SI Vault
Jerry Kirshenbaum
July 19, 1971
Shane Gould, a determined Australian of 14 whose braces belie her gunfighter's name, came out blazing in Santa Clara to prove herself the swiftest woman swimmer there—or indeed anywhere
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July 19, 1971

Fastest Splash In The West

Shane Gould, a determined Australian of 14 whose braces belie her gunfighter's name, came out blazing in Santa Clara to prove herself the swiftest woman swimmer there—or indeed anywhere

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One event the Soviets need not apologize for is the breaststroke, which, perhaps significantly, is also the one stroke with a military application: a soldier using it can carry a heavy backpack in the water. Putting the stroke to her own uses, 22-year-old Galina Stepanova, a gold medalist in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and now mother of a 20-month-old daughter, swam away from the field in both the 100 and 200 meters, while Nikolai Pankin, also 22, twice outdueled his U.S. archrival, Stanford's Brian Job. Following his win in the 200, Pankin received a kiss from his coach, Olga Harlamova, a mountainous one-time airline mechanic who, by the manner in which she herded around her star swimmer, left little doubt that Women's Lib is a settled matter in Moscow.

Job and a number of other U.S. swimmers were not in peak condition, preferring to think of the Santa Clara meet as a tune-up for both the upcoming Pan-American Games and next month's National AAU Championships in Houston. Nonetheless, the American defeats—foreign swimmers took 13 of 24 events—had one leading coach, Sacramento's Sherm Chavoor, grumbling that Americans have been altogether too willing to share their hard-earned swimming techniques with others. When a group of Soviet swim coaches toured California last year, Chavoor declined to let them inspect his Arden Hills Swim Club, although he did consent to a subsequent visit by an Australian coach, Forbes Carlile.

"Maybe I shouldn't even have let Forbes in," said Chavoor in a grave voice. "I like him, but I don't want to help him beat me. People say everybody should try to help each other in sports. I say, baloney." So saying, Chavoor amiably invited Carlile to be his guest again, and off they went to Sacramento after the meet.

It was not difficult, however, to see why Chavoor had misgivings about helping Carlile. At the time of his first visit the Australian was the coach of Gould and Karen Moras (Karen switched soon thereafter to another coach, Don Talbot), both of whom have been helping make life difficult for Chavoor's star pupil, Debbie Meyer. There was a time not long ago when Debbie held four world records, but between them Shane and Karen have stripped her of all but her 1,500-meter mark.

Debbie, who will turn 19 next month, remains the leading U.S. hope to stop the two Australians from utterly dominating the women's freestyle, but she has had difficulty reclaiming her old competitive desire. She showed up in Santa Clara in good spirits and a tomato-red sweat shirt reading M'M! M'M! GOOD—her father works for Campbell Soup Co.—and promptly scratched out of her freestyle specialties, which left her with a third in the 400 individual medley to show for the meet.

"She's not ready mentally," explained Chavoor. "And anyway, I don't want her pushing Gould and Moras to more records. She'll be ready for the nationals." Debbie concurred. "I want to quit a winner," she said. "I've come this far. I'd be crazy to quit now."

At Houston she will have to get along without Shane Gould, who has to study geography and such. Her latest world record did give Shane the extra day in the U.S. her parents had promised, which in turn could have some bearing on the matter of a letter she found time to write to her 16-year-old boyfriend back in Sydney. Meeting her father at the pool on Saturday, Shane instructed him to mail the letter at once. "It's got to get home before I do," she said anxiously. If it worked out that way, it would be the only race she would lose all week.

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