SI Vault
Jerry Kirshenbaum
August 31, 1970
It's little Debbie Meyer who won three golds in Mexico in 1968 (below). At 18 (right), she is simply ancient by female swimming standards, but not too creaky to set another world record at LA.
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August 31, 1970

Now Look Who's An Old Lady

It's little Debbie Meyer who won three golds in Mexico in 1968 (below). At 18 (right), she is simply ancient by female swimming standards, but not too creaky to set another world record at LA.

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If Chavoor could have had his way the valedictorian and salutatorian of the female sports world would have been asleep by midnight. Instead she remained at the bowling alley until daybreak. When she arrived the following day at practice, her first in nearly 48 hours, she was tired and achy. By the time the Arden Hills swimmers completed their first series of laps it was obvious that Debbie was struggling. "What's wrong with you?" demanded Chavoor.

"I'm sore all over," Debbie replied, clutching the edge of the pool. "I must have bowled 40 games."

"Who told you to bowl, you little nut?"

"Well, I had to do something. I couldn't just stand around all night."

After watching his charges swim a while longer Chavoor threw his hands into the air in horror. "These times on my stopwatch are awful," he cried.

He was addressing all the swimmers, but it was Debbie who spoke up. "Then why don't you wind it?" she asked.

That afternoon Debbie relaxed on the patio behind her house. She still wore her bathing suit and over it a football jersey that used to belong to her 20-year-old brother Cliff. A glass of iced tea in her hand, she watched as Cliff, home for the summer from Rutgers, tossed a Frisbee around on the lawn with the two younger Meyer boys, Jeff, 14, and Karl, 9. Nearby, their father Leonard (Bud) Meyer inspected a lawn-mower blade that had been damaged by a baseball that somebody—the evidence pointed to Little Leaguer Karl—had left under the pink oleander bush. Meanwhile, Betty Meyer was preparing dinner ("ugh, lamb," shuddered Debbie when the scent reached her) in the kitchen. Everybody was barefoot, as if shoes had been formally banned by some sort of family council.

Sipping thoughtfully on her iced tea, Debbie turned her attention from Frisbee to swimming. "There are a lot of girls who'd love to beat me," she said with an air of wonderment, as though it had dawned on her only that moment. "That puts pressure on me. But I just try to stay calm and set goals for myself. I'm glad I decided to keep swimming. If I hadn't I don't know what I would've done with myself." She chewed on an ice cube. "I guess that it's sort of like playing king of the mountain."

As the 1972 Olympics draw nearer it may just be, as Chavoor insists it is, that "Debbie hasn't yet begun to scratch the surface of her abilities." Although her mark in the 800 meters has recently been broken, she still holds world freestyle records at 200, 400 and 1,500 meters, plus a grand total of nine American records. Last year, despite her post-Olympic doldrums, she posted the year's best times in three freestyle races and in the 400 IM. The latter is an event she began swimming in a big way after the Olympics, and until last week's poor showing at the AAUs she had been improving steadily. Chavoor would rather have seen her concentrate on her various freestyle specialties, but he bowed to her desire to try the IM as a way of keeping her interested in swimming. "Anything to amuse her," he shrugged. "Anything that will keep her from getting bored with it all."

Coming on top of her strength in the freestyle (her gold medals in Mexico were in the 200, 400 and 800 meters), Debbie's flirtation with the IM, along with a probable move into the 100 free and a couple of relays, make her a long-range contender, theoretically, in as many as seven events at Munich.

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