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Maybe it was the military setting that inspired it, this strategy of assaulting the NCAA swimming championships with wave after wave of shock troops. After all, West Point is just right for that sort of thing. But it didn't work. Southern Cal attacked, fell back and attacked again. It cheered on its troops with chants that resounded around the U.S. Military Academy's well-scrubbed pool. "We are [clap-clap] SC! We are [clap-clap] SC!" But when it was all over last weekend Indiana had its fifth straight national title, and, as usual, it was the Hoosiers who had the most to clap-clap about.
This is not to say that Southern Cal's strategy misfired with every shot. Frustrated at having been runner-up to each of Indiana's last three championship teams, the Trojans staged their best campaign this time, with Indiana outscoring them by only 390 to 371. The Californians had a mathematical chance of victory going into the last event of the three-day affair, and previously there were moments of triumph such as the 800-yard freestyle relay, in which a gang of lesser-known USC swimmers outraced an Indiana team that included its big three: Mark Spitz, Gary Hall and John Kinsella. It was a tight, splashy race and after anchorman Kinsella was touched out at the finish, a puzzled Spitz hurried up to Coach James E. (Doc) Counsilman with arms helplessly outstretched. "What happened, Doc?" he asked.
One answer was that the Indiana swimmers had all competed in other events earlier the same night while Peter Daland, the USC coach, had slipped a couple of fresh, well-rested troops into his lineup. This was the sort of thing that enabled Daland's team to stay alive by the numbers although it failed to win even one individual event. Meet rules gave relays twice the scoring value of individual races, and the Trojans also won the 400-yard medley relay. In addition, they picked up points on a variety of solid, also-ran performances, right down to the lowliest 12th-place finish. They got a second place from Pan-American Games hero Frank Heckl in one event and a couple of seconds from Jim McConica in others. Hardly an event passed without one of USC's talented freshmen, somebody like Steven Furniss, splashing home with a few more precious points.
The tactics worked pretty much as Daland planned. "The hard way to beat Indiana is to try and knock off Spitz or Hall or Kinsella head on," he said as the meet opened. "There is an easier way. That's to qualify a lot of people and try to win with depth."
The only trouble was that USC's depth was not quite deep enough. In a strong field that produced 11 American records, Indiana won six of the meet's 13 individual events—two each by Hall, Spitz and Kinsella. For the veteran Spitz, a premed major, it was the last competition in his college swim career. His Indiana dental school acceptance was confirmed last month, the same day he received the Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete, an honor that had been bestowed upon Kinsella the year before. Two Sullivans on the same swim team is roughly equivalent to two Heismans in the same backfield, But some would argue that Hall, the world's top individual medleyist, is a better all-round swimmer than either of his more specialized—and celebrated—teammates.
No need to argue. Spitz showed his stuff right away on Thursday, setting a new U.S. record of 1:46.90 in the 200-yard butterfly to lead a one-two Indiana finish with freshman Bob Alsfelder. On Friday he did it again, beating his own 100 butterfly record twice, first in a qualifying heat and then in the finals with a 47.99 clocking, becoming the third man in swim history to win the same NCAA event four straight years. Spitz also seemed pretty well over his old habit—certainly a bad example for an aspiring dentist—of always putting his foot in his mouth. Co-captain this season with Hall and hailed by Counsilman as a model team man, the once-cocky Spitz coolly told reporters, "I'm like an oldtimer now. I seem to get more sympathy from the press." Then he went off to lead the team in "Let's Go, IU!" cheers to counteract those coming from the Southern Cal section across the pool.
Still, none of this offered sufficient relief for the frayed nerves of Counsilman. He was aware that there were other schools in the meet, but Southern Cal was his chief concern. The Trojans had arrived at West Point with a record very nearly as impressive as Indiana's, having finished first or second in all but one of the last 11 NCAA championships. Further, the runner-up status to Indiana was by now so distasteful to USC that one of its swimmers told a newsman in Los Angeles he would rather be on an NCAA championship team than swim in the Olympics. When that remark was quoted at an Indiana team meeting, one Hoosier curled his lip and said, "Then he'd better transfer to Indiana."
The men who prepared the two teams for swimming's big showdown, Daland and Counsilman, are coaching opposites. Daland, who will coach the U.S. men swimmers at Munich, is a reserved sort who keeps his necktie snappily in place and periodically reminds his swimmers to call him " Mr. Daland" by declaring at team meetings, "There's nobody here named Peter." Counsilman is a casual fellow who scratches his bald head as he tries to remember when asked the exact number of Big Ten titles and dual meets his teams have won in a row. (The answers are 12 and 74.)
But despite this nonchalant air, Counsilman runs a program that would be adequate for a college football team—his high-powered recruiting operation (only one of his 18 swimmers is an Indiana native) drives his rivals wild. Disciplined enough to have trimmed his weight from 240 to 180 pounds in the past year, Counsilman only rarely gets tough with his squad. The most recent crackdown came after a rash of motorcycle accidents had banged up several of his swimmers, including his son Jim, a breaststroker, who suffered a broken back.
"If you set too many rules it only encourages the boys to break them," Counsilman says. But now that he has banned motorcycles, the team's fancy has turned to a safer craze, water beds. Half the squad members sleep on them, prompting Steve Borowski, Indiana's assistant coach, to suggest that "at least it keeps them in an aqueous state."