SPORTS

A relay away from victory

Andy Shaw August 10 1981
SPORTS

A relay away from victory

Andy Shaw August 10 1981

A relay away from victory

SPORTS

Andy Shaw

The meet was supposed to decide whether Canada or the Soviet Union could call itself “third” best in the world, behind the perennially strong United States and East Germany. Instead, the supposed alsorans of last week’s three-day meet, West Germany swam away with a last-race win to beat Canada 262 points to 260. The sluggish and unshaven Soviets, with just four wins out of 29 races, scored a lowly 157. The 36 Canadian swimmers had as many firsts (13) as the Germans but came up slow in the women’s freestyle and the relays where West German swimmers swept all five races. Yet for Canadian swim officials^! there was more than mere consolation. Their swimmers set two Canadian, two Commonwealth and one stunning world record which confirmed Alex Baumann, as the best swimmer in the world.

On the second day (Wednesday) Baumann chewed up the world record in the 200-metre individual medley (IM)—butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. He had already won the 400 IM on the first day. The 200 IM seemed like any other of the 10 races a night, but all nine Canadian coaches and managers knew this was it—a planned aswg sault on American Bill Barrett’s world^ record, an assault that had been years. in the making. For one of them, Jeno Tihanyi, Baumann’s club coach in Sudbury, it was the culmination of eight years’ work with Baumann since the Prague-born Alex was a nine-year-old. It is Tihanyi more than anyone else who has kept up Baumann’s enthusiasm through 14-km-a-day workouts, lifted him over the trauma of losing a muchadmired older brother and most recently, at the Canadian championships in Montreal, helped him weather criticism

Canada ñnished second despite Alex Baumann s world record swim

suggesting Baumann wasn’t giving his ïbest. “Jeno solves all my problems,” says a shy Baumann.

If Baumann has anything close to a problem in swimming, it is his butterfly. By the end of his 50 metres of butterfly in Heidelberg, Baumann made the turn in the middle of a pack that included Aleksandr Sidorenko of the Soviet Union, fastest 200 IM man in the world this year. But then with head held characteristically dead still, and all else churning, Baumann’s backstroke gave him a lead by that head as he made the turn for the breaststroke. It was as if the others were stopped in place by a

strobe light. His lanky six-foot, twoinch frame giving him a long, sustained surge on the frog kick, Baumann shot into a four-length lead and held it as he sprinted home the final 50 metres of freestyle. His time was 2:02.78, bettering the old mark by nearly half a second—in swimming terms, a country mile.

Then there was a long-awaited confrontation. Peter Szmidt, a PointeClaire, Que., native but longtime Edmonton swimmer who had set a world record in the 400-metre freestyle last summer, was to meet the Soviet, Vladimir Salnikov, who had won a gold in the glare of Olympic competition in Moscow. Salnikov had posted the fastest time this year but Szmidt beat him in the 400-metre free by half a length.

The Canadian coaches say future teams need shoring up in two spots. “We only took one race in the women’s freestyle,” said head coach Dave Johnson, signalling that the long line of good female swimmers may be at an end. “And the relays are an age-old problem.” Canada needed to win the final event, the 800-metre men’s freestyle relay, to protect a two-point lead. But not even a leadoff by Baumann helped. West Germany won by several lengths.

“I’m going to take the next two months off,” said Baumann, who hopes a tendinitis-troubled shoulder will heal. Then, Tihanyi says, “Alex will not be looking at any immediate goals, just a gradual development towards the medals at the 1984 Olympics.” The day after his record performance Baumann said, “It is hard to believe I finally did it.” Indiana University’s “Doc” Counsilman probably isn’t surprised. The revered coach who developed Mark Spitz has said of Baumann, “He is now the brightest all-around prospect in swimming’s modern era.”