SPORTS

Hoping for a bigger splash

Canada's swimmers will have to improve to test the Soviets and West Germans

Hal Quinn July 27 1981
SPORTS

Hoping for a bigger splash

Canada's swimmers will have to improve to test the Soviets and West Germans

Hal Quinn July 27 1981

Hoping for a bigger splash

SPORTS

Canada's swimmers will have to improve to test the Soviets and West Germans

Hal Quinn

As the eight racers prepared for the starter’s gun in the 200metre butterfly last Monday evening at the Canadian National Championships, Bill Sawchuk, 22, dove into Montreal’s Olympic pool. He was disqualified from the event. The following day, as his fellow racers doffed their warm-up suits in anticipation of the 400-metre medley, Sawchuk dove into the pool again and was disqualified again. The method in this experienced swimmer’s apparent madness may have been pragmatically logical, but it exposed part of the problems of the national meet that might have been a showcase for Canada’s internationally respected swim team, variously ranked third or fourth in the world behind the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. and ahead or behind the East Germans.

The other swimmers weren’t surprised at Sawchuk’s sudden plunge. “I told them what I was going to do,” he said after. “I didn’t want to throw anybody off.” By not swimming in the two events, Sawchuk saved his energy for the 100-metre freestyle and won with a time of 52:10, well off the world record of 49:36 and the Canadian record of 51:34. Sawchuk’s performance typified the four-day meet. The swimmers were there to qualify for the national team and a berth in next week’s tri-meet in Heidelberg, West Germany, against the Soviet Union and West Germany (Sawchuk, however, will not compete, returning to university to make up time lost training for last summer’s boycotted Moscow Olympics). In the “fast” Montreal pool only two Canadian records were broken. At last year’s summer nationals, 13 Canadian records fell. As national team veteran Graham Smith said, “If we swim like this in Heidelberg we’re in trouble.”

Canada is not lacking in world-class swimmers. Ten hold British Commonwealth records* and Peter Szmidt holds the world record in the 400-metre freestyle and the Commonwealth’s 200metre free. But rather than peak performances at the nationals, for a variety of reasons, a majority of the swim-

*Nancy Gurapick, Cheryl Gibson, Anne Jardin, Wendy Quirk, Carol Klimpel, Sheila Dezeeuw, Graham Welbourn (2), Alex Baumann, Dan Thompson and Graham Smith.

mers swam “through” last week’s meet, focusing on Heidelberg. The approach did not have the unanimous consent of the Canadian swimming community.

Jeno Tihanyi is the coach of the Laurentian University team. His prize pupil is Alex Baumann, 17, who recorded a world-best time in the 400-metre indi-

vidual medley this spring. In the world of swimming many consider Baumann the best, definitely Canada’s hope for gold at the World Championships next summer and the Olympics in 1984. As the meet drew to a close Tihanyi wasn’t happy. “The times are far too slow. Some of the coaches are fooling themselves if they think that the performances here are good enough.The swimmers have been prepared to peak in Heidelberg. 1 certainly hope that will happen.” Many had hoped for world-class showings from Szmidt and Baumann, but, as Tihanyi explained, Baumann is hampered by an injured shoulder. “It has been diagnosed as tend : nitis and we have been treating it as such, and he is responding.” Tihanyi was protective of his charge, mentioning the psychological impact of the injury. “He has difficulty acknowledging the injury and, like Szmidt, is really suffering for not being able to do better.” Further, Tihanyi shields him from references to “the greatest.” Tihanyi said that he has had to work hard with Baumann “not to get down, to stick to the plan. We are moving slowly and hope he will be ready next week.”

For Szmidt, his performance last week was a matter of degrees. He returned from the University of California at Berkeley just four weeks ago and his coach, Dave Johnson—who will head the national team along with his twin brother, Tom—noticed that Szmidt’s stroke was “off.” Despite the fact that over the past seven years he has spent an average of 22 hours swimming and six hours dry-land training each week, the world-record holder admitted he had had to “work on my stroke very hard over the last few weeks. It’s a difficult thing to get back. It’s like tying your shoe. If you don’t think about it, it’s simple, but if you concentrate on each specific motion it’s difficult. Now, after working on my technique and then on racing this week, I hope to put it together against Salnikov.” Szmidt’s record (set at last year’s summer nationals) is 31/100th of a second faster than Soviet Vladimir Salnikov’s gold medal time at the Moscow Olympics. “I’ll have to be down around 3:50 in Heidelberg,” Szmidt admits.

Nor did the women’s times at Montreal send any warnings to the Soviets or West Germans. As Cheryl Gibson,

the Commonwealth 200-metre backstroke record holder, explained, “All I wanted to do here was get on the German trip.” She managed that by winning six gold medals, two on relay teams. “This is a fast pool and the times have been slow. But because we aren’t trying for an Olympics, World Championships or Commonwealth Games this year a lot of the swimmers really aren’t in top shape.”

It was alarmingly late in the meet that Graham Smith, the country’s aquatic hero of the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games, finally qualified for the team. He finished ahead of Baumann in the 200-metre individual medley but was disappointed with his and the team’s times.“I’ve been wondering about it and I think there are three factors.The meet is early in the season, it’s usually in August; there are an overabundance of entries because the standards were too slack, and we had to swim heats and finals. All the entries made the days too long and with the heats [rather than reaching the finals by times set before the meet] we did too much swimming.” Competing in his 10th summer nationals, the grand old man of Canada’s swimmers, at 22, is looking only as far ahead as the University Games next March. “You know swimmers have to be a bit crazy. You

spend 20 hours a week in a pool, where you’re 90-per-cent deaf, 50-per-cent blind, never talking to anyone, going back and forth staring at a black line on the bottom. I wonder,” he laughs, “what the long-term psychological effects are.” For now, Smith thinks the Canadian program is in good shape. “We’re strong with Garapick and Gibson, the other women and young swimmers like Baumann, Szmidt, Cam Henning [who set a new Canadian record in the 200-metre backstroke] and Peter

Ward [who set a new Canadian record in the 200-metre butterfly].”

The veteran is optimistic about next week’s meet. “The most important thing is that going overseas will be a great experience for the younger swimmers. We will have a chance to train intensely together for over a week, and representing the country, facing the Soviets, will do wonders for the team psyche, and therefore the times. If it doesn’t happen, would we have a chance to beat the Soviets? Hell no.”