The contesting of the 1981 United States Indoor Swimming Championships at Harvard University's Blodgett Pool marks the first time the meet has ever been held in New England. This, coupled with the recent successes of Bernal's Gator Swim Club--the host team for this year's meet--symbolizes the arrival of big-time swimming in this area.
Depending on how Coach Joe Bernal juggles his relay lineups, the Gator squad for this year's Nationals may include as many as 13 swimmers, the largest New England entry in meet history.
With its 16th-place finish at last summer's Senior Nationals in Irvine. Calif., the club demonstrated that it has quality swimmers as well as quantity. With that performance, the Gators became the first New England squad ever to crack the top 20.
While engineering the team's rise to national prominence. Bernal continues to emphasize dominance of the local scene at both the senior and age-group levels.
At the New England Age Group Championships in early March, the Harvard-based team mopped up the competition with a combined total of 1508 points. Little Rhody was a very distant second with 640.5.
Two and a half weeks ago, the Gators journeyed to Little Rhody's home pool at Brown University for the New England Senior Championships. With 2049.5 points the team surpassed last year's winner, the New England Barracudas, who gained second with 1972 points. This time the Gator women clearly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, topping that division and showing particular power in the distance freestyle events. The Barracudas nabbed the number-one slot in the men's division.
Despite the number of up-and-coming youngsters in the age-group ranks. Bernal and his staff will rely heavily on swimmers from the collegiate level for this meet.
Making his final appearance as a competitive swimmer is the most successful Gator ever. Olympic Silver Medalist Bobby Hackett. Although his recent NCAA showing was not one of Hackett's best, it was only disappointing by his own standards. He is a two-time National Champion and a member of that very small and select group of milers who have gone under the 15-minute barrier. In his final meet and home pool. Hackett is expected be a factor and score big points for Bernal's Gator Swim Club.
Larry Countryman, Hackett's teammate on the Harvard squad, arrived on the National scene four years ago with Foxcatcher, but switched to the Gators last year. Countryman is also a distance freestyler and the heir apparent to Hackett on both Gator and Harvard squads.
Although he'll return to Paramus Red Wave this summer, the versatile Ted Chappell, who paced the Harvard squad to another Easter Collegiate Title earlier this year with three wins, will also swim for Gator.
For the women, Elaine Palmer will swim the 100 and 200 back, as well as the 400-yd. IM. Palmer, who recently turned in an impressive performance at the AIAWs, has been coming on strong in the last three years.
"I enjoy my affiliation with club swimming immensely. The opportunity to work with swimmers of all ages, male and female, has made me a better coach. I think that the balance I get from coaching at both the collegiate and club levels enables me to be more efficient with both groups." Bernal said recently.
"With Gators we have emphasized development at all the age divisions, with particular interest in the lower groups, so we have a firm base for the future," he added.
In some form or another Bernal's Gator Swim Club has been in operation for 12 years. Before starting his own team Bernal coached at Badger Swim Club in Larchmont, N.Y.
Operating off the Fordham University campus in Bronx, N.Y. for eight years. Bernal started a second club when he took over the reins at Harvard in September of 1977