The lady seated in the first row in Tokyo's luxuriant Olympic swimming arena did not mean to sound greedy, but last week when American swimmers were grabbing gold medals as though they were 10-yen coins Mrs. Martha Dent Schollander of Lake Oswego, Ore. wanted her son. Don, to have five. "Do you think it's fair that they left him off the medley relay team?" she pouted after the blond 18-year-old won his first gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle.
Don Schollander, who swims the crawl with the driving, pulsating grace of a porpoise, was not left out of much else. he was the dominant figure in eight days of Olympic swimming and diving that were dominated by one country—the U.S.—as they had never been before or are likely to be again. The youthful American swimming team of 27 boys (the oldest was 23) and 22 girls (the oldest, 19) splashed to 11 new world records while winning 13 gold, 8 silver and 8 bronze medals in 18 events. Schollander broke records just about every time he sprang into the glistening 50-meter pool. He set an Olympic mark of 53.4 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle and a new world record of 4:12.2 in his decisive 400-meter freestyle victory, and he helped his teammates set world records in the 400-and 800-meter freestyle relays. He won four gold medals, the most ever by a swimmer in one Olympics. Steve Clark won three (he swam on all three victorious U.S. relay teams), and so did Sharon Stouder. The U.S. won nine of the 12 men's events in swimming and diving and seven of the 10 women's events. And almost as stunning as this extraordinary performance by Schollander, Clark, Stouder and the rest was the fact that it was exactly what they were expected to do. Never had favorites shrugged off pressure more casually or come through more handsomely.
There are a poolful of reasons why the U.S. filled the Olympic swimming picture like a whale in a bathtub. First, through a vigorous age-group program administered by a national AAU swimming committee. U.S. small fry can get their competitive feet wet at the age of 8, when they are scarcely out of the minnow stage. The Japanese, who are as passionate about swimming as they are about baseball, golf and sumo wrestling, will not let budding swimmers compete until they have graduated from junior high school. Americans are breaking world records at that advanced age. Second, U.S. coaches, years ahead of the rest of the world in training techniques, were the first to realize that even preteen-agers arc capable of great doses of hard work, at least in a swimming pool. Finally, U.S. swimmers seem to get a special bang out of aquatic competition, a cheerful state of mind that has all but eluded swimmers from other countries.
"Americans do so well because they swim for individual satisfaction and enjoyment." said an Australian swimmer. "The rest of us are under pressure to kill ourselves for our country."
The Americans' country, by contrast, extended itself for its swimmers, particularly where the XVIII Olympiad was concerned. Following the Olympic trials in early September, the U.S. team was packed oil" for three weeks of intensive preparation at training camps. The girls assembled in Los Angeles under Southern California Coach Pete Daland, and the men at Foothill College, just south of San Francisco, under Jim Counsilman of Indiana University and George Haines, Schollander's coach at the Santa Clara Swim Club. When the training sessions drew to a close at the end of September and the teams got their passports ready for the flight to Tokyo, Counsilman could hardly wait to send his explosive charges into the Olympic pool.
"The Olympic trials produced what is potentially the greatest team we've ever had," he said then, "And now they're all in even better shape than they were for the trials. We have potential winners and depth in every event."
By the time the team touched down in Japan, observers were conceding the U.S. a minimum of 12 gold medals. Anything less would amount to virtual humiliation. The coaching staff began to wish it had not sounded off so confidently back home.
"Everyone expects us to perform as if this was some sort of dual meet," complained Pete Daland. "But the rest of the world is here, too. I think that people are clamoring for the swimmers to make up for possible shortcomings on the rest of our Olympic teams. I'd like to see the other sports carry their share of the responsibility."
"I'll be happy if the men win five gold medals," lied Jim Counsilman to a skeptical pair of Japanese reporters who were interviewing him at the edge of the pool as the American swimmers churned by during one of their many practice sessions.
But Daland and Counsilman need not have moaned so piteously. In the very first men's final, the 100 meters, where the U.S. freestylers faced a particularly strong challenge from Bobby McGregor of Great Britain and the world-record holder, Alain Gottvalles of France, the gold medal came our way. Schollander, picking up speed in the last 25 meters, beat McGregor by the length of a flailing arm, and the American parade to the award stand at the north end of the pool had begun.