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The old man and the pool
Jerry Kirshenbaum
June 26, 1972
Dr. Chet Jastremski is a creaking 31, but he wants to go to Munich
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June 26, 1972

The Old Man And The Pool

Dr. Chet Jastremski is a creaking 31, but he wants to go to Munich

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Briefly retiring following his graduation from Indiana in 1963, Jastremski took time off from his medical studies to qualify for the '64 Olympics, improving his own 200-meter record in the trials. "Then I showed off in training camp," he recalls. "I worked hard, my times were great and I felt terrific. All of a sudden I was tired. I was in good shape but I had no sprinting ability." Jastremski settled for a bronze medal at Tokyo, a disappointment almost equaled in 1968 when he did not swim at Mexico City even though he outperformed the other U.S. breaststrokers in training.

Jastremski tries to shrug off his Olympic misfortunes. "There are two ways of looking at it," he says. "One is that the best in the world doesn't always win at the Olympics. He just might not be up that day. The other is that the best in the world is the guy who responds to pressure and wins the big one. Since I've never won it, I subscribe to the first view."

If he really subscribed to that view, Jastremski might never have set his sights on Munich. Last November, while assigned to the U.S. Military Academy hospital, he began swimming during lunch hours at the West Point pool. When the Army granted his request for time off in order to train for the Olympics, Major Jastremski moved his family to Bloomington, Ind., settling in a neighborhood of $40,000 split-levels called Sherwood Oaks. Sue Jastremski framed her husband's bronze medal from '64 and hung it in the family room. Jastremski cringed. "Sue thinks it's nice," he says, "but I'm partial to gold."

Jastremski plans to go into general practice in Bloomington following his discharge. Meanwhile, his own case sounds like something out of Today's Health. When he arrived in Bloomington he weighed 192 pounds, 25 more than in his undergraduate days. He plunged into Counsilman's regimen of 11,000-plus yards a day, which is double the meager three miles or so Indiana swimmers logged during Jastremski's era. The greater distance so exhausted him that he has been sleeping at least 12 hours a day ever since.

"After workouts I feel like this," Jastremski says, hunching his shoulders in imitation of a stooped old man. "The hard part is finding time to spend with my kids. Sometimes I collapse on the floor and they climb on me. They think I'm playing with them."

As these grueling practices went on, Jastremski's weight dropped to 176 pounds. He continued to work on technique, particularly his kick. "I've still got a stronger pull than other breaststrokers," he says. "If I can get my kick anywhere near theirs, I think I can beat anybody." To measure his progress Jastremski went to California last month to compete in a meet that was a far cry from the Olympics. It was the short-course championships of the AAU master's program, one designed for oldtimers in swimming—those over 25.

The meet was held on a windswept hilltop in San Mateo. The blustery weather, while not conducive to fast times, failed to diminish the enthusiasm of children who stood at poolside frantically cheering on their parents, the exact reverse of what one finds at ordinary meets. There were a number of other ex-collegiate stars on hand, but few were in serious training, prompting Jastremski to say: "I'm just swimming against the clock here, not the competition." Having reduced his time in the 200-yard breaststroke from 2:30 in March to 2:18 more recently, he hoped for 2:15 at the San Mateo meet, still a long way from Job's American record of 2:02.36.

His progress was, for the moment, stalled. Entered in the 30-to-34 age group, Jastremski easily won both the 100 and 200, but his time in the latter was 2:18. Nonetheless he pronounced the trip a success: "The important thing was getting the chance to compete before crowds again and to learn to pace myself."

Jastremski returned late one night from California, and the next morning was at the Indiana pool for a full workout. After lunch he relaxed with Sue in their paneled family room. Kelly Jastremski, 4, and Andrea, 2�, were taking a nap in their bunk bed while 9-month-old Ted played on the floor next to Lance, the family's German shepherd. Sue Jastremski, a pretty, bespectacled woman with closely cropped brown hair, spoke of her husband's Olympic ambitions. "At first I was like everybody else," she said. "I thought Chet was too old. I went along with him because I love Bloomington and it meant we could leave West Point earlier. But now I really think he can do it."

Chet let the subject drop until later that afternoon when he and Sue were out for a drive in the rich farmland south of Bloomington. "I didn't know you thought I was too old, Sue," he said in a wounded tone. "I told you," she said. "You must not have been listening, babes."

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