi recalled. "I was humbled by it quite a bit."
On Thursday, Biondi stepped onto the Lane 4 starting block for the 50-free final. "Keep your stroke long for the first 25 meters," he told himself. "Get a good start and don't look around."
The temptation to look around was great. In Lane 8, coiled and ready to spring, was the six-foot-three Jager, the world-record holder in the event at 22.40 seconds. Biondi had qualified in a searing 22.65. Jager, coming back that morning from a 100-backstroke prelim with only 18 minutes rest, had barely made the finals in 23.50. But after five hours in bed, he was rested. And he liked the outside lane, where, with only one swimmer next to him, he would get less turbulence.
Biondi, too, was happy with Jager's lane assignment. Jager had beaten Biondi in the 50 free at the '85 NCAA meet when Biondi had looked over at Jager from the adjoining lane. "Him being over there allowed me to concentrate on myself," Biondi said.
Jager, as expected, started well. Biondi, who had poor-mouthed his abilities as a sprinter all week by saying his 6'6�" frame took longer to come out of the crouch, also got out fast.
As the two sprinters crossed under the backstroke flags five meters from the finish, they were even. Then Biondi exploded to the wall. "Before I saw the time," Biondi said, "the crowd took off and I knew it was good." It was very good, indeed: a world-record 22.33. Jager finished second in 22.57.