SI Vault
William F. Reed
March 01, 1971
Thanks to Dave Edgar—American record holder in the 50 and 100 freestyle—and a coach who goes in for gimmicks, Tennessee, which didn't have a swimming team four years ago, is now a national power
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March 01, 1971

Fastest Man Afloat

Thanks to Dave Edgar—American record holder in the 50 and 100 freestyle—and a coach who goes in for gimmicks, Tennessee, which didn't have a swimming team four years ago, is now a national power

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At the University of Tennessee, or Big Orange Country, as some insist on having it, the In sport these days isn't football or basketball. It's swimming. Four years ago Tennessee didn't even have a team. Now the Volunteer swimmers work out in a $1.7 million Aquatic Center which has, among other features, subdued lighting, filtered air and piped-in music to train by. Their coach, Ray Bussard (pronounced buzzard), is a bright, cheerful guy who freely admits that he is really a football coach at heart. But he also has a lot of novel ideas about swimming—like the Timettes, a group of 30 striking coeds in orange miniskirts who serve as official timekeepers at home meets. Says Bussard, "It kind of makes the visiting teams lose some of their concentration."

The darling of the Timettes, and the World's Fastest Human (Afloat), is Dave Edgar (right), a tall, handsome junior who likes girls, fast sports cars and late hours—probably in that order. In his tumultuous career in Knoxville, Edgar has broken curfew almost as often as NCAA and American records.

Only two weeks ago Edgar was in, uh, hot water again. He entered his white BMW in a sports car rally and won a modest silver trophy. His fellow swimmers were properly impressed. Bussard wasn't. He rushed over to Edgar's dormitory room, where the first thing he saw was the trophy.

"Hi, Coach," said Edgar. "Look what I won."

"Arrggghhh," said Bussard.

Last Saturday night Edgar and his teammates were in Dallas for a dual meet against another unbeaten team—Southern Methodist. This was considered to be swimming's answer to the Cotton Bowl, since each team is easily the best in its conference—Tennessee in the Southeastern, SMU in the Southwest. The SMU pool was decorated with various signs ("Hang Tenn" was one), and 2,000 Mustang fans hooted when Tennessee came out wearing Bussard's latest gimmick—Davy Crockett coonskin hats. ("Just to let 'em know where we're from," said the coach.)

Much of the hooting was for Edgar and his understudy, freshman John Trembley. Earlier in the season Trembley had tied Edgar's national record of 20.5 in the 50-yard freestyle. "That's fine," said Edgar, "but I want to get back on top." He did two weeks ago in a dual meet against Alabama in Knoxville. Without psyching up, shaving down or tapering off, Edgar broke his American records in his two specialties—the 50 (20.4) and the 100 (45.0). Says Edgar, blithely, "I think I can get below 20 in the 50. That night my start was so bad I saw the other guys hit the water."

Against SMU, Edgar's speed was the difference in a thrilling meet whose outcome wasn't determined until the last split second. Early on, Edgar splashed to an easy win in the 100 in a pool-record 45.58, but that was nothing compared to his anchor leg in the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay. As the lead-off swimmers mounted the starting blocks, the scoreboard showed that Tennessee had an inconclusive 55-51 lead. To the winner of the relay would go seven points—and the meet.

With the fans standing and screaming, Tennessee's first three swimmers built up a two-yard lead for Edgar, who would be swimming against SMU's talented Jerry Heidenreich. But Edgar blew his last turn—"I went into the gutter," he said later—and Heidenreich had a yard advantage with less than 25 yards to go. "I thought we had it locked up," said Red Barr, SMU's veteran coach.

But Edgar went into high gear. He caught Heidenreich 10 yards from the wall and touched a split second ahead of him. Tennessee was timed in 3:05.25 to SMU's 3:05.66. Only the World's Fastest Human (Afloat) could have pulled it out. While the Vols mobbed Edgar, SMU was all shook about its first home loss since 1960.

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