SI Vault
 
A Belly Flop For The Yanks
Craig Neff
September 01, 1986
Stomach woes slowed the U.S. at the world swim meet in Madrid, but the G.D.R. women flourished
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 01, 1986

A Belly Flop For The Yanks

Stomach woes slowed the U.S. at the world swim meet in Madrid, but the G.D.R. women flourished

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Neither did Biondi's race. Biondi is a sprinter with limited endurance, and in the 200 he must surge far ahead early. But Gross, out to defend the world championship title he had won four years earlier, stayed close. On the third 50 he blew past Biondi. By the end, El Torpedo was far enough back to see not only his rival's odd haircut but also the nickname—Albert—that Gross (the Albatross) had written on the seat of his swimsuit. "I was thinking too much about the other swimmers instead of my own race," Biondi said later. "I won't do that again."

Gross touched in 1:47.92, ahead of the G.D.R.'s Sven Lodziewski (1:49.12) and Biondi (1:49.43). Biondi's time was more than 1½ seconds off his U.S. record. That seemed to bother him more than losing to Gross. "He is now, and maybe always will be, the greatest male swimmer of all time," said Biondi. "I have nothing but respect for him."

In his later races Biondi again was off his best times, yet he ended the meet with seven medals, an unprecedented feat in world championship competition. He won the 100 free by nearly a second in 48.94 and pulled out two relay victories with spectacular anchor legs. He went home with three golds, one silver, three bronzes and this consoling thought: Spitz didn't have to swim against Gross.

Gross went on to successfully defend his 200 butterfly title in history's second-fastest time (1:56.53), and three other men—West German golden boy Rainer Henkel (400 and 1,500 free), Hungary's Tamas Darnyi (200 and 400 individual medley) and Igor Poliansky of the Soviet Union (100 and 200 backstroke)—also were double winners. But despite them, and despite strong wins by Americans Betsy Mitchell (100 backstroke) and Morales (100 fly), the true stars of the meet were the G.D.R. women, especially Otto, winner of four gold medals and two silvers. "We have never had so great a team before," said backstroker and team captain Cornelia Sirch.

The East Germans had trained in Mexico City during the spring and in the Caucasus in July to prepare for the effects of Madrid's 2,130-foot altitude and smog. As the world meet progressed, they couldn't understand why other swimmers kept complaining that the natatorium pool was too choppy. The water was calm enough if you swam out front.

So that's where they stayed. Breaststrokers Sylvia Gerasch and Silke Hörner set world records in the 100 (1:08.11) and 200 (2:27.40), respectively, while Kornelia Gressler upset world-record holder Meagher, who had been up all night throwing up, in the 100 fly. Heike Friedrich, 16, whose grandfather, a shepherd, had started her swimming, swept the 200 and 400 frees. Later this year the East German swimmers will all feast on a couple of Grandpa Friedrich's sheep, which graze on the grounds of the Karl-Marx-Stadt training center.

Otto, the G.D.R.'s answer to the now-retired Tracy Caulkins, earned individual golds in both the 100 free and the 200 IM. Until a backstroke-related nerve problem last year put her in a neck brace for nine months, Otto was the world's best 200 freestyler and 100 backstroker. Last week she won the 100 free and 200 IM, was second in the 50 free and 100 butterfly and was on two of the G.D.R.'s three winning relay teams. Still, she wishes for even more versatility. "I felt silly during the breaststroke. I can't swim it at all," Otto grumbled after her IM.

The East Germans even had the foresight to bring and prepare all their own food, thus avoiding illness. They obviously favor a steady regimen. "I wish to say that we have eaten spaghetti for the last three days and I am tired of it," declared butterfly medalist Birte Weigang when the meet ended.

Alimentary troubles were no laughing matter, however. The U.S. men's water polo team, which clinched a berth in the 1988 Olympics by finishing fourth in Madrid, might have reached the gold medal game had it not been for severe intestinal problems. Several key American players literally had to take themselves out of their semifinal against Italy in order to run to the bathroom. The U.S. lost, 10-9, offsetting earlier victories over the U.S.S.R. and West Germany in which the Americans played brilliantly.

Brilliance was the order of the day at other venues. In synchronized swimming, triple gold medalist Carolyn Waldo, 21, of Beaconsfield, Quebec, who, after nearly drowning as a child, had to overcome a phobia of the water, received the highest single-routine score in the history of her sport—two 10.0s and five 9.9s—in winning the solo competition. "Basically, this is the same as the Olympic Games," Waldo said excitedly. "These are the same people who will be in Seoul in 1988."

Continue Story
1 2 3