SI Vault
Edited by Craig Neff
April 09, 1990
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April 09, 1990


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Olympic boycotts sometimes served as flashpoints for the cold war. The expansion of the Special Olympic family reflects a welcome easing of international tensions. Alexander Potemkin, the counselor of the U.S.S.R.'s cultural department and embassy, says that by creating a Special Olympics program, the Soviets will "synchronize our moral compass" with those of other participating nations.


Swimming's past met its future last week in the cavernous old natatorium at the University of Iowa. During a break in a Junior Olympic meet, seven of America's fastest sprint swimmers—among them 50-meter freestyle world-record holder Tom Jager and Olympic hero Matt Biondi—took to the pool for a semirevolutionary event billed as the Dash for Cash.

The swimmers were to race each other in a 50-yard freestyle sprint for $10,000 in prize money put up by the Oral-B dental products company. The winner would get $5,000; if he broke 19 seconds ( Jager also has the world's best time at this distance: 19.05), he would receive a new Ford Bronco II as well. While the idea of swimming for prize money may seem startling, this was actually the fourth Dash for Cash in the past four months. Jager had won two of them and $16,500, Biondi the other and $9,500.

Jager, 25, more or less invented the Dashes. Since graduating from UCLA in 1987, he has often butted heads with his sport's domestic governing body, U.S. Swimming (USS), over its neglect of postcollegiate swimmers. In 1987, when Jager first suggested something akin to a Dash for Cash, he recalls that the idea was rudely dismissed. "It wasn't like they said, 'Thanks for the idea, but no thanks,' " Jager says. "It was, 'Thanks for the idea—it is ridiculous.' "

Last summer, after hearing that Biondi was returning to competitive swimming after giving up his attempt to make the 1992 Olympic water polo team, Jager called him and proposed some races for cash. Biondi went along eagerly. The first Dash was held in December in conjunction with a college meet in Long Beach, Calif., and was won by Biondi.

Some Dashes have been single-elimination, one-on-one events. The times swum at these events have been scoffed at by purists—having only two swimmers in the pool significantly reduces turbulence—but they've also been spectacular. In ABC-televised match races in Nashville, Tenn., two weeks ago, Jager and Biondi bettered Jager's world 50-meter free record of 22.12 four times, with Jager finally reducing the mark to 21.81. USS, seizing the dash idea as its own, put on the Nashville event. This irked Iowa swim officials, who believed their Dash might have gotten TV coverage if not for the Nashville races. "They [USS] screwed us royally," said one Iowa staff member.

Before a noisy crowd of 2,800, Jager outtouched Biondi in the Iowa City race, 19.12 to 19.18. Said a heady Jager afterwards, "Instead of just looking at the bottom of the pool and thinking about swimming back and forth, now kids can think, I can't wait—someday I'll be swimming for the car."

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