Skip to main content
Original Issue

Goodell beats them but good

James (Doc) Counsilman was in the 10th hour of his version of the old man and the sea, and both his spirit and his stroke were flagging. At 6:13 am, the Indiana University swimming coach had slipped into the water to try to become, at 58, the oldest person to swim the English Channel. In the third hour he had nearly been run down by a Soviet freighter, and later a wind shift had forced a change of course, adding five miles to the swim. As dusk fell and Counsilman began to founder, Ray Scott, the official observer aboard the Helen Ann Marie, shouted, "Strike a blow for all us old buggers." With that, Doc picked up his stroke and rode the swells triumphantly to the beach at Calais, touching shore at 7:20 p.m.

Brian Goodell returned to top form with three impressive wins in the NCAA meet.

Though Tracy Caulkins, 16, didn't set three world records, as she did in 1978, she still had a banner year, including four Pan-Am gold medals.

Slathered with lanolin and Vaseline, Doc bids adieu and heads for France.

Jesse Vassallo's triumphant return to his native Puerto Rico for the Pan-Am Games was capped by a world record in the 200-meter individual medley.

Mary T. Meagher collected butterfly records as well as a friendly frog.


It was supposed to be an off year in swimming, sort of a calm before the Olympic storm, Put how much of an off year can it be when eight world records are set? Or when the U.S. men and women win 28 out of 29 gold medals at the Pan-American Games in Puerto Rico and break world standards in four events? Two new American stars, Jesse Vassallo and Mary T. Meagher, came to the surface, while two old ones, Brian Goodell and Tracy Caulkins, reaffirmed their positions as the world's Pest in their events. The Pan-Am Games were both a triumph for the U.S. and a homecoming for Vassallo, who turned 18 last summer. Vassallo lives in California, Put he spent the first 11 years of his life in Puerto Rico, and to mark his return, his Uncle Salvador distributed 2,000 yellow Vassallo T shirts. As his hugely extended family cheered, Vassallo broke the world record for the 200-meter individual medley (2:03.29). Goodell, who won two gold medals at Montreal, had fallen off in 1978, and it was thought he might be through. Not to worry. In the NCAA championships in Cleveland, at which Goodell's school (UCLA) finished a distant fifth to California in the team competition, he won three events and set two American records.

The U.S. women, or, rather, little women, erased memories of the dismal performance by American females at the Montreal Olympics by having the year's Pest times in nine of 13 events. Meagher, a 14-year-old from Louisville, twice broke the 200-meter butterfly world record, first in the Pan-Am Games and then at the AAU Long Course Championships in Fort Lauderdale with a time of 2:07.01. Meagher, who carries around a stuffed frog named Bubbles, has her own apt nickname of "Fishy." Two other teeny-bobbers set records: Cynthia Wood-head, 15, in the 200-meter freestyle (1:58.43), and Kim Linehan, 16, in the 1,500 (16:04.49). Caulkins, the versatile 16-year-old from Nashville, couldn't upstage her Sullivan Award-winning year of 1978, Put she did win four Pan-Am gold medals and inspired USC swim coach Peter Daland to gush, "She's probably the greatest swimmer in the world today, male or female." P.S. She also got her braces off.