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It was 6:30 a.m. when the station wagon turned into a silent Houston street and stopped. The horn sounded, and after a few minutes a comely, blue-eyed girl with tousled blonde hair emerged sleepily from her college dorm. In one hand she carried a box of cereal and two half-pint cartons of milk, in the other a textbook and a handbag. With two other equally sleepy girls from the dorm she piled into the station wagon.
Half an hour later, at a junior high school in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, the driver stopped. The girls stepped into a dressing room to change into tank suits. Still drowsy, they moved languidly into the cool half-light of the school's pool and eased slowly into the water.
So started a typical day for 19-year-old Carin Alice Cone (see cover), one of the finest swimmers of her generation and this country's chief hope to win a gold medal in the women's backstroke at the Olympics. This week she goes after her 17th and 18th national titles in the women's AAU meet at Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
After giving the girls time to warm up a bit, Coach Phill Hansel, who had driven the station wagon, called out, "All right, kick 50. Set, ho!" Carin and her friends, Freestyler Brenda Dietz and Backstroker Eileen Murphy, splashed away on the first lap of a tough 1�-hour workout. Toward the end, as the school began to stir, a bugle call blared shatteringly from a loudspeaker at the pool, and a boy's earnest soprano voice intoned, "I pledge allegiance to the flag...."
Panting and wheezing, the girls climbed from the pool, flopped beside it and rested for a minute or two. Then they changed in the dressing room, got back into the station wagon and headed toward Houston. On the way, Carin opened the box of cereal, poured milk into it and, producing a plastic spoon from her handbag, began to eat. This was breakfast. Between bites she skimmed a few pages of the textbook. At 9 the station wagon pulled up to a University of Houston classroom building. Carin smoothed her damp hair and hurried inside to be on time for a psychology exam. A straight-A student, she was not particularly concerned over it.
"That girl," said Hansel as he pulled away, "crams an awful lot of living into 24 hours."
ALWAYS A SWIMME
From childhood Carin Cone has done an extraordinary amount of her living while wearing a swimsuit. Her home then, as now, was in Ridge-wood, N.J. When she was 6 her parents enrolled her in a Red Cross swimming course. At 9 she took advanced lessons at the Women's Swimming Association pool in Manhattan.
"Originally these were just to improve my form," Carin says. "But when I found out they had a team I had to be on it."
On it she went, and into subjunior competition as a freestyler. At 10 she was given the backstroke by her instructor, Mrs. Marie Giardine, who was partial to it. "She was a very bright girl," Mrs. Giardine says. "If you told her something once she would never forget it."