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The Albatross was the early bird of the Los Angeles Games. By
the end of the second day of competition West German swimmer
Michael (the Albatross) Gross--who, at 6'7 1/2" and with a
wingspan of nearly 7 1/2 feet, did indeed resemble the large
seabird from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner--had shattered two
world records and swum the fastest split ever in the 4x200-meter
freestyle relay.

On the first day the 20-year-old Gross surpassed his own world
standard in the 200 free with a winning time of 1:47.44.
Twenty-four hours later he upset Pablo Morales of the U.S. in
the 100 butterfly, breaking Morales's world record with a time
of 53.08. (It was a race so close and so swift that the first
five finishers each bettered the winning time from the 1980
Moscow Games.) Gross thus became the first West German swimmer
to win Olympic gold since Ursula Happe won the women's 200
breaststroke at the 1956 Melbourne Games and the first West
German male ever to win an Olympic swimming event.

But there was more to come. On the same day that he won the 100
butterfly (a race that will be held tonight at the Georgia Tech
Aquatic Center), he anchored the 4x200 freestyle relay team
against the heavily favored U.S. When Gross hit the water, he
had a full eight feet to make up on U.S. anchor Bruce Hayes. The
Albatross was never faster in catching Hayes with only a few
strokes left in the race. But Hayes, known for his strong
finish, summoned up one last burst of energy and touched the
wall just three inches ahead of Gross, giving the Americans a
world record 7:15.69. Gross had swum his 200-meter split in an
astonishing 1:46.89, nearly a second faster than the world
record for that distance he had set only the day before.

However, the two-day, record-busting ordeal may have proved too
taxing for Gross, who four days later was upset in his
specialty, the 200-meter butterfly, by 17-year-old Jon Sieben of
Australia. Sieben passed Gross on the final lap and broke the
West German's world record with a 1:57.04 clocking. That silver
medal would be Gross's last medal at the 1984 Games, though he
competed in two more events, the 400 freestyle and the 400
medley relay.

Four years later he returned in the Seoul Games to avenge his
defeat in the 200 fly, winning the gold in an Olympic record
1:56.94. A bronze in the 4x200 free relay was his sixth and last
Olympic medal.

The Albatross was, even to his own countrymen, a strange duck.
He passed up the banquet honoring him as West Germany's
Sportsman of the Year for 1982, outraging his country's athletic
establishment. He was invariably hostile to the media, routinely
refusing to be interviewed while at the same time insisting he
would pursue a career in journalism after college. As a public
figure he was fiercely protective of his private life. "I speak
easily," Gross once said, "when asked something else besides the
composition of my breakfast."

Upon his graduation from secondary school in Frankfurt in 1984,
he was actively recruited by U.S. colleges, particularly the
University of California, where he might have become a teammate
of another eventual Olympic swimming champion, Matt Biondi. But,
Gross said, "the American style of life does not tempt me."
Besides, he insisted, he was much more interested in politics
than sports.

After earning a doctorate in philosophy in 1994, Gross did, in
fact, become a part-time journalist as a contributor to the
German newspaper Der Pflasterstein, whose publisher, Daniel
Cohn-Bendit, was a leader in the leftist Green Party. However,
Gross now works full time for the Master Media public-relations
agency, whose clients include current German swimming star
Fransiska van Almsick.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY/ALLSPORT With his huge wingspan, Gross won the 100 fly--his second world record in 24 hours. [Michael Gross swimming]