The Week Ahead
"And in lane number seven, appearing in his final dual meet for the Crimson, the Olympic silver medalist from Chappaqua, New York, Harvard's co-captain and three time All-American, Bobby Hackett."
Following his introduction before the 1000-yd. freestyle in this afternoon's swim meet against Yale, Bobby Hackett should receive an ovation powerful enough to shake Blodgett pool right down to the foundation.
However, during Hackett's sophomore year, with the Crimson swimming dynasty well on its way to a second consecutive undefeated season, the once adequate number, which witnessed the former Olympian's assault on the Harvard record book while still a freshman, grew sparser by the week.
Now with only a handful of races remaining before the completion of his spectacular career, Hackett and those who follow in his wake, comprising the finest collegiate swim squad in the East, seldom draw more than a few rows of dedicated spectators. Not enough to muster the applause Hackett deserves.
Predictably, the number attending each meet grows fewer as this season winds down and the people now claiming to have witnessed his debut three years ago would fill the IAB twice over.
On Saturday, December 3, 1977, Hackett swam his first Harvard race in the season opener against Navy. He completed that first collegiate 200-yd. freestyle in 1:40.38 to set the first of his many University records. Since that first meet, only Hackett and sophomore Ted Chappell have covered the distance any quicker. The senior from Eliot House still holds the Harvard record, a blistering 1:36.85 set in the 1979 NCAA trials at Cleveland State, as well as three other University records for individual events.
A week later, Hackett made his first road trip and returned from West Point with an NCAA record 9:02.05 for the 1000-yd. free. If short course races--those held in 25-yd. pools instead of the 50-meter type used in international competition--were recognized, this would have been a world record.
The finest moment of that first season came in early February when before standing room only crowd of 1200 plus, the Crimson christened Blodgett Pool with a 58-55 win over arch-rival Princeton.
Behind 55-51 at the start of the final race, Harvard's 400-free relay team of Malcolm Cooper, Duncan Pyle, Julian Mack and Hackett dealt the Tigers a crushing blow when they churned out a 3:05.29 to win by seven-tenths of a second.
Shoot to Thrill
"Winning the Princeton meet freshman year was one of my biggest thrills at Harvard and I'd have to say beating them at their own pool the following year ranks high also," Hackett says.
Between freshman and sophomore years. Harvard's ace competed in the World Games in Berlin. This was the scene of his biggest triumph since copping the silver medal in the 1500-meter free in Montreal at the 1976 Olympics. Swimming on the USA 800-meter free relay squad, Hackett swam a 1:49.87 for the third leg behind Bruce Furniss and Billy Forrester. When anchorman Rowdy Gaines hit the wall, the foursome had a 7:20.80 for what is still the world record.
When he returned to Cambridge that fall, Hackett found that Coach Joe Bernal's recruiting campaign had filled the waters of Blodgett Pool with talented swimmers.
"I am not used to selling recruits on Harvard. Harvard sells Harvard. When high school seniors visit we show them the whole school with swimming as a sidelight. If they want excellent swimming and excellent academics, we hope they choose Harvard. If they want swimming without academics, the whole team would rather see them go elsewhere, no matter how good they are," Hackett, an economics major, says.
Comparing this year's squad to the one he joined as a freshman, the senior cocaptain estimates that approximately 70 per cent of the swimmers are "hardcore" whereas when he arrived it was more like 40 per cent.
"The opportunities Harvard offers its students makes is difficult to sustain a major commitment to a sport like swimming for all four years. Some people are willing to make it their sole commitment outside of course work and for others it's just another extracurricular. The choice belongs to the individual and I don't concern myself with judging the approach of my teammates," Hackett says.
For Hackett, swimming has been a year round commitment for 13 years. He's spent the last ten years under Bernal who coached him at Fordham Prep before they both arrived on the Harvard scene in the fall of 1977, and during the off season as a member of Bernal's Gators. Those ten years have been serious. Dead serious.
In his four years at Harvard, the three time All-American has juggled an average of four hours of workout per day with classes and time logged in the library. This has meant sitting through morning classes after completing a pre dawn workout designed to push his body to the brink of exhaustion. It has also meant readying for midyear examinations when the workouts were getting more rigorous in preparation for the tougher part of the meet schedule.
Those inexpensive team training trips to Puerto Rico and Hawaii begin to seem more costly, if the eight to ten miles logged in the pool are added to the price.
In the summers, Hackett has remained in Cambridge to train with the Gators. Missing are the great resume-padding jobs Harvard students specialize in--world class distance freestylers don't have time.
"I'm looking into banks and investment management firms. Similar to when I selected a college, I want to stay in the Northeast region, Boston or New York would be great," Hackett says. "Ideally I'd like to attend business school within the next few years, but right now I'm after the practical experience."
Hackett has a few more appearances in his racing suit scheduled before donning the pinstripe suit of a business man. The team will journey to Dartmouth next week for the Eastern Seaboard Championships. The Crimson appears destined for a third consecutive title. After a three week break in the action, Hackett and other qualifiers will journey south to Austin, Tex. for the NCAAs.
The U.S. Swimming Championships-Short Course are slated for April 8-11 at Blodgett Pool. When he climbs to the block for the final 1650-yd. freestyle on Saturday evening, Hackett, representing the Gators, will making his final appearance as a competitive swimmer.
This will be the final showdown with Brian Goodell, who beat him to the gold in Montreal. Winning this--he won once previously in 1977--title, breaking nine minutes for the 1000 free, and winning at the NCAAs are Hackett's goals for his final season.
Whether he wins or loses that final race he can expect that ovation. Once again he'll be performing for a real audience.
Hang on, folks, it's tournament time for Crimson sports teams.
For openers, the men's swimming squad will be in Hanover Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the Dartmouth-hosted Eastern Seaboard Swimming and Diving Championships. The Crimson is favored to go all the way for the third straight year.
In the first of three sets of EAIAWs, the women's hockey team guns for an Eastern title on Saturday and Sunday, while the women's track team goes for the glory on Friday and Saturday. Monotonously, the women's swimmers will compete in their own EAIAW championships.
The men's fencers are in Philadelphia for something called the IFAs, while the men's track team goes to Princeton for the IC4As. Keep your eye on Adam Dixon in this one.
The men's basketball team is at home for one--Tuesday night vs. Dartmouth--and on the road another two--the season ending contests against Brown and Yale on Thursday and Friday.