You can put this story in the chapter called "Triumphant Returns," Harvard Co-Captain David Berkoff completed yesterday at Blodgett Pool for the first time since his gold-medal performance in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, racing in the Crimson's dual meet against Cornell.
And while the competition of the Big Red could not come close to that of the world's best, Berkoff merely picked up where he left off six months ago.
Leading off the Harvard 400-yd. medley relay, the first race in the meet, Berkoff completed his 100-yd. backstroke leg in a time of 47.86 seconds. Nobody has ever covered the distance faster.
As a result, Berkoff is now the new American and NCAA record-holder in the 100 backstroke, having eclipsed the old mark of 47.94 seconds set by Stanford's Jay Mortenson in 1987.
With the swim, Berkoff now holds every record in sprint backstroke. He already has broken the world, American and Olympic records in the 100-meter distance--the length used in international competition. And after Saturday's performance, the senior now holds all records in short-course yards competition, for which there are no world marks.
"I really just wanted to get in and see what I had," said Berkoff. "The second half of the race seemed very strong, so I knew I had a chance. But I didn't know for sure until I touched and saw the scoreboard."
Needless to say, the rest of the meet proved to be anticlimactic, as the Crimson (5-3 overall, 4-3 EISL) easily tamed the Big Red (3-4, 2-4) by a margin of 68-42 that could have been worse. After pulling out to a 61-18 lead, Coach Joe Bernal entered his squad unofficially in the rest of individual events to keep the score down.
While overshadowed by the record breaking performance of Berkoff, the other Crimson swimmers put in very strong outings as they geared up for the final three weeks of the regular season.
Swimming alongside Berkoff, freshman Chris Kovacs just missed the qualifying time for the NCAA Championships in the 100 backstroke. Kovacs touched in 50.92, only one-hundreth off the time needed for the NCAA meet, held in April at Indianapolis.
Other strong swims by Harvard included those by freshman Sumner Anderson, who grabbed the 400 individual medley, sophomore Jon Manson, who cut his time sharply in the 200 breaststroke, and Greg Tull, another sophomore who took first in the 50 freestyle.
But the real story of the day was Berkoff, who also made the NCAA cut in the 200 backstroke later in the meet. After the meet the entire Crimson locker room was still buzzing about the performance of its co-captain.
Sophomore Paul Watson, who swam the butterfly leg of the medley relay, talked about the tension he faced: "I knew that if I got disqualified for my start that Dave's record wouldn't count. All I could think about as Jon [Manson] was coming in was to make sure that I didn't jump the gun."
"David's performance was impressive and inspiring, especially since it occurred during a no-pressure situation," Co-Captain Keith Kaplan said. "Things like that can really stimulate the entire team to swim fast, and that's what happened here against Cornell."
"I am delighted to see that Dave has returned to the team here at Harvard with the same drive and intensity that he showed last year in the Olympics," Bernal said. "With a young team, you need to have leaders who can do the job in the water, and I think that we're beginning to see that from our veteran swimmers."
As for the new record-holder, Berkoff chooses to be a little more restrained about his accomplishment, electing instead to help the team focus on claiming the Eastern Championships, held in three weeks at Blodgett. "Princeton has got to be considered the favorite in the Eastern meet, but they cannot afford to make a mistake," Berkoff said.
Like the other Crimson swimmers, Berkoff is disappointed about the losses he suffered earlier in the year, but he knows that one thing will end all of the grumbling.
"Ask any college basketball player in the country what the most important achievement is, and he'll tell you it's winning a championship," Berkoff said. "Nobody remembers your regular season record if you win it all. Just ask Kansas. If we can take the Easterns, I'll guarantee that nobody will be talking about losses in November to Columbia. Nobody at all." "The Berkoff Watch"
Men's Swimming Schedule February 18 at Penn February 25 YALE March 2-4 Easterns at Bloodroot Pool)