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Kim Chapin
April 03, 1967
Gregory Buckingham is tall, dark, handsome and, suddenly, a star of American swimming. In the NCAA title meet his record-breaking victories lifted the Indians above strong Southern California and Indiana
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April 03, 1967

Stanford's Big New Splash

Gregory Buckingham is tall, dark, handsome and, suddenly, a star of American swimming. In the NCAA title meet his record-breaking victories lifted the Indians above strong Southern California and Indiana

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Last Saturday's breakfast was not a-happy meal for the Indiana University swimming coach, Dr. James Counsilman. It was the morning of the third and final day of the NCAA championships, and things were going badly for the usually well-stocked Hoosiers. "Our divers are doing fine, of course," he said grumpily, "but, outside of a couple of standouts, we don't have the swimmers. Stanford has all the stars, and Southern Cal isn't going to win an event, but they're nickeling and diming both of us to death."

Dr. Counsilman was wrong. The five-and-dimers had their moments in the meet at Michigan State, but in the end Counsilman and Southern California's Peter Daland were both dollared to defeat by the shiniest new coin out of Stanford's mint.

His name is Gregory F. Buckingham, and he suddenly is the dominant swimming personality in the U.S.—quite possibly the world, as well. Not incidentally, Stanford is the new NCAA champion, breaking into the cozy club to which only Michigan, Ohio State, Yale and Southern California have belonged since the NCAA began keeping track of such things way back in 1937.

Buckingham, a wanderer who attended San Jose State and San Mateo Junior College before landing at Palo Alto, won two individual events, the 200- and 500-yard freestyles. Then he anchored Stanford's triumphant 800-yard freestyle relay team with an amazingly swift clutch performance in the meet's last event, assuring the Indians the team title over the Trojans and the Hoosiers. He set American records of 1:41.3 in the 200 and 4:37.0 in the 500 and shared in the unprecedented 6:54.5 for the relay, overshadowing not only that bemedaled Olympian, Don Schollander of Yale, but also stars of the magnitude of Michigan's Carl Robie.

Buckingham also could have won a contest for the most memorable name had it not been for the presence of one Zach Zorn, a UCLA sophomore. It was a sad Zach who won the 50-yard freestyle. "So I won," Zach shrugged. "I wanted the record, and I wasn't within two-tenths of it."

The surprising thing is that until three years ago nobody, except a few people in the Bay Area, had ever heard of Buckingham. At Menlo-Atherton High School he had been an All-America swimmer, but his scrapbook was thin. He was not a prodigy (he is actually older than Schollander by a few months), did not come up through the well-publicized age-group swimming programs, as have so many Olympic and national record-holders, and he had a tendency not to train very seriously.

Then he sought out George Haines, coach of the Santa Clara Swim Club and the developer of Schollander, Steve Clark and Donna de Varona. The encounter took place in the locker room of the Santa Clara High School. "I went to George and said I wanted to swim for him," Buckingham said. "I didn't know it at the time, but Schollander was in the room and quickly left. He told me later that he couldn't bear to be around when George told me no."

Well, George said yes, and the second son of a California coffee packer was on his way. "I owe my whole life to Haines," Buckingham said.

Buckingham is 21 and dark-skinned, with sparkling blue eyes, scraggly sideburns and, except for a heavy intake of protein supplements and wheat germ, is reasonably normal in his habits. The only thing kooky about Greg is his exuberance over swimming. In this age of kid champions a man of 21 should be jaded and near retirement.

"I think I have an advantage over a lot of the other guys," he explained. "Swimmers like Schollander have been competing for years at the top. You can take it physically, but after awhile it burns you out mentally. I'm even looking forward to the day when I can give it up."

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