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Of all the novelties that the revamping of Harvard's swim program brings to this season--the rookie coach, the beautiful new Olympic-size pool that will be open after Christmas, the different attitude--one face stands out above them all.
That face belongs to freshman Olympian Bobby Hackett. Hackett, silver medalist in the 1500 meters at Montreal, gold medalist at the 1975 Pan American games, and two-time A.A.U National champion, is the kind of blue-chip athlete and personality who can transform a fairly strong program into a great one, who can attract name swimmers from all over the country, who can catapult a team into the national rankings--in short, the kind of athlete who comes to Harvard very rarely.
Hackett, who has his sights set on the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, could have attended one of the giants, like USC or Alabama, where he could train with the other superstars of the swimming world.
But he explained yesterday, "That just turned me off. I figured sure I could swim at those places with an already established team, but I felt it would be more satisfying to help build a program."
Clearly another factor in Hackett's decision was Harvard's decision to hire coach Joe Bernal, whom Bobby has trained with as a member of the Gator A.A.U. Swim Club and the varsity team at New York's Fordham Prep. With Bernal, Hackett hopes to generate some enthusiasm for swimming at Harvard, just as the duo did in New York.
The young man from Yonkers will have plenty of help--the host of freshmen recruited by his coach is the best since Don Gambril brought scores of All-Americans to Cambridge in 1973 and 1974. Heading the list is freestyler Julian Mack, the 1977 Illinois state 100-yd. champion, who has gone 47.0 in that event.
Tuomo Kerola eases the pain of Ted Fullerton's graduation by beefing up the breaststroke corps. Kerola, a member of the Finnish Olympic team, was an All-American in 1976 as an exchange student at Hinsdale (III.) High, where he teamed with Harvard sophomore standout Matt Robertson.
But the main man is unquestionably Hackett, whose times of 1:38.9 in the 200 free, 4:23 in the 500 free, 9:06 in the 1000, and 15:01 in the 1650 are all well below the University records. A tremendously versatile swimmer, Hackett also excels at butterfly, backstroke, and individual medley, and he insists, "I'll swim anything coach Bernal wants me to."
And as many Eastern schools have undoubtedly realized by now, he'll probably win whatever he swims.
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