Once upon a time a young athlete named Don Schollander swam out of the West possessed of sparkling blue eyes, chlorinated blond hair and broad, bronzed shoulders. He became a national hero. He conquered the Olympic Games in Tokyo, departing with four gold medals dangling from his neck, won a host of lesser honors and then went to a great and proud school in the East, all the time radiating perfectly the image of the all-American Boy.
That was in 1964. Now, three years later and at the risk of bringing down the temple in one crashing mess, it can be stated that Don Schollander is no longer the all-American Boy. He enjoys staying up late, and at Yale he has acquired certain accouterments of collegiate life. He is not even sure, in fact, what the all-American Boy is. "He's what anybody wants to think he is," he said. "If it means being a straight arrow, well, I might have been three years ago, but I'm surely not now." And as far as swimming goes, Schollander can no longer jump into a pool and expect everyone else to jump out.
What has happened is that Schollander has turned into the rarest of sporting heroes—the champion who ages with grace and dignity and, despite the inevitable challenges, with considerable success. He demonstrated this last weekend during the AAU long-course championships at Oak Park, Ill. When he lowered his own pending world record in the 200-meter freestyle to 1:55.7, won the 100-meter freestyle (defeating record holder Ken Walsh on the way) and anchored the Santa Clara ( Calif.) Swim Club's 800-meter freestyle relay team to a victory in 7:52.1, a time that equaled the three-year-old world record in the event. It was an excellent performance for anybody but Schollander. He did not win the 400-meter freestyle and, swimming anchor, could not bring home Santa Clara's sprint relay team.
The reasons for his apparently sudden lack of depth are hard to isolate, but the most prominent is simply that being a full-time Yale student has prevented him from getting the time he needs in the pool to work at all distances. A second is that he is no longer the hungry swimmer he was in 1963 and 1964. "There can't be any goals left," he said last week. "Winning four gold medals in Tokyo was nice, but it was something extra. I'll never have the competitive urge I had in '64."
Despite his protestations, Schollander does have one challenge left, and that comes from the knowledge that no modern American swimmer has ever stayed on top of his events for more than three years. Schollander is now in his fifth year. Consequently, he is surrounded by half a dozen swimmers, all of whom once idolized him and would now like nothing better than to beat him.
Mark Spitz is the most prominent of these at the moment. He is just 17, will be a high school senior this fall and already has three world records pending, in the 100-and 200-meter butterfly and the 400-meter freestyle, a record Schollander once held. Spitz, in short, is exactly in the position Schollander was in four years ago—young and hungry and very good. The fortunate coach of both swimmers, 1968 Olympic Men's Coach George Haines, is not reluctant to say, "Right now Spitz is better than Schollander." And Spitz could, Haines feels, wind up with seven individual world records, in the 200- and 400-meter individual medley and the 100- and 200-meter freestyle in addition to those he already has.
Steve Rerych, at 6'7" the tallest swimmer extant (SI, March 27), said, "Spitz is gonna clean Schollander. Hell, he's gonna clean everybody. If the schedule is right in Mexico City he could win eight gold medals. Mark thinks he can beat anybody. Don was like that four years ago when he was winning everything."
It had been predicted that Spitz would soon eclipse Schollander as the U.S.'s finest swimmer, but the reports from the recent Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg that there was bad blood between the two were grossly exaggerated. They are not the closest of friends, but there is not much more than a swimming-pool feud going between them. "I don't associate with Mark because he's 17 and I'm 21," Schollander said. "I generally hang around with guys more my own age. Mark is immature in a lot of ways, but basically he's a pretty good kid."
Meanwhile Schollander is content to go his own way. At Yale, where he is a low B student, he is a member of the student co-op board and Delta Kappa Epsilon social fraternity; last April he was tapped for Skull and Bones, Yale's most eminent secret society. He long ago gave up his premed ambitions to study finance, and at the moment favors the brokerage business. "I played the stock market, got lucky and got hooked," he explained.
With all his extracurricular interests, Schollander still retains a high degree of competitiveness. On Friday, the first day of the nationals, he more than lost the 400-meter freestyle; he finished a ghastly fifth. That night over a modest chopped steak he said, "You know something? Four years ago this would have bothered me. But now I accept it pretty easily." Smile. The next afternoon he set the 200-meter freestyle record, less than two weeks after he had broken the same mark in Winnipeg.