There was a lot of bitter grumbling around Long Beach, Calif. early this year when Mark Spitz, the world's greatest teen-age swimmer, announced that he was jilting Long Beach State College to attend Indiana University. The loudest complaints came from Long Beach Coach Don Gambril, and quite naturally so, since Indiana landing Spitz was roughly comparable to UCLA getting Lew Alcindor.
The reason he chose Indiana, Spitz said, was because he wants to be a dentist and everyone knows that IU's dental school is almost as good as its swimming team. As Indiana Coach James E. (Doc) Counsilman said after Spitz was safely in Bloomington, "I told him one of the happiest days in my life will be when I say, ' Dr. Spitz, take a look at my teeth.' "
Spitz should only hope he pulls teeth as well as he swam last week while making his varsity debut in the NCAA championships in IU's 25-yard pool. The warm-blooded freshman from Santa Clara, Calif. (he wore gloves while not swimming) won three events—the 200-and 500-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly—set two American records and teamed with Olympic hero Charlie Hickcox to lead Indiana to its second straight national title. (No world records were broken at Bloomington; they can only be set in 50-meter pools.) Spitz's performance stirred Counsilman to utter one of his panegyrics: "Mark is the greatest natural swimmer I've ever seen."
And what about poor old Don Gambril? Was he sitting in some Bloomington tap, crying in his beer? Not exactly. Gambril was busy unveiling a freshman ace of his own—Hans Fassnacht, a native of Mannheim, West Germany, who broke American records in the 400-yard individual medley and the 1,650-yard free.
Of course, Fassnacht's performances had nothing at all to do with the outcome of the meet, which was foreordained. So many talented swimmers have found their way to Bloomington that Counsilman's biggest worry before the NCAAs was not whether IU would win, but who to put on the 18-man squad allowed for championship meets. "Having this team," said one Indiana fan, "is like having an atomic bomb while everyone else just has a water gun."
The bomb went off on schedule, and all the psyching-up, shaving-down and tapering-off in the world couldn't have stayed it. Even with the usually reliable Hickcox getting upset in the 100-yard backstroke: the Indiana swimmers won seven of the 16 swimming events, while their splendid divers—Jim Henry, Win Young and Jon Hahnfeldt—swept the top three places in the one-meter and only failed to repeat in the three-meter because Hahnfeldt gashed his right heel during practice and watched the finals on crutches.
So, come Saturday night, after the Hoosiers had scored a record 427 points to beat runner-up Southern California by a 121-point margin, there was Counsilman, entirely clad in red all the way down to his silk underwear, being thrown into the water by his swimmers. "After we won last year I said we had the greatest team ever assembled," he said when he emerged. "Now I've got to say this team is the best ever."
Undoubtedly, the NCAA handed the championship to Indiana when it decreed that freshman athletes could compete in all varsity sports except football and basketball. "We probably could have won without the freshmen," Counsilman said, "but we would have been fighting for our lives." Indiana used five freshmen, including Spitz, and all of them scored points. Among Indiana's main rivals, the rule strengthened USC and Stanford, but it hurt Yale, which couldn't use freshmen because the Ivy League typically withheld its approval.
While Spitz was familiar enough, even notorious, Fassnacht needed an introduction. The son of a police inspector, he was an undistinguished member of West Germany's Olympic team, finishing no higher than sixth in three events. Gambril saw something that everyone else overlooked, however, and invited him to enroll at Long Beach. When he flew over from Germany in December, Fassnacht weighed 207 pounds, but he quickly trimmed down to a solid 180. He also improved his speed and stroke enough that insiders gave him a chance against Spitz in their preliminary heat in the 500 Thursday afternoon.
Twice, in the heat and again in the final that night, Spitz and Fassnacht matched stroke for stroke. Fassnacht's stroke was not as pretty as Spitz's, which swimmers tend to regard the same way baseball fans do Ted Williams' swing, but Fassnacht compensated with conditioning and a fierce stubbornness. They were so close at the finish of the heat that Fassnacht had flashed a few victory signs before finding out that Spitz had won. Each was clocked in 4:33.2, almost four full seconds better than the American record. They repeated their act in the final, Spitz winning with a 4:33.48 to Fassnacht's 4:33.57.