Ambrose Gaines IV was standing in the bathroom of his Cambridge hotel room...bleeding. Clad only in a navy blue racing suit, his lean torso showed the gruesome work of the razor his right hand held. Blood was beginning to congeal on his left shoulder, a red rivulet ran from his left breast and a scarlet gusher was bursting anew from his right wrist. Gaines grimaced. "The next three days," he said, "are going to be pure hell."
Despite the evidence, Gaines wasn't readying himself for a M.A.S.H casting call; he was making preparations for the descent into Harvard's Blodgett Pool, which last week hosted the NCAA swiming and diving championships. Specifically, Gaines, who swims for Auburn, where he is known as Rowdy, was doing what most swimmers do on the eve of a major meet—he was shaving down, removing the hair from his legs, arms and torso. The theory is that this increases speed by decreasing resistance.
And whether or not depilation had anything to do with it, Gaines and his fellow competitors set pool records in each of the 16 swimming events at Harvard. Moreover, while no world marks could be established because NCAA championships are contested in a 25-yard pool, U.S. open records, the highest standard obtainable in this meet, fell eight times, to say nothing of six American records.
Beforehand, some coaches ventured that this year's field was the most talent-laden in NCAA history. That view seemed justified by the very first day's preliminaries. In the 400-yard medley relay, SMU breaststroker Steve Lundquist, California butterflyer Par Arvidsson and freestyler Gaines all achieved the fastest 100-yard relay legs in history in their specialties. And all three surpassed those times in the finals—Lundquist to 53.37, Arvidsson to 46.81 and Gaines to 42.40.
In the next two days, this same trio set five U.S. open marks: Gaines, a junior, scored in the preliminaries of the 100 free and then in the 200 final with times of 43.16 and 1:34.57, respectively; Arvidsson, a junior from Finspang, Sweden, successfully defended his 1979 titles in the 100 and 200 butterfly in 47.36 and 1:44.43, respectively; Lundquist, a freshman, smashed his own 100 breaststroke mark with a time of 53.59. The other two individual pool marks went to UCLA sophomore Bill Barrett, who broke the 200 individual medley mark in the Thursday afternoon preliminaries and then topped that in the finals with a 1:46.25 to carve 2.01 seconds from Scott Spann's American record. On Saturday he won the 200 breaststroke, breaking his afternoon record with a 1:58.43.
For the second straight year the team title was, surprisingly, won by California. In 1979 the Golden Bears had upset Tennessee. This year many observers felt Cal had lost too many top swimmers to repeat—among them a backstroker who took a year off to train for the Olympics, named, of all things, Jimmy Carter—and had installed Florida and Texas as the favorites. But Cal proved it still had unbeatable depth. The Golden Bears scored 234 points to top Texas by 14, even though they won just two individual events, Arvidsson's butterflys, as compared to seven in last year's meet.
While Arvidsson, Barrett and Gaines were all double winners in swimming, and Miami sophomore Greg Louganis doubled in the one-and three-meter dives, the meet's only triple champion was Brian Goodell, the UCLA junior who won the 400 individual medley and the 500-and 1,650-yard freestyle—he set an NCAA record of 14:54.07 in the last—moving him to within one title of John Naber's record of 10 career NCAA wins.
Goodell and Naber and Mark Spitz are the only swimmers ever to have won three individual NCAA titles as college freshmen. Lundquist had been favored to become the fourth until he came up against the 6'2", 180-pound Barrett.
For Barrett, who is in his first year at UCLA after a year of junior college, the two NCAA titles represent a remarkable reformation. He swam in junior high at Fort Lauderdale but quit the sport in his first year of high school, fell in with a bad crowd and became, in his words, "a derelict." "I wanted to get back into the right crowd," he says, "but once you're associated with one group, it's hard to switch."
Barrett got his chance when, at age 16, his family moved from Florida to the Cincinnati area and he took up swimming again. As a junior he won the Ohio high school 50-yard title, a victory he views as pure luck, but important to his rehabilitation. "With success, I dedicated myself more and more to swimming," he says. As a senior, in 1978, he set national high school records in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyles, and last summer he won the AAU 100-meter breaststroke title. Under his warmup suit at Harvard, Barrett had on a green No. 53 football jersey that was his when he was a sophomore defensive end in high school in Florida. He considers it his lucky shirt because he wore it to that first high school swimming championship four years ago, but no doubt it also reminds him of how far swimming has brought him.