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Strategy also enhances speed in the water. For example, swimmers sometimes find it possible to "drag" on front-running rivals in adjacent lanes, much as auto racers "draft" one another. The trick is to hug the lane marker, stay at the other swimmer's waist and catch a ride in his wake. Brian Goodell appeared to drag on Bobby Hackett through several laps in the 1,500 at Montreal before forging ahead to win. Effective as this technique may be in a race, some swimmers also drag on each other in workouts, which is not deemed laudable. A USC swimmer of a few years back did a lot of this. His teammates nicknamed him "Latch." When his father visited the pool, the swimmers greeted the puzzled gentleman as "Latch Senior."
Doc Counsilman believes that swimmers keep breaking world records partly because theirs is an underdeveloped sport in which such achievements are overdue. "Swimming is a relatively new sport, and the evolutionary process is much less advanced than in track," Counsilman says. "Running is a natural skill, but swimming is acquired. And most of swimming is done underwater, which makes it more difficult to coach."
It is possible that records would be falling at an even faster rate if swimming attracted wider participation, or if the people it attracts stuck around longer. But swimmers not only start early—at the recent AAU meet, nine records were set by kids 15 and under—they also tend to quit early, as young as 18 or 19 in the case of top women performers and 21 or 22 among the men. Rutgers' Frank Elm, an assistant U.S. coach at Montreal, says, "In some ways, the age-group program is backfiring. Sure it gets young kids into swimming, but it also burns them out before they're even close to their potential peak."
The increase in college scholarships for women athletes may help reduce the number of early dropouts. There are also efforts to cut down on some of the sport's drudgery. Many swimmers are now executing a portion of their workouts wearing fins—which propel them through the water with frolicsome ease—because their coaches contend fins increase ankle flexibility. More dramatically, Long Beach State's iconoclastic Dick Jochums, whose prot�g�s include Tim Shaw and (in the summer) Bruce Furniss, stubbornly eschews dryland exercise and holds yardage down to no more than 14,000 meters a day even for distance swimmers. Jochums instead concentrates on intensive "quality" workouts.
"Just because the times keep dropping, it doesn't mean there's not an easier way," Jochums says. "A lot of the yardage we've been piling on these kids is superfluous."
Whatever the approach, everybody obviously wants to keep the times dropping as long as possible. One who sees them falling almost indefinitely is Mark Schubert, who feels that swimming is nowhere near its technological limits.
"People say we can't possibly increase the amount of training we do any further," the Mission Viejo coach says. "Well, we can find ways to train harder in shorter periods of time. We're also going to get even bigger, even more dedicated kids. We'll be using computers, too. Some day we'll have computer terminals at the end of each lane. After the swimmer finishes a series, the computer will provide a readout of his times and tell him what the next series should be."
And what if the swimmer fails to go fast enough? Schubert grins wickedly. "That will be taken care of, too," he says. "When he touches the next wall, he'll get an electric shock."
Until that comes to pass, about the only thing in swimming that figures to be a shocker will be the first major meet in which not a record is broken.