I've never been a believer in second guessing (yeah, sure kid!), but when I struggled out of bed on Sunday morning after an evening of serious boozing to discover that my worst fears had come true, that the swimming team had lost to Princeton in the Easterns, I was tempted to do some brutal fourth, fifth, and even sixth guessing.
After all, fair is fair. I had always been led to believe that the best team won (in this case Harvard) by a considerable margin. No ifs, ands, or buts. Well, sad to say, sports fans, the real world is not so convenient, simple and pure (How can it be when Ivory Snow poster girl becomes a porno queen?).
It is genuinely difficult to imagine how a team can take seven individual swimming events, one relay, set seven Princeton pool records, qualify 24 separate times for the NCAAs, and score 397 points--just in swimming--and still lose.
But lose Harvard did, by a mere eight points, to a scrappy Princeton outfit that managed to parlay two firsts by Curt Haydon (he now has won the 500-yd. and 1650-yd. freestyles three years running), innumerable seconds and thirds (usually behind Crimson swimmers), and a couple of secret weapons into a second consecutive Eastern crown.
Well, first of all, Princeton had a home pool advantage, replete with a group of 75 streakers who shocked and delighted Friday night's crowd with a dash twice around the pool deck, base drum and all. Second, it had Billy Heinz to do some fancy diving. Third, it edged Harvard in the final 400-yd. free relay showdown to win the meet.
But if there was anything one can point to as having had a decisive effect on the outcome, I opt for the diving.
The Heinz gang was in top form Thursday and Saturday, to the tune of a 1-2 finish on the one-meter and a 1-5-6 on the three-meter. Grand total: 68 biggies, enough to offset Harvard's 397-351 advantage in the swimming events.
The Crimson divers, it should be noted, were no slouches. Dave English finally put a string of good dives together and came up with a fine fifth-place finish on the low board, while freshman Roger Johannigman took an 11th on the three-meter. Unfortunately, that gave Harvard only 14 diving points (14 more than last year) and a little simple arithmetic explains one of the reasons why the Crimson lost. Oh, well. Back to the drawing boards.
Unfortunately, back to the drawing boards is where Harvard should go, to come up with some plans for a new swimming pool before the year 2000. Essick has in John Walker one of the best diving coaches in the country, yet it is an almost impossible task for Walker to attract top-flight divers to Cambridge given the lack of depth of the IAB pool. All things being equal, the difference between Princeton's 14 feet of chlorinated water and Harvard's 11 feet is a helluva lot more than three feet.
People are scared of cracking their heads wide open on the bottom (if you recall last year's Yale meet, Eli diver Roger Oliphant had a face-to-face meeting with the deep end), and that doesn't bode well for Harvard diving.
Oh, well, at least Ray Essick and company can take comfort in the realization that Harvard, after a three year ascendancy, has become the best swimming team (let's forget diving for the moment) in the East. Sure, if the medley relay hadn't been disqualified early in the first day, depriving Harvard of 26 cinch points, things might have been different.
"But there is no way you can hang any goat horns on anybody," a still scratchy-voiced Crimson coach Essick said yesterday. "I'm not sure that our kids didn't swim better after the relay was disqualified. It was an obvious disapointment" not to win, he added. Yet there were numerous reasons to be pleased.
Hess Yntema, after a fluke wave emptied into his mouth causing him to miss a stroke during the butterfly leg of the medley relay, turned in an outstanding triple, the only one of the three-day meet. He owned the 200-yd. distance, winning handily in the 200-yd. I.M., the 200-yd. freestyle, and 200-yd. butterfly, and anchoring the victorious 800-yd. free relay. Teammate Tom Wolf came within a shade of winning the 100-yd. back, in the process breaking the only record left from the pre-Gambril-Essick era, and ran away from everybody in the 200-yd. version. Wolf's outstanding meet was a very pleasant surprise.
Peter Tetlow had the unenviable task of trying to wrest some Eastern distance freestyle titles from the clutches of Haydon, but nevertheless became the first Harvard swimmer ever to break the 16-minute barrier in the mile, and 4:40 in the 500. Freshman Ted Fullerton cleaned up in the breastrokes, and Tim Neville used his super psych to blitz the field in the 50 free. Some great swims, some even greater times, and an even more amazing season. The fact that the Eastern title won't be Harvard's for at least another year is really the least of the story.