First came Zachary Zorn, who is 21, 190 pounds and might be able to beat any freestyler in the world by just stretching out to his full 6'4" in the pool, and then Ken Walsh, who swims very fast in a straight line, climbs out and puts on a pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses to see which end of the pool it is. Zorn and Walsh finished in 52.58 and 53.03—records, of course. Spitz hung on for third place, but Schollander was back there in fifth behind a New Jersey flash named Stephen Rerych. Everyone was gentlemanly about the upset, particularly Schollander, who clearly would have done better but for a bad start.
Schollander, who had caught, passed and beaten Zorn in a heat that morning, simply shrugged. "When I saw I wasn't catching Zorn tonight I knew I was in trouble," he said. "Because of that performance I will now swim only two events in Mexico instead of five. Certainly, you have to feel disappointed. In my own mind, I always felt I had a chance for five gold medals. No, it wasn't bad luck. It was just a bad swim."
There was, of course, a grand finale. The pending world record in the 1,500 meters was 16:28.1, a mark set last July by Mexico's Guillermo Echevarr�a. But here came Mike Burton, of UCLA by way of South Carolina.
Burton headed for a record from the start, pulling away from the pack and handling the affair as though it were a sprint. At the 400-meter mark he was swinging along at 4:13.2, which beat Schollander's 1964 Olympic record; he swam through 800 meters in 8:34.3, knocking off the world mark; at the finish, cutting swiftly through a bedlam of screams, he was clocked in 16:08.67—almost 20 seconds ahead of Echevarr�a. "And that," murmured Haines, "ought to take care of the allowance for altitude when we get to Mexico."
At the end, wearing natty shades of brown and yellow and his purposeful, man-with-a-mission look, Haines had a 38-man crew that seems unbeatable—on paper or in the water. He stood within a tight circle of newsmen, all of them trying to get him to count up all those cinch Olympic medals. Cautiously, the most optimistic thing Haines would permit himself was a small smile and the comment, "We have a chance to sweep a number of events."
Would Spitz go for not five, but six medals? Haines looked tempted, but he would not commit himself. "We have been talking about it," he said, "the other coaches and I. We have discussed whether he should go in the 100-meter freestyle. The events at the Games seem well enough spaced to handle it. But we don't want to race him if we have some fresh boys sitting around, ready to go."
With that, the perfect swimmers, all evenly formed, uniformly tanned, the little sparkles glinting off their teeth, went into secret drills. Terrible perils lay ahead: the change of altitude, thin air, thick water—and the possibility of debilitating overconfidence between now and the time they swim. Haines would do well not to let any of his swimmers read a newspaper or magazine or watch television between now and the finals, for everyone is singing their praises. It is hard not to.
If all goes well, Haines can bring them to the line in shape. Then, "if our luck holds out," he says, "all we have to do is show them the door to the pool and they'll do the rest."