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Corbisiero was one of the notable exceptions. He had failed to qualify for the worlds, but just four days before the start of the nationals he won three events at New York's Empire State Games, the 400, 800 and 1,500 free. And then, on the first day at Indianapolis he set his first American record, in the 800, at the same time winning his first national championship. As he completed 300 meters of the race, the pool announcer shouted, "Tony Corbisiero is three seconds ahead of Brian Goodell's American record of 7:59.66." That seemed poetic justice. In the 1981 indoor short course nationals Corbisiero had become only the second swimmer ever to break nine minutes for 1,000 yards. Unfortunately, Goodell was the first, in the same race. Now Corbisiero broke Goodell's record, finishing in 7:58.50 to become the first Columbia swimmer to win a national title in 37 years. And he did it a little more than two months after a badly pulled shoulder forced him out of the Seventeen magazine meet in Mission Viejo.
Earlier in 1982 Corbisiero had suffered from such severe stomach ailments that he couldn't work out without becoming sick. The trouble originated with his cooking, but when asked what he was cooking, he replied, "Well, heating up, actually. I was eating giant hoagie bombers, from the deli. You know, the works: peppers, onions, pepperoni, salami, three of them a day. The doctor said, 'Keep it up and you'll develop an ulcer.' "
Corbisiero's Indy 800 was only the second of 34 events at the nationals; the record came so early and so decisively that it seemed to suggest a trend. But two more days and 25 more races would pass before another mark fell. Meanwhile, Tracy Caulkins kept rolling along, winning the 200 backstroke and the 400 and 200 IM, the latter for her 42nd national title. But she set no records. "It's a lot harder to get psyched up now than when I was young," she said. Caulkins is 19.
On the last night of competition, as Lundquist warmed up, an old lady of 20 named Sue Walsh, from Hamburg, N.Y., lowered herself into the pool for the start of the 100 backstroke. (Her seven opponents averaged 16.5 years of age.) She had been suffering from a heavy cold. Two days earlier, in fact, Walsh could barely speak, and now she was tired. She coughed a few times to clear her lungs, and then the race was on. She covered the first 50 in 29.95, .13 below Linda Jezek's split when Jezek set the American record of 1:02.55 back in 1978, but Walsh didn't know that. She was afraid to look up at the digital clock on the scoreboard, an easy thing for a backstroker to do. "If I was slow I'd be upset," she said, "and if I was fast I'd be nervous."
But coming up the second 50 meters she saw a yellow rope overhead, and she knew it marked the 75-meter point. She said to herself, "It's now or never."
It was now. The junior accounting major from the University of North Carolina was the new American record holder in the 100 back, with a time of 1:02.48.
A few minutes later Lundquist would limp to the starting block, Corbisiero was looking forward to his mother's veal parmigiana, and his coach, Don Galluzzi, was talking about Caulkins. "Can you believe it? Forty-two national titles, and we were jumping and screaming over one."