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The photo ran on page three of the Sept. 4, 1979 National Enquirer, right below a story bearing the headline THE VILLAGE WHERE 38 GIRLS TURNED INTO BOYS. The picture showed Southern Methodist swimmer Steve Lundquist diving off the blocks in the 100-meter breaststroke finals of the Pan Am Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "Everybody was making a stink about his start because no one had ever done it that way before," recalls Bob Lundquist, Steve's father. In the picture, Steve is virtually in the pike position—bent sharply forward at the waist, arms and legs extended—and is much higher and farther out over the water than the seven other finalists, who hover low and flat, DIVER [sic] REALLY GOT HIS BACK UP, the headline next to the photo read. "His rear end was up," corrects Bob Lundquist.
The pike start, which Lundquist developed during years of age-group swimming in Jonesboro, Ga., takes him much deeper underwater—perhaps as many as four feet in deep-water pools—than the standard start. By the time his head popped to the surface in that Pan Am race, he led by two feet. He won by five. Subsequently, Lundquist won gold medals in the 200 breast and 400 medley relay, using the same start. He has used it to similar effect ever since.
Now, an unconventional start may seem to be tame stuff for a tabloid. Enquiring readers might have preferred Lundquist's bizarre-but-true animal stories—SNAKE-BIT RECORD-SETTER SAYS FANGS A LOT!; I BUILT MY MOUSE A CONDO!; HEY THERE, GEORGI(A) GORILLA!—or gossip about him as swimming's No. 1 sex symbol and hell raiser. But the start is important, because it helps explain why Lunk, as the 6'2", 186-pound Lundquist is known, now an SMU senior, is the world's best breaststroker.
Starts, of course, aren't the only reason for his success. "Steve has great walls," says Don Gambril of the University of Alabama, the 1984 U.S. Olympic swim coach, using swimming jargon to describe a swimmer who's expert at making turns. Lunk's turns are unequaled; he's so muscular that he drives off pool walls much more powerfully than his rivals. "You can go half the length of a pool underwater on a good breaststroke turn," says Lundquist. "That's where you pick up yards." Not surprisingly, Lunk is especially tough in short-course pools, 25 meters or yards rather than 50, in which the turns come twice as often.
Lundquist's totally flat feet probably help, too, in lending thrust to his kicking. "They really do a job on shoes, though," he says, pointing to the tattered Top-Siders that flop like sandals on his feet. "My arches," he says, "arch outward." But that's not Lunk's most exceptional feature.
"He has spizzerinctum," says Tennessee Coach Ray Bussard.
"Look it up," says Bussard.
Can do. Spittle...spittoon...Spitz....
"Spitz didn't have it," says Bussard. "He was the most successful swimmer ever, but he didn't have it."