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The women—or, rather, girls—did a bit of record setting in The Woodlands, too, and apparently have now recovered from the demoralization suffered in Montreal at the hands of the East Germans, who won 11 of 13 events. Most of the victims of that mauling have since been replaced by a crop of young, eager water sprites who have steadily narrowed the gap between their own clockings and those of the East Germans. The trend continued last week, which was the first time that American women have broken two world records at the same meet since 1974. The AAUs also produced American records in nine of the 10 other individual events.
As expected, the leading gap closer was Tracy Caulkins, the 15-year-old sensation from Nashville. The 5'8" Caulkins is long-muscled and flexible and she is also a demon for conditioning. "That's because she has such a high pain threshold," says her father, a school administrator. "Her dentist calls her the best patient he's got. She doesn't take Novocain and she still doesn't feel anything. The bad part of this is that Tracy gets no advance warning of illness. Where other people get a sore throat first, Tracy just comes down with fever without knowing it."
On arriving in Texas, Tom Caulkins' daughter relaxed by sitting in the bleachers and reading A Farewell to Arms. Then she shaved her arms and legs and went to work on her avowed goal, namely, to start adding world records to the nine American records she already held. "I'm swimming five events here and I think I can get a world record in any of them," Tracy said cautiously. "I'm not sure which one I've got the best chance in, though."
It appeared at first that she might set world records in everything. On opening night she slashed through the water to win the 200 IM in 2:15.09 and, just like that, break the world record of 2:15.85 of East Germany's Ulrike Tauber. However, the next morning she lolled to a 1:14.22 in a heat of the 100 breaststroke, far slower than her American-record 1:12.98. That tied her for eighth in the preliminaries with a 16-year-old Miamian, Patty Waters, and because eight qualify for the final, the two of them were pitted in a swimoff. Caulkins won it but her coach, Paul Bergen, was worried that she was becoming too distracted by autograph seekers and reporters. "Tracy's got to learn to say excuse me to people," said Bergen. She was whisked away following the swimoff and slept for more than two hours. That night she took the final in 1:10.97, an American record and just a few ticks off East German Hannalore Anke's world record of 1:10.86. "I just wasn't mentally with it this morning," Tracy said of her scare in the earlier heat. "I guess I was overconfident."
Caulkins next won the 400 IM in 4:47.06 and the 200 butterfly in 2:10.09, breaking her own American record in the one and Nancy Hogshead's in the other. On Sunday she ended the binge with an American record of 2:35.23 in the 200 breaststroke. By the time the waters stopped roiling, she had won five events and picked up her first world record. And she had added another batch of American records; astonishingly, she has now lowered American records 27 times in just 17 months.
Hard though it may be to believe, Caulkins was far from the whole show for the American women. There was also Kim Linehan, a superstitious 15-year-old from Sarasota, Fla. who would not dream of swimming a race without having her three stuffed animals at poolside. They were all in Texas—Jocko, Kong and Snoopy—when she joined Caulkins in the world-record game with a 4:07.66 clocking in the 400 freestyle, more than a second under the record of the GDR's Petra Th�mer. She also won the 800 free in an American record 8:31.99. At that, Linehan was scarcely any more impressive than 18-year-old Linda Jezek, one of only three '76 Olympians going to Berlin on the women's team. Jezek has not been beaten by an American in an open backstroke race in two years and she kept that string intact by winning the 100 and 200, edging close to the GDR-held world records in both. In addition, 14-year-old Sippy Woodhead picked up two firsts and two seconds in freestyle events, including a lightning-fast 1:59.49 in the 200.
None of this necessarily means that the U.S. women will put the East Germans to rout. The GDR women broke four world records in their championships last month, and the suspicion lingers that they may have been holding back for the world championships. Still, the American women are thinking positive. "We think we can make a good showing against them," said Caulkins. Agreeing, Kim Linehan said, "Everybody talks about how scary the East Germans are, but that's silly. They're just like regular people except they come from a different country."
What makes such talk seem less rash is the instructive case of Brian Goodell, whose troubles in The Woodlands suggest that fortunes can shift rather rapidly in swimming. Despite his illness, Goodell went into his first event, the 400 free, with expectations of winning, and he actually led after 100 meters. At that point something happened. "The first 100 felt great," Goodell later told Mark Schubert, his coach at Mission Viejo, "but then I couldn't feel the water. I didn't know where I was."
Schubert smiled wanly and said, "When everybody began to pass you, didn't that give you a clue?"
Among those who whizzed by was USC-bound Jeff Float, a strapping lad of 18 with a well-nigh-perfect surname for a swimmer. As Goodell faded to fifth, Float won in 3:54.32, a smashing performance for someone who passed up top-level competition last summer to compete instead in the World Olympic Games for the Deaf in Bucharest, where he won 10 gold medals. An anesthesiologist's son from Sacramento, Float lost most of his hearing when he was stricken with meningitis at the age of 13 months, but he follows conversation with the use of a hearing aid and by reading lips. And he gets along just fine at swimming meets.