Obviously the U.S. women were helped by the crumbling of the powerful East German women's team. At the last two world championships, East German women won 23 of the 31 gold medals, and they still hold 10 of the 17 world records. "Their system created an aberration which women's swimming is still trying to catch up to," said Murray Rose, Australia's swimming hero at the '56 Olympics and now a vice-president of special events for the L.A. Forum.
When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, says German freestyler Manuela Stellmach, "everything was turned upside down. Coaches lost their jobs. Athletes had to take care of things that were taken care of before—school, money. All the changes have been demotivating for athletes." Rivals long suspected that the East Germans used anabolic steroids, but Stellmach says such speculation is unfounded. Still, before coming to Perth, all German team members—coaches and athletes—were required to sign a contract stating that they had never used or promoted the use of performance-enhancing substances. ""We believe there's a level playing field now," said assistant U.S. women's coach Mark Schubert. "But there's also a feeling of bitterness. A lot of our swimmers in the past probably should have been gold medalists."
For whatever reasons, the German women in Perth were a shadow of their predecessors. They won only six individual medals, none of them gold. In fact, their only gold medal came when Haislett jumped and the U.S women's 800 free relay team was disqualified. It is a tribute to the East German women—and to the strength of their records—that of the six world marks that fell during the meet, not one went to a woman.
Before the meet it looked as if the women swimmers of another Communist country, China, might take the East Germans' place. The Chinese women dominated the swimming at last September's Asian Games. Most conspicuously, Wang Xiaohong and Qian Hong swam 58.87 and 58.89, respectively, in the 100 fly—closer to Mary T. Meagher's 1981 world record of 57.93 than anyone before them. When it became known that East German coaches had helped develop the Chinese program, eyebrows shot up. "Whether or not the standard was attained by hard work or was drug-induced, we've got to find out," declared Canada's head coach, Dave Johnson, on the eve of the meet. However, the Chinese swimmers did little to justify the commotion. They won four events—Lin Li both IMs, Qian the 100 fly and Zhaung Yong the 50 free—but most of their times were slower than those they had swum in September.
Some of the meet's most impressive performances came from athletes of one of the smallest countries, Hungary. "Hungarians—all over the place," said Moor-house after losing his world record in the 100 breast to one of them, Norbert Rozsa. Actually, there were only 11 Hungarian swimmers in Perth, but it certainly seemed like a lot more. Sixteen-year-old Krisztina Egerszegi, who likes to sing while she swims in training, won both backstrokes, and 23-year-old Tamás Darnyi set world records in both IMs.
The Hungarians' superb swims put pressure on Stewart's roommate for the meet, Mike Barrowman. His coach, József Nagy, is a Hungarian and a bitter rival of Hungary's coach Tamás Széchy. Both claim to have invented the "wave-action" breaststroke technique that has helped Barrowman lower the world record three times in the last 18 months, most recently to 2:11.53 at the Goodwill Games.
Barrowman had the fastest time in Friday morning's prelims, a meet record of 2:13.82. But qualifying second and sixth, respectively, were Hungarians József Szabo, the Olympic champion, and Rozsa. Before the race Barrowman was more nervous than he had ever been. "Just the stupid are not scared," Nagy assured him. Barrowman's nerves propelled him crazily. He reached the halfway point in 1:03.19, .82 faster than he had at the Goodwill Games, and Nagy worried that he had moved out too fast. But Barrowman held on and reached the wall in 2:11.23, outpacing the fastest 200 breast field in history. Four other swimmers also broke 2:14, led by Rozsa, who slashed his prechampionships best by five seconds, to 2:12.03. "The team needed a boost," said Barrowman. "I gave it a kick in the pants."
The U.S. diving team got a kick of its own from Kent Ferguson, 27, a part-time model from Boca Raton, Fla. He came into the final round of the three-meter springboard event with a slim 1.68-point lead over China's Tan Liangde and nailed a reverse 1½ with 3½ twists. His score for the dive was 83.16, the highest in the competition. At the 1989 World Cup, Ferguson had been in a similar position only to have Tan pass him with his final dive. So what did Ferguson do? "I went outside, put on my Walkman and lay in the sun," he said. Inside, Tan's dive was short. Ferguson had won, 650.25 to 643.95 points.
Sunday produced an even more suspenseful duel. Vladimir Salnikov's world mark for the 1,500 free of 14:54.72 had stood almost eight years, longer than any other existing men's swimming record. But now Kieren Perkins, 17, of Australia and Joerg Hoffmann, 20, of Germany swam two lanes apart, clicking off lap after lap in 59 seconds. Perkins led at 400 in 3:54.12, Hoffmann at 800 in 7:52.55. With 30 meters left, Hoffmann kicked furiously and took control, reaching the wall in 14:50.36 with Perkins only .22 behind him.
The new record holder did not crack a smile on the victory platform. "You don't have to smile," he said later. "You can be happy inwardly."