There were three things you used to be able to count on at the NCAA swimming and diving championships. Records would fall all over the place. Indiana would come on with a team that was unbeatable. And Indiana would lose—to Stanford, to Yale, to Southern California, to Vassar, if it came to that. One way or another, the Hoosiers would find a way to blow it.
Well, you can still count on records falling, and Indiana came to the NCAA meet last week in Dartmouth's pool at Hanover, N.H. with another one of those powerhouses. But forget the rest of it. Not only did Indiana win the championship—its first NCAA swim title—it won it more thoroughly than anyone ever has, scoring a record 346 points, or 93 points more than Yale's strong team earned in finishing second. As for those West Coast teams, favored USC and defending champion Stanford, a strange thing happened. The West sank slowly in the East.
The difference between this Indiana squad and those of the past was really not very great. The swimmers might have been a shade faster; the Hoosier divers were as strong as they always are. But add to that the name of Charles Hickcox. There you have the difference.
Hickcox, a tall, lean, intense fellow with deep-set eyes, set an American record while qualifying for the 200-yard individual medley finals on Thursday and then broke it again as he won the final that night. Friday night he won the 100-yard backstroke and tied the record he had set that afternoon. Saturday he entered the 200-yard backstroke and won that by nearly two seconds. After each win he bobbed up out of the pool, fist clenched, jaw set and fire in his eyes. He not only won his races, he aroused the entire Indiana team. Swimmers who thought they were only good found they were much better than good and suddenly great hunks of time were falling off old standards and unknown Hoosiers were winning or finishing right up there with the most glamorous names in swimdom.
Bryan Bateman is a case in point. Considered the sprinter least likely to make life uneasy for UCLA's phenomenal Zac Zorn, Bateman managed to cut nearly half a second off his best time in a 50-yard freestyle trial, which barely earned him a chance to swim off against Stanford's Morgan Manning for a place in the finals. Bateman trounced Manning, got into the finals and, with a superlative effort, had Zorn grabbing frantically at the touchplate to keep the Hoosier out of first place.
Then the divers caught the Hickcox fire. Indiana always has fine divers, mostly because Hobie Billingsley is far and away the best collegiate coach in the country. But where most people were conceding Indiana 60 points in the one-and three-meter events, Billingsley's acrobats picked up more than 90 (the first 12 places in each swimming and diving event earned points). And so Indiana's head coach, Doc Counsilman, finally went home with the championship after 11 years of near misses, including a couple of times when Indiana was on probation and ineligible to compete.
Not that Indiana had a monopoly on heroics. In fact, there were so many great deeds performed in the Dartmouth pool by swimmers from all over the place that a sound with a futuristic note was struck. You could not really hear it, of course—that ghostly clanging of gold and silver and bronze medals. Why, they probably haven't even been forged yet. But after three days it was obvious that in Mexico this fall a lot of that outgoing U.S. gold will come flowing back—around the necks of American swimmers.
How those records did tumble. Consider, for instance, the Stanford 800-yard freestyle relay team. Stanford bettered the record it had set last year and still finished behind Southern California—which finished behind Yale. It was that kind of meet. Swimming records are complex—for example, NCAA races do not conform to the precise distances in meters or yards that are acceptable for world-record recognition—but all sorts of them were broken.
UCLA's team came to Dartmouth with the best tans, a few middling swimmers and two that were not middling at all—Zac Zorn, who swims the shortest races faster than anyone in the world ever has, and Mike Burton, who swims the longest races faster. Zorn has the height—6'3"—which is the way the good swimmers are built these days. "There is no doubt that Zac has natural speed," says UCLA Coach Bob Horn, "and he works hard for more." Like 7,000 yards every day. When Zorn gets up on the blocks before a race he is ready. He is also likely to get sick on the spot if the starter dallies before sending the field on its way. But once Zorn hears the gun, he is gone. No one is sure exactly what happens. There is a blur, a splash, and suddenly there's this white wake boiling along the lane that just keeps going and going and going for 50 or 100 yards. Then Zorn climbs out of the pool and collapses. At Dartmouth he did a 50 that would have made any swimmer—any other swimmer—blushing proud, but Zorn was disappointed. He had only tied the record he shares with Steve Clark, and tying records is not what Zorn has in mind. That became evident when he bolted off on the opening leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay and completed the fastest unrecorded 100 ever—45.4. Bob Horn had told the judges that Zorn was going for the record and please won't you have the required three judges timing him? Oh, sure. But there were only two judges, and there went the record. "Boy, was I mad," said Zorn.
He was so mad, in fact, that he torpedoed through the 100-yard freestyle qualifying heat as if that missing judge was waiting for him at the finish line with his head in the water. Zorn got to the finish in 45.3, which was better than the night before, and this time it stuck.