In the hottiresome days of August the U.S. becomes a nation of water lovers. In lakes andpools millions frolic and indolently dunk, and in the surf many more are herdedlike hapless lemmings by the shrill whistles of lifeguards. Very few in allthis wallowing mass can swim well; in fact, very few do any swimming at all.Yet in the Olympics we win gold medals for swimming, because every year thereare some swimmers somewhere hard at work. This summer the greatest number ofOlympic prospects, reckoned at about 300 men and women, are trying for one ofthe 47 prized spots on the 1956 U.S. Olympic swimming team.
The love thepresent generation of dunkers has for water sometimes actually proves ahindrance to our good swimmers. In many towns a serious competitor must getinto the local pool in the early morn before the mob comes to play, and to geta second workout he must wait until the mob leaves. As usual, this year manygood Olympic contenders have left home seeking either uncluttered water or thegood advice of one of the handful of coaches who feel the sport is worth theextra work in summer. Swimmers at Yale, under the guidance of Bob Kiphuth, andmore than a dozen divers at Ohio State, learning from the diving master, MikePeppe, have been working through July. In Washington, D. C. at 7 in themorning, before the pool is opened to dunkers, the famous teenage girls of theWalter Reed Club, waiting for practice to start, sit grim-faced, hugging theirlegs, looking not at all like cheesecake mermaids, but rather, as one of themputs it, like "death warmed over."
In the past yearU.S. swimmers have broken and rebroken national records. Our 1956 Olympic teamwill be the best yet. But there is still one big question to be answered: isour best this year good enough? This will depend on how our progress from nowuntil November compares with that of other swimming powers in the specificOlympic events. The Olympic program of events for either men or women isactually smaller than that of a college dual meet. For men at the Games thereare a 100-meter, a 400-meter and a 1,500-meter freestyle, a 100-meterbackstroke, a 200-meter breaststroke, a 200-meter butterfly, an 800-meterrelay, a three-meter springboard dive and a platform dive. The women do notswim a 1,500-meter, their relay is 400 meters and their butterfly is only 100meters. Otherwise the women's program is the same as the men's, in the tworelays and the 15 individual events a total of 23 gold medals are up for grabs,and the big grabbers in the past have been Americans, Japanese, Dutch andHungarians. In the past 12 Olympics, Australia has won only 11 gold medals.Then, about two years ago, when no one was paying much attention to activity inthe swimming lanes down under, the Australians began to pour it on. NowAustralians are the leading contenders for 13 of the 23 gold medals. No one,however, need concede them that much so early. The American chances will behazy until our top performers have a go at each other in the competition thatreally counts—our Olympic trials for men and women this week at Rouge Park onthe outskirts of Detroit.
At the Detroittrials many spectators will get their admissions' worth watching just one manin the long and ordinarily unspectacular 1,500-meter freestyle. Our chances inthe 1,500 meters—our best chance for a swimming gold medal—will be riding on astolid, bull-necked, 21-year-old Buffalonian, George Breen, who currently isthe wonder of the swimming world. Breen swam his first race four years ago atthe relatively advanced age of 17. In his first time trial that year he made awretched six minutes and 30 seconds for 440 yards, and coaches watching himthrash around concluded that he could probably have done as well swimming theold trudgeon stroke in a pool of buttermilk. Most distance men strive toacquire a glide through the water by using a steady six-beat kick. Breen getslittle more from his legs than stability. His right arm enters the water fairlystraight; his left arm, on his breathing side, slices into the water at anangle. The slap and splash of his arms can be heard a half-pool length away; onthe turns he often showers officials with water. Coaches who once bet Breenwould not finish a race were by this year figuring he might be the firstAmerican to take the 1,500-meter record away from the Japanese. At the NCAAmeet last March thrashing George Breen obliged, lowering the seeminglyunbeatable Hironoshin Furuhashi's mark from 18:19.0 to 18:05.9.
In a number ofevents at the Olympic trials at Detroit, the top performers at the nationalchampionships at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio last week should repeat, with improvedtimes to brighten the Olympic picture. The 400-meter freestyle should be a goodfight between George Breen and the Hawaiian veterans of the 1952 team, BillWoolsey and Ford Konno, who in 1952 won the 1,500 meters and lost a close 400meters to the Frenchman, Boiteux. With Breen, Woolsey, and Konno all capable ofkicking their times below 4:35, the U.S. should be well fixed for a scrambleagainst the Australians, Japanese and Boiteux in the Olympic finals. The edgein the 400 meters currently rests with Australia's Murray Rose, who turned in asmart 4:31 last winter. The advantage in the backstroke also rests with anAustralian, 18-year-old David Thiele, who turned in an unprecedented 1:04 in along-course pool. This does not dismay American coaches, who figure experiencewill count for something. Our 1952 Olympic champion, Yoshi Oyakawa, turned in1:04.3 this June, then won the nationals last week, and should win again atDetroit, leading his perennial opposition, Al Wiggins and Frank McKinney, intothe three spots on the Olympic team.
A year ago in thebutterfly we were definitely behind the Japanese. Then along came Bill Yorzyk,the Springfield graduate student, suddenly developing into a world-beater andsetting a world record of 2:16.7. In the nationals, Yorzyk won over the longcourse in 2:24.3, only a half second slower than the best Japanese long-coursetime. In the breaststroke, in contrast, our best man, Dick Fadgen—who mightwell be upset in the trials—is 12 seconds behind the Japanese. Until someonegets consistently within a second of the times made by Australia's JonHenricks, the 100-meter freestyle seems hopelessly lost. Robin Moore, who, onthe basis of his recent world record for 100 yards, would seem to be our besthope, will have enough trouble making the team. The Olympic events are swum ina 50-meter pool, and this gives Moore only one turn to capitalize on thetremendous pushoff he gets from his legs.
Except for thebackstroke, which should be won by the unattached 16-year-old charmer, CarinCone of New Jersey, the women's trials should be dominated—not monopolized butdominated—by the girls of the Walter Reed Club. At Melbourne our girl swimmerswill probably only break even with the other powers. Our big hope is18-year-old Shelley Mann of Walter Reed, who now holds a convincing margin inthe butterfly after lowering the world record to 1:11.8. Shelley will probablyenter the 100-meter freestyle as well, and at Melbourne we might have a doubleOlympic winner. In practice three times she has hit 1:04 or better. A time likethat would bring back one of the medals the Australians count on keeping.
Off thethree-meter board and platform the men's competition at Detroit should be aclose match among a half dozen Ohio State graduates and undergraduates and GaryTobian of Los Angeles (who somehow did not go to Ohio State). Despite hissecond place to Bob Clotworthy in the nationals, on the strength of hisoptional dives Don Harper seems the best bet for first in the springboard.Before the competition starts in women's diving, the question seems to be whobesides Pat McCormick, the double winner of the 1952 Games, will make the team.McCormick's teammates in the springboard might well be Paula Jean Myers andJuno Irwin, who placed behind McCormick in the Helsinki Games. In diving, theU.S. strength goes unmatched, and quite literally we will be leaving a dozengold-medal diving winners at home. It's the fight not to be left behind, ofcourse, that makes an Olympic trial quite an exciting and yet a somewhat sadaffair.
Pat McCormick, after a year out for motherhood, isfavored to retain both her 1952 Olympic diving titles at Melbourne thisfall.
Paula Jean Myers, second in 1952 Olympic platform diveand third in national indoor three meter dive this winter, may win a place onthe team in both events.
Juno Irwin, Olympic diver in 1948 and 1952, stands agood chance of taking Olympic platform title away from McCormick.
Emily Houghton, third in three-meter dive at the 1955Pan-American Games, has even chance of making team in tough trials.
Ann Cooper, a good performer in one-meter dive (anon-Olympic event), has only long-shot chance to make team in three-meterdive.
Shelley Mann, the world's most versatile girl swimmer,will concentrate her efforts on the freestyle events and may also try for aplace in the butterfly and backstroke.
BIOPERSE: Jeanne Stunyo
Jeanne Stunyo, pictured in a graceful half-gainer onthe right and portrayed on this week's cover, is one of top seven Americanwomen divers.
Jeanne was born 20 years ago in the steel town ofGary, Indiana, where her parents and a Little Leaguer kid brother live. Herfather played semi-pro ball, and now manages an ice plant. Her mother was alocal swim champion and instructor before she became a police matron. "Wenever pushed Jeanne in swimming," says her mother, yet at 11 Jeanne wasflipping one-and-a-halfs from a 10-foot tower. Four years later she was inDetroit working with Clarence Pinkston, an ex-Olympic diving champion and thisyear's Olympic diving coach for the women.
Today Jeanne is a pert, poised young lady with greeneyes and short blonde hair who worries, like most youngsters, about "thatextra 10 pounds." She is forever "firmly resolving" to cut outfattening Cokes, the better to meet the exacting requirements of a favoritepair of Black Watch-plaid Bermuda shorts. Her room is littered with stuffed toyanimals and half-knitted argyle socks. Majoring in radio and TV at theUniversity of Detroit, Jeanne is "nothing special" as a student but haslearned the lesson that "diving is a matter of mental control, thentiming." Repeatedly runner-up to champion Pat McCormick, Jeanne never givesup and for the past two months has been practicing seven days a week, fivehours a day at the rate of 20 dives an hour. Usually a "happy-go-luckyimp," Jeanne admits understandable edginess. "It's a matter of fourmore years before you get another chance. This is it—it's sink orswim."
BILL YORZYK, record holder in 200-meter butterfly, is just Olympic favorite over Jiro Nagasawa and Takashi Ishimoto.
ROBIN MOORE, record holder at 100 yards, is not even sure of team spot because he lacks experience in the long-course pools.
YOSHI OYAKAWA, the 1952 Olympic backstroke winner, this year faces a tough new challenger, David Thiele of Australia.
A BIZARRE FREESTYLIST, THE INCREDIBLY DURABLE 1,500-METER RECORD HOLDER, GEORGE BREEN, IS THE BEST AMERICAN HOPE IN SWIMMING
DON HARPER may place in both the dives, but could be beaten by any of five other recent champions from Ohio State.