"Two days later," Kiphuth said happily, "Bob Mattson [of North Carolina State] was able to knock off two seconds from his own time."
Humiliated by their defeat at the Helsinki Olympics, the Japanese have gone into an all-out effort aimed at wiping out the loss at Melbourne. Too all-out, according to some physical education experts, who complain that Japanese coaches are applying the tokko ("special attack") spirit to their training. Tokko was instilled into Japanese suicide pilots during the war. The Spartan training, according to these experts, has shortened the peak competition span of Japanese swimmers by two or three years as compared with Americans.
The Americans still outclass the Japanese in several aspects of swimming, particularly the turn and the final touch. The Americans thereby have been doing fine in the sprints, relays and backstroke.
At the moment Gertrude Ederle waded ashore at Kingsdown—and scarcely a clam is still alive who sipped the waters on that glorious day—a certain understandable atmosphere of anticlimax fell upon the business of swimming the English Channel. It has cried out ever since for added zing, or what is known in the more shadowed corners of Wall Street as the old Russian injection. Few men have been more adept with the needle than William Edmund (Billy) Butlin, who started his career with a peg-and-ring game in an English carnival, and now reigns as the "Holiday Camp" king of Britain; for the last three years Billy has sponsored "mass cross-channel races" in which whole schools of grease-freighted swimmers have thrashed across from France to England.
This year the mass swim not only boasted contestants, male and female, from 13 separate and distinct countries, but the brooding mind of science as well. Three weeks before the big race, a team of 12 medical men (representing Cambridge University, London's St. Thomas Hospital, the British Ministry of Health and the U.S. Office of Naval Research) descended upon training quarters. What, they wanted to know, were the physiological differences which allowed channel swimmers to stay in the water for as long as 20 hours, while ordinary mortals could hardly face a cold shower?
Day after day, the swimmers—who seemed delighted at the attention—were poked, prodded, punctured for blood samples, weighed underwater and pinched from head to toe by ingenious calipers designed to measure their fat. The race itself began amidst scenes reminiscent of a military invasion. While crowds rubbernecked from shore, an armada of coaching rowboats and motor vessels—one of each for 17 swimmers, plus an official boat, a boat for "very important people" and an Admiralty launch full of doctors—gathered at dawn off Cap Gris Nez. Marine signalers were scattered through the fleet to flash the alarm as soon as a swimmer gave up; and the medical men stood by to make their final examinations at sea.
They had their first work less than two hours after Billy Butlin fired a Very pistol to start the race; 25-year-old Margaret Sweeney of New Zealand began falling asleep while swimming. Her trainer, one Frank Hay, bawled in tones of bewilderment and outrage: "Wake up, Margaret! Swim closer to the boat, Margaret. Hey Maggie...wakey wakey!" But Maggie absolutely refused to wakey wakey, quit swimming altogether and had to be yanked out like a "huge fish." Two medical men were aboard in a jiffy, and wondered if she might be suffering from hypoglycemia (shortage of sugar). But they also had to consider a more prosaic fact: Maggie took two sleeping tablets to get some rest before the race.
Other swimmers gave up regularly after that, but for undramatic reasons. Some got seasick; but most just got tired, saw they had no chance to win and saw no point in going on. There were no collapses from cold; the sea, medically speaking, was disappointingly warm—a mere 65 degrees. The race (and a $2,950 silver cup) was won by an Egyptian named Abdel Latif Abu Heif; English-born Thomas Laurie Parks (billed as an American since he has taken out naturalization papers) was second; an Argentinian, Syder Guiscardo, was third, and a Mexican named Damian Piza Beltran, the only other swimmer to finish, was fourth.
All four were duly examined as soon as they walked ashore; Parks was the most notable subject—for a few minutes his earlobes refused to bleed when punctured ("congestion," said the doctors). But though the scientists went away with a "mass of data," there seemed to be only one real difference between channel swimmers and other blokes—the channel swimmers were fatter (their bodies contained up to 33% fat as compared with only 12-15% for average humanity), as might have been concluded by looking at a photograph of almost any one of them.