On the eve of the AAU National Short Course Championships, at East Los Angeles College, America's fastest female swimmer, Tracy Caulkins, and one of America's fastest pools were both ailing—one from the debilitating aftereffects of a virus and the other from the plumbing equivalent of a double hernia. But, thanks to youthful resilience and plumbers who were working on a rush job, 15 U.S. records were set, five by the 16-year-old Caulkins. In order, her meet in detail:
?On Wednesday night she won the 100-yard breaststroke in a record 1:01.82 (the old mark was hers).
?Two events later she lowered the national record in the 500-yard freestyle by more than three seconds while winning the event in 4:36.25. It was the first time she had swum the event in a major meet, and she broke the record held by Cynthia Woodhead, who is one of the nation's best swimmers.
?On Thursday night she broke her own record in the 400-yard individual medley by more than three seconds, swimming 4:08.09. Later in the evening she helped her Nashville Aquatic Club win the 400-yard medley relay.
?She took a day off Friday, swimming only the first leg on the second-place 800-yard freestyle relay team.
?On Saturday night, refreshed from her little vacation, she won the 200-yard IM in 1:57.86, breaking her old record by 1.47 seconds. And, swimming the first leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay, she was clocked in 49.03, smashing Wood-head's record that had stood for all of an hour (individual records can be set only on the first legs of relays).
And think what she might have done with the proper preparation. "She was sick before this meet," said her father, Tom. "Three and a half weeks ago she caught what we thought was the 48-hour virus-type thing. It put her down, really wiped her out for 48 hours. Her coach, Don Talbot, was very concerned. We took her to the doctor's and had all the blood tests and things like that. Showed nothing. But she wasn't doing it. She couldn't perform in practice. She was swimming very poorly—very poorly. But she began to get a little bit better every day, and Don said, 'It's going to be close.' "
The pool's ailments were much more serious. In January it was discovered that the foundation had dropped as much as 30 inches in some places, which caused two pipes to crack, which caused more water seepage, which—well, it was a plumber's dream come true. A backup pool was readied and the printing of the program was placed on hold.
The community-college district put up the bucks for quick repairs, and the AAU spent close to $20,000 in setting up an electronic timing system. The pool survived a wet run, which was fortunate. It's the deepest permanent-walled 25-yard pool in the world—the "shallow" end is 11', the deep end 13'—and deep pools mean less turbulence, hence, faster times.
Caulkins took full advantage of the conditions. "She's probably the greatest swimmer in the world today, male or female," says USC Coach Peter Daland, "and her event possibilities are almost unlimited. I'm sure that if she were to train for a month for backstroke that she would be giving the champion here, Linda Jezek, all she could handle. We've had some great versatile people, but she probably is as good as anybody we've had. And the thing that's most amazing about her is that she has the speed to go sprints and the stamina to go distance."