Sherm leaned back in his chair slightly, and then, thinking of something he had heard from a church pulpit or more likely during his days as a high school principal, he said with finality: "But swimming is good for them—sound body, sound mind, healthy spirit."
Swimming does not, however, quite manage to exorcise ail human frailties of the teen-age girl. "The biggest problem with them is trying to keep their weight down, and Sue is the worst of all," Chavoor says, shaking his head. "She is a real imp, always hiding candy and cookies in her pocketbook or her room."
"You should see her room," Debbie laughs. "Right now it's just full of cookies and junk."
"Hey, now wait a minute." Sue says. "I bought these cookies for you, too. Well, maybe I do eat a cookie or two too many."
"I remember one time when we were down in Texas and we were on our way to the Nationals in Oklahoma." Sherm went on. "We stopped at one of those Texas-size burger-and-soda places. Well, before I knew it, all the girls had these huge sodas in front of them. I said, 'Hold it, girls, I'll eat those,' and I did. 'Course I was sick for two days."
Sue is younger than Debbie, but she has been swimming longer. She is 14 and will be 15 the day before the Olympic Games start, but she has been racing since she was 9. She has held more than 50 age-group records and took a second at the Nationals in Oklahoma when she was just 12.
By contrast, Debbie was a doddering ancient of almost 14 when she began to mature as a swimmer. It showed first in the 1966 Nationals when she took a second in the 1,500-meter freestyle and a third in the 400-meter free, but it was only last year that she began winning everything and repeatedly lowered the world records in the 400 and 1,500 freestyle. It was also in 1967 that Debbie was voted by the Soviet news agency, Tass, as the Sportswoman of the Year, the first time an American ever won.
Last week in Lincoln, Debbie Meyer and Sue Pedersen stood side by side, as they had so many times before, at the start of the 400-meter freestyle. Debbie stood cool at the back of the starting block, her close-cropped hair falling softly over her forehead and her hands at parade rest behind her back. Sue arrived late. She was off talking with some friends somewhere and had to be collected for the race by one of the officials. They swam side by side on the gun lap, and then Debbie began to edge slowly ahead. Debbie finished amid light, scattered applause in the world record time of 4:26.7, and Sue was a stroke behind her. The people who follow swimming have come to expect world records from Debbie, so much so that the announcer at the pool forgot to mention it.
The rest of the meet was not to be quite as spectacular for Debbie, but it was certainly adequate. She won the 1,500 meters handily in a meet record, setting a world 800 mark along the way, but then she did lose the 200-meter freestyle to Eadie Wetzel of Lake Forest, Ill., although they were both under the pending world record that Sue had set in the Santa Clara Invitationals four weeks ago.
Sue decided to pass up that event, because it conflicted with the 400 individual medley that she really wants to compete in at Mexico City. Instead she went out and beat the world-record holder Claudia Kolb in the medley, and she and Debbie both were on the Arden Hills team that set a new 800-meter freestyle relay record. Claudia, a competitor of acknowledged great heart, beat Sue by a long hand touch in the 200-meter individual medley. She has generally been considered to be the best all-round swimmer in the world, but it is a crown that Sue is now laying claim to, jewel by jewel.