Gauron is fond of telling the Hawkeye swimmers how mental training has helped him in his own athletic pursuits: tennis, swimming, cross-country skiing, bowling. He will have them close their eyes and mentally scan their bodies, looking for—and then relaxing—areas of tension. At the start of the season, shortly after Patton had asked Gauron to join his staff, some of the swimmers snoozed when they should have scanned, but now most of them have learned to relax without dropping off.
Patton thinks the psychologist's most important contributions come just before a meet. Because their sessions with Gauron have made the swimmers acutely sensitive to their state of mind and body, they can describe to Gauron in considerable detail how they're feeling. One might say his long intestine seems to be tied in a square knot, another might feel as if he's facing something as tedious as a lecture on gladioli. Gauron then gives them mental exercises to lift or drop themselves to that ideal point where they are both calm and psyched up.
Sometimes Patton and Gauron can read the collective psyche of the team, as they did before the season's first dual meet against Indiana. Before Gauron, a typical Patton premeet pep talk for such an occasion would have been, "O.K. now the key is the 400 meters. We've got to win that first one." This season, he turned the petrified swimmers over to Gauron, who told some corny jokes and led a chorus of animal noises.
"I think I'd have been scared to death if Gene Gauron hadn't shown up and relaxed us," freshman backstroke star Tom Roemer told the Des Moines Register after the meet. "I was afraid it might be like my first meet as a sophomore in high school when I got disqualified on false starts. But he told some jokes, made us laugh and did different things to ease the tension. When the meet started I was more relaxed than I'd ever been before."
Iowa not only won by 39 points but also its swimmers achieved 16 lifetime-best performances, including a 1:52.63 by Roemer in the 200-yard backstroke. It was only the 10th dual-meet loss in 23 years for Indiana Coach Doc Counsilman, who got his Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Iowa.
Patton, 37, a Division II All-America distance freestyler at Springfield College and national junior-college coach of the year three straight years at Alfred (N.Y.) Tech before coming to Iowa, is what every coach claims to be but often isn't, a "tireless recruiter." Most every night at their home in Iowa City's Mosquito Flats section—it's close to the Iowa River—his wife Joyce sews as Patton runs up a mammoth phone bill talking to prospects.
He didn't have much luck when he first arrived and had to pack his team with foreigners, such as Olympic free-stylers Bent Brask of Norway and Brett Naylor of New Zealand, who takes his practice laps wearing three women's swimsuits—in drag to increase the drag. Each recruiting crop has been better than its predecessor, and the current freshman contingent features Roemer, an Iowa-bred predental major who was sought by Indiana, USC, Arizona and Tennessee. He is already the school record holder in the 100-and 200-yard backstroke and the 200-yard individual medley.
Patton figures the Hawkeyes have enough talent to fight it out with Indiana and Michigan for first place in the Big Ten meet, where individual performances will count more heavily than the team depth that served Iowa so well in dual meets. Patton also predicts a 12th-place finish for the Hawkeyes at the NCAAs on March 27-29 at Harvard—maybe even 10th if Gauron turns the swimmers into samurai.
In addition to Iowa's improving record, recruiting has been helped by last summer's $400,000 renovation of the Field House Pool, which was built during the Coolidge administration. Patton, who is cocky enough to hand out golf tees imprinted with "Patton Pending #1" and not the sort of person to understate anything, says Iowa now has the fastest pool in the Big Ten.
Patton loves to experiment. He has one of his backstrokers, Steve Harrison of England, stay underwater for three-quarters of the pool's length at the start of his races, because Patton thinks he swims faster than if he stays on the surface. He believes that U.S. coaches, himself included, have been overworking sprinters, and he has cut their weekly mileage from as much as 70,400 yards to as little as 21,120. For the Big Ten meet and the NCAAs he will outfit his swimmers in nylon-mesh peekaboo suits.