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Led by the likes of backstroker Rick Carey (right) and aided by the boycott, America's team could win gold in 20 of the 29 Olympic swimming events. The men should break a few world records, too

With nearly half the world's best swimmers, the ones from Eastern bloc nations, staying home, triple gold medal hopeful Rick Carey of Mount Kisco, N.Y. foresees what he calls an "Olympics by teletype." "They'll be sitting over there in East Germany and Russia waiting for our times to come across," says Carey, the world-record holder in the 100-and 200-meter backstroke, whose leading rivals will all be absent. "Then they'll go out and swim in their alternative Games and send us times to compare."

Count on the 21-year-old Carey to heat up the wires. He'll probably lower both of his marks in Los Angeles and help the U.S. shatter the men's 4 x 100 medley relay record it set at last summer's Pan Am games in Caracas. The absence of his challengers doesn't faze Carey a bit. "I don't think they could beat me, and I think they know that, too," he says. Then he adds confidently, "It would be more fun to beat them head-to-head."

The boycott won't unduly curtail the head-banging in the men's competition. Only Carey will be a runaway winner. "Every male world-record holder except one will be there," points out U.S. Olympic head coach Don Gambril. "You're going to see some battles." Indeed, over the six days of Olympic swimming, you'll probably see at least five current or former men's world-record holders lose.

"Blood, sweat and tears all the way down the lane," is how former world-record holder Steve Lundquist describes his breaststroke rivalry with the new record holder, John Moffet of Costa Mesa, Calif. Moffet took away Lundquist's world 100 breast mark last month at the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis—but could barely hold off Lunk in the final meters. Moffet touched in 1:02.13, Lundquist in 1:02.16. They'll meet again in the 100 breast finals in L.A., where they'll be joined by Canadian brawler Victor Davis. It'll be a classic.

"John has a tendency to rush his turnover in the last 25," says Moffet's club coach, 1972 Olympic freestyler An Simmons. But Moffet's strengths are his powerful legs and natural stroke, and his coach at Stanford, Skip Kenney, sees him breaking the one-minute barrier in the 100 breast "within three years." In L.A., Moffet will take the race out fast in hopes of going under 1:02.

If Moffet surpasses that time, so will Lundquist, 23, of Jonesboro, Ga., the quintessential big-meet performer. Lunk is back in top shape after a shoulder separation that kept him out of the water for several months and caused him to bloat from 185 to 205 pounds. A diet of salad, water and iced tea trimmed Lundquist down, however, and now he rates as the ever-so-slim favorite.

Davis, 20, the world-record holder and world champion in the 200 breast, has had to overcome maladies far more serious than obesity. After contracting mononucleosis in June of 1983, he dropped from 185 to 170 pounds, developed a badly swollen spleen and couldn't return to the water to train until September. And just when he was rounding into form this spring, he was felled by a severe sciatic nerve condition. As recently as early May, he could barely walk.

But Davis is a fighter—literally. His grandfather Al was a boxing coach who sent three of his charges to the 1948 Olympics. Victor, who's from Guelph, Ont., has tried the sport himself. Moffet recalls sitting in the waiting room with him before the 200 breast finals at the 1982 world championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador. "He was walking around shadowboxing, huffing and puffing," says Moffet. Davis left the room moments later and punched out his first world record. Two months later, at the Common-wealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, Queen Elizabeth, who has seen plenty of dukes in her time, was startled by the sight of Davis knocking a chair into the pool after a relay disqualification. That incident drew wide media attention, as did accusations in November 1983 that Davis had been involved in a stabbing that occurred during a party held in his apartment in Waterloo, Ont. Davis's bad-boy image had been made forever.

Davis swam a 1:02.87 in the 100 breast at the Canadian Olympic trials in June and should be a close third in that event in L.A., behind Lundquist and Moffet. He should win the 200, with Moffet again second. Davis cut his 200 world record from 2:14.77 to 2:14.58 at the Canadian trials, and don't be surprised if he takes it lower than that in the Olympic pool. Says Moffet, "It's going to be fun to race him."

Davis's equally talented countryman, Alex Baumann of Sudbury, Ont., holds world records in both the 200 and 400 individual medleys. He set the 200 IM mark (2:02.25) at the '82 Commonwealth Games and the 400 IM record (4:17.53) at the Canadian trials. "Baumann is the only swimmer who doesn't have a weak stroke in any of the four disciplines—freestyle, back, breast and butterfly. Even [Mark] Spitz was weak on the breast," says Doc Counsilman, Spitz's old coach.

Baumann, 20, was born in Prague. His family moved to New Zealand in 1967 and then settled in Canada two years later. He has a maple leaf tattoo on his chest, above which is written Saša (pronounced SA-sha), the Czech nickname for Alexander. "Czech is what we speak around the house," he says. Baumann, like Davis, is confident, independent and distinctive. He wears a diamond stud in his left ear-lobe. "I used to wear it to be different," Baumann says with a grin, "but now everybody's doing it, so maybe I'll take it out."

Baumann should win two gold medals, but only after the races of his life. In the 200 IM he'll have to beat European champ Giovanni Franceschi of Italy, Pablo Morales of Santa Clara, Calif. and Lundquist; in the 400 IM he'll face Franceschi, U.S. Olympic trials winner Jeff Kostoff of Upland, Calif. and former world-record holders Ricardo Prado of Brazil (and SMU) and Jesse Vassallo of Miami. The Americans probably won't crack the top three in the 400, but Lundquist should gain a bronze in the 200.

In that race Lunk figures to come in just behind Franceschi, the expressive 21-year-old whose victories and joyful celebrations thereof at the European Championships in Rome last summer sent Italian fans into a frenzy. Franceschi, called Long John even by Italians because of his stringy build (6'4", 176 pounds), is history's second-fastest 200 IMer (2:02.48) and fifth-fastest 400 IMer (4:20.41). His best strokes are the back and breast, which fall second and third in the IM sequence; if he hopes to win either medley in L.A., he'll have to enter the final leg with a comfortable lead over Baumann, who'll sizzle in the closing freestyle.

Franceschi's driving force has been his father, Enes, a Milan printing-plant executive who grew up swimming in muddy pools that were used by local hemp farmers to soak flax. "I transmitted this love of water to my two sons," he says. Enes also bought his family an apartment that overlooks an Olympic-size training pool. In further explaining the success of Giovanni and his older brother, Raffaele, who'll swim on Italy's 4 X 100 free relay team at the Games, Enes says with a wink, "Of course, Raffaele and Giovanni were both conceived near the sea." In the 200, at least, that kind of long-term commitment should help bring Long John silver.

In the 400 IM, however, the 5'6", 144-pound Prado will almost certainly hold off Franceschi for second place. Prado, who left S√£o Paulo at age 15 to live and train with the Mission Viejo (Calif.) Nadadores swim club, set a world record of 4:19.78 in Guayaquil that stood until this spring, when East Germany's Jens-Peter Berndt and then Baumann broke it. Like Baumann, Prado is solid in all four strokes, though he's a bit stronger in the first two, fly and back. He should lead the Olympic 400 IM after 200 meters—but thereafter he can do little but pray that Baumann doesn't run him down in breaststroke and freestyle. "At Los Angeles," says Franceschi, "records will be set. They will certainly be the two greatest medley races in the history of swimming."

For other stellar performances, look to West Germany's Michael Gross, who hopes to win three events in L.A. and lower his 200 free (1:47.55) and 200 fly (1:57.05) world records. The Albatross won't go unchallenged, however. In the 100 fly, he may have to settle for a silver medal behind Morales, the new world-record holder in that event. Gross might even wind up third if former record holder Matt Gribble of Miami can overcome his recent assortment of back ailments. Says a respectful Morales, whose world mark of 53.38 would seem to give him a comfortable edge on Gross, whose best is 53.78, "I just think he hasn't cranked one yet."

Gross won't be beaten in the 200 fly, though Morales should break Craig Beardsley's U.S. record of 1:58.01 in getting the silver medal. The 200 free should also go to Gross, with American record holder Mike Heath of Dallas—the revelation of the U.S. trials—a close second. Heath's 1:47.92 swim at Indianapolis made him the first person to come within a second of Gross's world 200 freestyle record—but it's said that Gross is ready to break 1:47 in Los Angeles.

Heath's moment could come in the 100 free, in which he'll have a shot at defeating world-record holder Rowdy Gaines of Winter Haven, Fla. Gaines, 25, will enter the final as a sentimental favorite, having hung on through several difficult years for the Olympic opportunity that was denied him in 1980 because of the U.S.-led boycott. But Heath, 19, has come on strong: His 49.87 at the U.S. trials surpassed any time Gaines has swum in nearly three years. Still Gaines is game. "If I don't win the gold I'm not going to commit suicide," he says, "but I don't plan to come in second."

In the 400 and 1,500 free-styles, another rapidly improving American, George DiCarlo of Denver, should come away with two gold medals. Even Soviet distance ace Vladimir Salnikov (SI, May 21) the only male world-record holder missing from the L.A. Games, might have had a little trouble against DiCarlo, who broke longstanding U.S. records in the 400 and 1,500 at the American trials. "George has been waiting to be a star for a long time," says his coach at the University of Arizona, Dick Jochums. "Now he's made it, and he deserves it."

Chasing DiCarlo will be countrymen John Mykkanen (400) and Mike O'Brien (1,500) as well as the well-programmed Petric brothers of Yugoslavia: Borut, 22, and Darjan, 19, each of whom spends his spare time working on his own home computer. Also, a corps of excellent West German freestylers will make their marks in every race from the 200 through the 1,500. In what should be a heart-stopping 4 x 200 free relay, the West Germans will likely lose their world record and the gold medal to the U.S.—but just barely.

Unfortunately, much of the women's competition in Los Angeles will be of lower caliber. The loss of the mighty East German squad is devastating: The G.D.R. women would have achieved one-two sweeps of the 100 and 200 frees, 100 and 200 backs and 100 breast and won at least one medal in every other event. Worse, their absence not only takes away the eagerly awaited distance-freestyle showdowns between Tiffany Cohen, 18, of Mission Viejo and 15-year-old Astrid Strauss—Cohen should now win both distance gold medals, with the silvers going to countrywomen Kim Linehan of Sarasota, Fla. in the 400 and Michele Richardson of Miami in the 800—but it also deprives U.S. stars Tracy Caulkins (200 and 400 IMs) and Mary T. Meagher (100 and 200 butterflies) of a chance to prove once and for all that they're No. 1 in their events. Caulkins and Meagher, too, will have to play Olympics-by-teletype.

Still, they should win two individual golds apiece, and do so impressively. Meagher, 19, of Louisville, has swum the fly competitively since she was 4—"I didn't pick it; it picked me," she says—and holds 100 and 200 world records that no one has approached. She would have won both events at the Moscow Games. As it turns out, even without the East Germans, Meagher should feel some heat in L.A. from 16-year-old Jenna Johnson of Santa Rosa, Calif., who upset Meagher at the U.S. trials. But Johnson is inexperienced in international competition, and Mary T. should beat her in the Olympics.

Meagher also should destroy the field in the 200 fly, just as 48-time national champion Caulkins should dominate both individual medleys. Caulkins, 21, of Nashville, defeated her East German rivals at a meet in Austin, Texas in January and will go into the Games with the world's best 200 and 400 IM times of 1984. She'd be an Olympic champion no matter who showed up. Caulkins and Meagher should both pick up their third golds in the 4 X 100 medley relay, and Caulkins will try for a fourth in the 100 breaststroke.

Caulkins won't get more than a bronze medal in that event, however. The Games' dominant women breast-strokers will be Hiroko Nagasaki of Japan and Canada's Anne Ottenbrite, who figure to go one-two in both the 100 and the 200. Nagasaki, the daughter of a railroad worker from the northern Japanese city of Akita, is a prodigy who'll turn 16 the day before the Games open. She made her first Olympic team at age 11, but didn't compete in Moscow because of the boycott. Ever since then she has been adored in Japan, where swimming is extremely popular. "What makes Nagasaki an outstanding swimmer is her strong leg strokes," says her coach, Toshio Watanabe, a former middle distance runner. By kicking her way to two gold medals in Los Angeles, Nagasaki will show the world that she's not just a flash in Japan.

Ironically, the one thing that might prevent Ottenbrite from getting a medal is her legs. She has a history of being disqualified for using an illegal dolphin kick and is still recovering from a right kneecap dislocation suffered in May. She hurt herself falling off a pair of high-heeled shoes.

The backstroke will feature a couple of Romanians: Carmen Bunaciu, 22, a 6'3", 163-pounder who was ranked No. 1 in 1981 but since has swum in the shadow of the East German women, and Anca Patrascoiu, 16, who finished fourth in the 200 at the 1983 European championships—behind two East Germans and a Soviet. Bunaciu should win the 100 and finish second to her teammate in the 200. Anca should go unchallenged in the 200; she's one second better than Bunaciu and nearly two seconds better than any Western challenger.

U.S. women probably will go one-two in eight of the 12 individual events at the Olympics, including all four freestyle races. They'll also win both relays. The American men, meanwhile, will win seven of 12 individual events and all three of their relays. That would seem to indicate that the quality of the competition should be similar for both sexes. But no. Here's a good measure of the difference: While as many as a dozen men's world records could fall in Los Angeles, no women's marks are likely to be broken.



American fly guy Morales should soar through the 100, but the great Gross will probably shoot him down in the 200.


Baumann, who has a diamond in his ear, should have IM gold around his neck.


G.D.R. no-shows have denied Cohen a showdown.


The 15-year-old Nagasaki may be from Akita, but she's certainly no dog. She should win both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes.