"I can tell when the starter says 'Take your mark' by watching the other swimmers get into position," he says. "And the gun is usually no problem. Horns sound under each block, and I can pick that up pretty well. Communicating with my coach [ Sherm Chavoor of Sacramento's Arden Hills Swim Club] is no problem, either. He mumbles so much that even people who can hear don't know what he's saying."
For his part, Chavoor joked, "Don't let Float kid you. He hears exactly what he wants, which is true of all my other swimmers." Chavoor may have something in his analysis. After Float's victory, a television crew fitted Jeff with an earplug and he easily answered questions during an interview.
As for Goodell, after his troubles in the 400 freestyle, he placed 10th in the 200 free, fourth in the 400 IM and ninth in the 1,500 free. His Mission Viejo teammate Ed Ryder won the 1,500 in 15:24.84, followed by Vassallo.
By breaking the world record in Texas, Vassallo had already achieved a goal of considerable personal importance. He and his brothers had gotten into swimming in Puerto Rico at the urging of their father, Victor, a successful businessman who continued to work out of offices in San Juan and Miami after the family moved to the West Coast. The commute finally became too much, and last year the Vassallos moved back to Florida, with the idea that they would return once more to Mission Viejo—and Jesse to the Nadadores—as the '80 Olympics drew nearer. Then last October Victor Vassallo's automobile broke down on a Florida highway. Getting out to seek assistance, he was hit by another car and killed. The Vassallo boys and their mother moved back to Mission Viejo shortly after, and Jesse now says, "My dad wanted me to be a good swimmer, and that's what pushes me on."
As Jesse swam to his world record, his mother was watching at poolside. "It's a happy moment for me and also a sad moment," she said. "My husband's whole life was his boys and swimming. His goal was that Jesse would break a world record and go to the Olympics."
With that goal now half achieved, where do the world championships in West Berlin fit in? "It would be nice if Jesse could do well there," she said. "I wasn't planning to go but now I'm tempted. It's really funny, but when I left Mission Viejo to come here, I brought my passport."