afternoon you can find Lance Larson at the high school pool in Tustin, Calif.,
gutting it out with the Southern California Aquatics Club, a powerhouse
age-group swim team. He spends 1� to two hours in a lane with some of the
fastest 15-year-olds in the state, pushing through sets of intervals, done at
75% to 90% of race speed, that are the meat and potatoes of quality swim
isn't a teen-ager. He's a 41-year-old dentist with four sons, all of whom are
age-group swimmers. Swimming buffs will perhaps remember him (how could anyone
forget that quintessential All-America name?) as one of the original Southern
California teen-age phenoms—the first schoolboy ever to break 50 seconds for
the 100-yard freestyle and the first to win a national AAU title in that event.
While still in his teens, Larson led USC to the 1960 NCAA championship, and set
two world and 12 American records.
It wasn't until
the 1960 Olympics in Rome, however, that Larson became known to a wider
audience—because of a gold medal he lost rather than one he won. In the
100-meter freestyle final, Larson dueled head to head with the Australian
champion, John Devitt, for the entire race. In a film clip of the event, Larson
appears to touch out Devitt. That was also the way most of the reporters at
poolside saw it, as did the official timers: their hand-held watches all
clocked Larson in 55.1, with Devitt at 55.2. However, the first- and
second-place judges were divided in their opinion about who touched out whom.
After a half hour of haggling behind closed doors, the head judge arbitrarily
awarded first place to the Australian, and the American's time was changed to
55.2, so that the second-place finisher wouldn't have the faster clocking.
Although Larson subsequently won a gold medal as a member of the victorious
U.S. 4 x 100 medley relay team, he is chiefly recalled as the victim of one of
the worst injustices in the history of the Olympics.
But cry not for
Lance Larson. Today he is again a celebrity of sorts. While many of his Rome
opponents no longer swim, Larson is still competing and so well that he has
improved upon some of the records he set more than 20 years ago.
It goes without
saying that Larson doesn't look his age. In swim trunks the 6'1",
178-pound—just two pounds above his Olympic weight—dentist is the perfect model
for a poster celebrating the physical benefits of swimming. Still, Larson
doesn't swim up to 30,000 yards a week—a regimen that exacts a toll on his
professional and family life—merely to keep trim. "I think it's the
competition that motivates me more than anything else," he says. "I
enjoy winning. Probably also the recognition that goes along with it. It's sort
of like being on stage again, sort of an ego trip."
recently, adult swimmers such as Larson would have been hard put to find any
stage on which to perform. In swimming, most of the facilities, training
sessions and meets were reserved for teen-agers and pre-teens. Then, with the
fitness boom of the past decade, a national program called United States
Masters Swimming was started. Sponsored by the AAU and the Penn Mutual Life
Insurance Co., Masters swimming is now one of the most popular adult
competitive programs in the country. Nearly 15,000 swimmers, male and female,
ages 25 to 90, compete against their peers in five-year age brackets (25-29,
30-34, and so on). Hundreds of clubs vie for team trophies at local and
regional meets, and there are two national championships—one short-course, one
long-course. Masters swimming even has an official magazine, an attractive
quarterly, Swim Swim, with a circulation of 10,000.
In the official
ethos of Masters swimming, physical fitness, recreation and camaraderie are as
important as competition. But make no mistake about it, competition is what
really counts once you get to a big regional or national meet and the ex-champs
start showing up. Says Carin Cone Vanderbush, a silver medalist in the
100-meter backstroke at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and now a 40-year-old
mother of two, "We all want to succeed. I don't like to come in second to
anyone, not even a man." In 2� years of Masters swimming, Vanderbush has
rarely come in second, the main reason being that back home at the Schofield
Barracks in Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, Lieut. Col. Al
Vanderbush, co-captain of Army's football team in 1960, she spends her
afternoons working out with an age-group team.
what keeps the juices flowing for Drs. Mani Sanguily and Bill Yorzyk, old pals
who also go back to the 1956 Games, in which Yorzyk won a gold medal for the
U.S. in the 200-meter butterfly and Sanguily came in sixth in the 200-meter
breaststroke, swimming for Cuba. Sanguily, now a general practitioner living in
Tarrytown, N.Y., started swimming in the Masters in 1978—"I wanted to leave
the club of the anonymous," he says—and persuaded Yorzyk, an
anesthesiologist from Springfield, Mass., to join two years later. Sanguily and
Yorzyk, both 48, have busy professional schedules, but they find time to get
into the water for tough workouts nearly every day. Sanguily averages 3,500
yards a day, while Yorzyk puts in 5,000 to 6,000, but at a slower pace. Between
them they hold every record in the breaststroke and butterfly events in the
45-49 age group. Why do they do it? To Sanguily, swimming is valuable because
it means "that there is something else besides working every day, making a
living, raising the children, paying the bills. That there is something that is
mine, that I do for myself. It sounds egotistical, but, doing what I do every
day of the week, my life is not my own. I take care of people. In swimming I
feel I'm doing something where I'm not used."
"You go through all the stuff about how it makes you feel better
physically. And certainly it does, because I work better, I think better, I
feel better, I feel younger. But I also like to win."
winning is perhaps the easiest part of it. Last year he resolved to set a
national Masters record in every race he entered, and, what's more, to attain
personal bests in selected events. "I decided not to limit my
thinking," he says. "I left it open. Maybe I could go as fast as I ever
went. Setting a goal and achieving those old times made it more fun for me. It
also helped me to train harder."