Before he grows too short of breath and dim of eye every rabid, dyed-in-the-wool, red-blooded, 100% American sports fan should attend at least one large swimming meet in Northern California simply to appreciate the difference. Whereas a football game needs only a few dozen well-padded endomorphs, a Northern California swimming meet is considered a flop if it does not attract 300 or 400 competitors of both sexes and various ages. And it is really no show at all unless there are a few Olympians, a couple of world-record holders, four or five dozen teenage whizzes and a legion of grade-school hotshots on hand.
During a football game, a linebacker sitting on the bench would never think of climbing into the stands to ask his mother if she remembered to feed his pet turtle. At a swimming meet, the young competitors are constantly on the prowl. They are in the bleachers. They are three-deep at the snack bar. They are wrestling on their quilts and bedrolls when they are supposed to be resting up for the next event. There are so many sun-darkened bodies milling around the pool deck, so many jerseys and towels scattered about, that a big swim meet does not resemble a sports event as much as washday on the banks of the Ganges.
Consider, as an example, the 16th Annual Swimming Relays, held on the 22nd and 23rd of June in the Chabot College Pool at 25555 Hesperian Boulevard in Hayward, Calif. under the sanction of the Pacific Association of the Amateur Athletic Union and under the sponsorship of the Beaver swimming team of San Leandro. Around 3 p.m. on the 23rd, amid enterprises of great pith and moment, three small girls, with the mustard of their last hot dogs still showing on their faces, were running along the side of the pool. As they ran they shouted, "Where's Carol? Have you seen Carol? She's anchor on our relay." (It is a basic rule of swimming that the relay team that hopes to win together should stay together.) Meanwhile the mother of a swimmer (she was obviously a mother, for she had a stopwatch hanging from her neck like a dowager's lavaliere) rushed up to her husband.
"Have you seen Charles?" she screamed.
"Charles who?" her husband asked.
"Charles, our son, you idiot," she exclaimed. "His butterfly is coming up."
At the far end of the pool, a 12-year-old stood erect, holding two 9-year-olds apart. "You are not going to fight anymore," he said, "until you stop hitting each other directly in the mouth."
While these and other small dramas were being enacted, the public-address announcer tried to keep everyone abreast of what was going on in the pool. When he came to the results of event No. 14, the men's 400-meter freestyle (sponsored by Pipers Family Restaurant, 951 Mac-Arthur Boulevard, San Leandro) he bore down a little, speaking in a voice that could sometimes be heard above the hubbub. "First place," he said, " Mark Spitz of the Santa Clara Swim Club. The time: four minutes, seven and seven-tenths seconds. A new world and American record."
On hearing that Spitz (see cover) had set a world record, two little San Leandro Beavers actually put down the playing cards they held in a game of crazy eights. "Congratulations, you old bum," one little Beaver shouted. The other little Beaver shrugged. "I already have his autograph," he said.
Spitz's record was reported in London, Paris, Moscow, Durban, Sydney and Tokyo, but not in the
San Francisco Chronicle
across the bay. The failure of San Francisco to celebrate the feat may seem odd, but it is understandable. In the Bay Area the breaking of records by local swimmers—particularly by the bright and constant stars of Santa Clara—has become as commonplace as jumping off bridges. In the past two seasons each time someone else broke the 400-meter record Spitz rebroke it, restoring it to Northern California. Even if the Chronicle assigned half a dozen men exclusively to swimming, it is doubtful if they could keep up with all the thrashing that will occur during this pre-Olympic summer.