That was the goal Bruner needed. In September he and Melanie moved to Tempe. She took a full-time job as a waitress so her husband could make training for Moscow his full-time job. When talk of the boycott started, Bruner became depressed, but Melanie never wavered. "She would sit and listen to me gripe," he says. "When I got really frustrated, she'd let me blow it all off at her. There's no way I could have made this comeback without her."
In the meantime, a chiropractor had rid Bruner of a troublesome back ailment, and Ric Glickstein, a weight coach, got him interested in weightlifting and nutrition. Bruner weighed 165 pounds in Montreal, but in Austin last week he was a trim 158. As one old friend noted incredulously, "He's got muscles now." Bruner also had a firm set of goals in mind. He wanted to be the men's individual high point scorer at the meet, and this summer, instead of gold medals, he wants world records in the 200 butterfly and in the 400, 800 and 1,500 frees.
Both the male and female high point scorers at the national championship win a Robert J. H. Kiphuth Memorial Award. Each receives an engraved silver tray and a $1,000 scholarship to be allocated to any school. Kiphuth awards have been presented at every national championship since 1968 and have proved remarkably accurate harbingers of success in Olympic years. In 1972 Mark Spitz won the Kiphuth and went on to win seven gold medals at Munich. In 1976 John Naber won the award before winning four golds and a silver in Montreal. Those are the two biggest medal hauls in Olympic swimming history. Last week in Austin, Mike Bruner won the Kiphuth, indicating to the swimming world that he would have been all but unbeatable in Moscow.
The win in the 200 was just the first step. With only an hour's rest, Bruner swam the 800 free and finished third in 8:03.7, his best time ever in that event. Doc Counsilman, the venerable Indiana coach, called it "the best double I've ever seen in swimming." The next night Bruner won the 400 free in 3:52.24, once again a personal best. On the last night of the meet Bruner clinched the high point title by winning the 1,500 in 15:19.76. For the first 900 meters, he was ahead of the pace that Brian Goodell had set in his 15:02.40 world-record performance at the Montreal Olympics, and though Bruner faded at the end, he once again had a personal best, this time by five full seconds.
"After the season I had last year, I had to win here," Bruner said. "I know everyone was saying, 'Bruner's through.' I wanted to win here to show the world that age has nothing to do with winning. Winning is a matter of desire."
He paused thoughtfully. "Looking back on it, if I'd known there was going to be an Olympic boycott, I probably wouldn't have bothered. But that's what made this meet so important. I wanted to feel that everything I've done has been worth it. Now I do."