During the first day of the women's national swimming championships in Sacramento last week all the competitors and all the spectators were wet and cold, nagged by a persistent wind and rain. In the annual championships at each crack of the starter's gun some record usually falls, but at the end of the first blustery day only one American record had been broken. But none of the swimmers, and no one among the sodden crowd, and none of the worrying coaches or bickering officials was really miserable. If the AAU held the women's swimming championships in a gale on the back of an Alaskan glacier it would still be a very cheery show, because today it is completely an affair of youth.
As they go to the starting blocks, the competitors are little girls, many of them clutching toy mascots—funny frogs and fuzzy bears. When they fly off their marks at the gun, in skintight tank suits, they are quite a mature eyeful. As they drive through lap after lap, they become single-minded, relentless robots—young Amazons expending the energy of five ordinary men. Yet when they hit the finish wall in a watery storm, they instantly become girls again: some of the losers may cry and others may laugh off their losses quickly, and sometimes it's the winner who bursts into tears. Watching young girls who can show so many faces and forms of Eve in one afternoon, who could possibly be cheerless, even in the pouring rain?
On the second day of the meet the weather turned toward fair, but it barely mattered. It would have taken militia with bayonets to keep much of the crowd away from the Arden Hills swimming club, one of the new swimming centers that now flourish in northern California for the benefit of middle-income families whose children are drawn to the sport.
It was not necessary for the announcer to explain to the Arden Hills crowd what a medley race is, or any other technicality of the sport. The spectators who soaked on opening day (and subsequently sunned) knew almost all the answers. There were stop watches in almost every hand, and when Mary Stewart, a Canadian invader from Vancouver, broke the American record with 59.2 in the 100-yard butterfly (the best single show of the meet), it was the worst-kept secret at the timers' table.
After each event, as the place winners took the stand to collect their medals, a trio from Sacramento's El Camino High trumpeted wildly on horns, and following this each winner was permitted a free long distance phone call to her loved ones, courtesy of American Tel and Tel.
When butterfly winner Mary Stewart phoned back home to Vancouver she said: "Mother, Mother. My time was 59.2."
Mother answered: "Well, now, that's very good. Oh, by the way, did you win?"
When Roby Whipple won the 100-yard breaststroke, her parents and her friends and teammates from the winning Santa Clara club were on hand. But being 15 and thereby not one to pass up the chance to use a telephone, Roby reached all the way across the U.S to her cousin, Virginia Green, in Westfield, N.J. The conversation:
Roby: This is Roby. I just won the national.
Cousin: National? National what?