Caulkins started competing and winning at the international level when she was 14. That was in 1977, a year after the East German women had destroyed the American Olympic team by taking 11 of 13 gold medals in Montreal. Caulkins first came to notice that year by winning the American 100- and 200-yard breaststroke titles. Then, in a U.S. vs. East Germany meet she beat Montreal gold medalist Andrea Pollack in the 200 butterfly to establish her reputation internationally. The next year Caulkins was named the winner of the Sullivan Award, the youngest person to receive it in its 49-year history.
What's so remarkable is not that Caulkins has continued to get better and better, but that there still doesn't seem to be any end to what she can accomplish in a pool. She has had three coaches in five years at the Nashville Aquatic Club, and when she enters the University of Florida this fall she will come under the tutelage of a fourth. Randy Reese, who is just as tough as she is. Here is what her first three coaches say about Caulkins:
? Paul Bergen (1975 to Sept. 1978): "She is one of the finest young ladies I've ever worked with, a genuinely nice human being. She handles disappointment really well."
? Don Talbot (1978-1980): "Any superlatives you can think of apply to her. She's the greatest woman swimmer that's ever been. She's capable of holding a world record in every stroke and every event."
?Ron Young (Sept. 1980 to the present): "Tracy is one of a kind. How many great athletes progress at that rate and still remain great persons?"
Here is what her future coach says about her: "Tracy expects so much from herself that it's far above what anyone else expects from her. I think she can do a lot better."
To find flaws in Tracy, you either have to be a good friend or her older sister Amy, now a top swimmer at Florida. "Tracy," says Amy, "is kind of uncoordinated out of the water. When we were kids, my brother Tim and I played baseball, but we wouldn't let her play with us. She's not a wonderful athlete on dry land." Says a friend, "She's a complete klutz."
Today, Amy is Tracy's No. 1 fan, but she admits that from the age of 14 to 17 she was jealous of her kid sister's successes. "I couldn't stand to be in the same room with her," Amy says. "I felt a lot of pressure from Coach Bergen and from my peer group. They all wanted to know why—seeing I had the same genes as Tracy—I couldn't swim as fast as she could."
When she was 17, Amy decided she'd had it, so she left home to go to California and try out for the national water-polo team. Fortunately, she made the team and traveled to the 1978 world championships in Berlin, where Tracy was also competing. Amy says that making the team changed her entire attitude. She proved to herself that she could do something really well, too. Now she and Tracy are very close. "She's the strongest person I've ever met in my life," says Amy. "Both mentally and physically."
Tracy's mental preparation is notoriously rigorous. "Before each event," she says, "I have a time in mind and what I expect to do. It's important to be ambitious and set high goals for yourself."