Having made the U.S. Olympic team as no more than an alternate on the 800-meter freestyle relay, University of Arizona junior Doug Northway arrived in Montreal in a subdued mood. "It means I only get to swim in a preliminary heat," he griped. "Big deal." No sooner did the eight-day Olympic swim program get into full swing, however, than Northway was exulting. "Aren't we doing great?" he exclaimed to anybody who would listen. "It's an honor just to be on this team."
What improved Northway's mood was the same hoard of gold medals and world records by U.S. men that was uplifting the spirits of the huge contingent of American fans—nearly all of them relatives, it appeared—in the modernistic 9,200-capacity Piscine Olympique. Whenever they dropped in, they could count on seeing one or another jaunty countryman, and often clusters of them, slamming into the last wall ahead of the competition. By the time the last abridged Star-Spangled Banner wafted through the arena on Sunday night, the U.S. men had amassed some startling statistics: 12 of 13 golds and, astonishingly, 25 of 33 individual medals. In four events they went one-two-three, in five others they were 1-2.
The spree exceeded the men's ambitious expectations and they rejoiced over every last triumph. When the University of Tennessee's Matt Vogel climbed out of the pool after leading a U.S. sweep in the 100-meter butterfly, his jubilant teammates showed their appreciation by rubbing his shaved head as though they were polishing an apple. The same thing had happened when Mike Bruner won the 200 fly. Following the U.S. win in the 400 medley relay, freestyler Jim Montgomery, who swam anchor, was asked to autograph a fan's shirt. Complying, Montgomery asked with a wry grin, "Do you believe this?" And when Southern Cal's 6'6" John Naber was making one of his many triumphant tours of the pool deck somebody thrust a large American flag into his hands. The irrepressible Naber did a 360-degree turn, holding Old Glory aloft for all to see.
The 20-year-old Naber was a hero in a Games that was heavy in the early going on heroines. A backstroker-freestyler who revels in the nickname the Snake, Naber won four golds and a silver, the latter coming when he was touched out by U.S.—and USC—teammate Bruce Furniss in the 200 freestyle. That was just 55 minutes after Naber won the 100 backstroke, beating, among others, East Germany's 25-year-old Roland Matthes, who had won both backstroke events in the 1968 and 1972 Games. But the Snake was hardly alone in the limelight, with the likes of Montgomery, who collected three golds (one for his stunning 49.99 in the 100 free) and a bronze; Californian Brian Goodell, who won the 400 and 1,500 free; and Rod Strachan, another of the ubiquitous USC men, who won the 400 individual medley in 4:23.68. "This team is a working entity that draws strength from one another," said Naber, who actually talks like that.
It took an all-out team effort for the U.S. men to outdistance the band of muscular yet limber East German women. GDR women had never before won a swimming gold medal but they made amends by taking 11 of 13 events, and 16 of 33 individual medals. When a West German journalist asked why a couple of them had suspiciously deep voices, a GDR coach retorted, "We're here to swim, not to sing." The West German scandalmonger was further squelched by the formidable but unmistakably feminine presence of Matthes' 17-year-old blonde fianc�e, Kornelia Ender.
A sprinter with equal ability in butterfly and freestyle, Ender won four gold medals, one more than any previous woman Olympic swimmer, and a silver. Awesome off the blocks, she propelled herself into the water with such authority as to give the impression that she was pulling the pool toward her. She accelerated seemingly at will, winning early or late as the spirit moved her. In just retribution for Naber's domination of boyfriend Matthes, she and the GDR's Petra Th�mer whipsawed Shirley Babashoff, who had to settle for four silver medals before anchoring a charged-up 4x100 relay team to a smashing upset victory over Ender and her teammates in the meet's final race.
That lone defeat notwithstanding, Ender's performance had been remarkable, including her attempt at a same-day double even more difficult than Naber's—and she pulled it off. On Thursday night Ender won two events in the space of 25 minutes, equaling her world record in the 100 butterfly and then besting Babashoff in a world-record 200 freestyle. "After the first race I had time to loosen up a bit and change my suit," Ender said casually.
The U.S. men and GDR women were like barroom showoffs trying to outdo each other, but outsiders now and then managed to horn in. The Russians, determined to become a swim power by the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, won a handful of medals, their biggest breakthrough coming when Marina Koshevaia and two other Soviet women shocked the East Germans by sweeping the 200 breaststroke. And Britannia briefly ruled the waves when Scotland's David Wilkie won the 200 breaststroke, dashing hopes of a U.S. sweep of the gold.
With Koshevaia and Wilkie joining in the parade, world records were equaled or broken in all but four of the 26 events. It was the greatest record binge ever in a sport that has seen many, and it left old-timers like Don Schollander stunned. Schollander's winning time of 4:12.2 in the 400 freestyle at the '64 Games in Tokyo would have earned him nothing more than a bronze medal at Montreal—in the women's 400.
The record breaking also seemed to affect the springboard diving events. Alabaman Jennifer Chandler and U.S. Air Force Captain Phil Boggs were rewarded with lofty scores while winning off the three-meter board. With Cynthia McIngvale finishing third in springboard, Deborah Wilson third in platform and 16-year-old Greg Louganis hoping to dethrone Italy's two-time champion Klaus Dibiasi in this week's men's platform competition, U.S. divers had strongly improved on their showing in '72 when only Micki King won a gold. Chandler fancies the name Jenni, giving her an affinity not only with Micki but with all the Lauris, Susis and Sandis who also abound in diving. A lissome 17-year-old high school senior who relaxes by chomping on bubble gum that she carefully tucks out of sight while diving, Chandler won with a succession of graceful, often elegant dives. Then she rushed off to hug her sister Mindy, who turned seven that day. Mindy is a budding diver who, you may be sure, is destined to one day become Mindi.