A championship meet is the culmination of any swim season. A full year's worth of grueling workouts, endless time trials and exposure to unhealthy amounts of chlorine are all put on the line in one weekend, or even one race. The swimmer tapers his training schedule, shaves off his body hair, and sticks to a special diet so that he is in peak condition for this single meet.
This weekend's Eastern Seaboard Championships in Providence have a special significance for Harvard's undefeated men's varsity swim team. The Crimson has blown away all of its opponents, been praised by observers and reporters and attracted quite a bit of attention en route to establishing an 8-0 record this season. But it will all be for naught if it can't beat Princeton at the Easterns.
Despite the fact that Harvard's aqua-supermen dunked the Tigers, 58-55, earlier this season, Princeton--which has won the championship meet for the last five years in a row--is the decided favorite. You can forget the other ten or 15 teams that will be splashing around Brown's classy pool this weekend. This is a two-team showdown: Hackett's Heroes vs. the Incredible Orange Machine.
"They're the favorites, but anything can happen," says Crimson coach Joe Bernal. The highly successful first-year mentor considers the key variables to be 1) the effect of swimmers from other teams on the biggies' point totals and 2) psych.
In the first department, Harvard stands to gain. Princeton's strength is its incredible depth. The Tigers hope to put several swimmers in the finals or consolations of each event, so that even if they don't take first, they will still emerge with the most points.
Harvard, on the other hand, must rely on a relatively small number of truly amazing swimmers, such as Bobby Hackett, Malcolm Cooper, Julian Mack and Michael Coglin, to place in the top two or three in a few key events. The Crimson also has a huge advantage in the diving events, where all four of its solid competitors could make the finals in both events, and in the relays.
Co-captain Duncan Pyle explains how this can hurt the Tigers: "We've got definite qualifiers, guys who will certainly make the finals and might win. They've got depth, guys who can be knocked out if some of the other teams swim well."
The other factor, emotion, should be pretty high on both sides. Bernal says, "We're really going to come at Princeton," but there's no question that the Tigers will be more eager to avenge last month's defeat and hold on to the coveted crown for at least another year.
Today's events include the 400-yd. medley relay, the 200-yd. individual medley, the 50-yd. freestyle, the 500-yd. freestyle and the one-meter diving. The finals for these events are tonight.
The medley relay should go to Harvard, with Pyle, Tuomo Kerola, Cooper and Hackett swimming for the Crimson. Princeton's breaststroker, John Christensen, should have a slight advantage over Kerola in what Pyle calls the "shakiest of our three relays," but backstroker Pyle should be able to edge Princeton's Steve DeCosse. And if it's close going into the last leg, you can count on the awesome Mr. Hackett, whose 45.0 freestyle split at Yale last weekend is tops in the East.
Hackett should win the 500, with Coglin also finishing in the top four. The 50 will be Malcolm Cooper's opening act of what could be a spectacular three-day show for him. Princeton looks good in the individual medley, with Bruce Kone and Bob Clayton likely to reach the finals.
Jamie Greacen and Steve Schramm should lead a Crimson onslaught in the one-meter dive, rounding out what will probably be Harvard's highest scoring day.
Schedule of Events for Eastern Championships: Finals at 7:30 p.m.
THURSDAY, MARCH 2--400 Medley Relay, 500 Freestyle, 200 I.M., 50 Freestyle, one-meter Diving
FRIDAY, MARCH 3--400 I.M., 200 Freestyle, 100 Butterfly, 100 Backstroke, 100 Breaststroke, 800 Freestyle Relay
SATURDAY, MARCH 4--1650 Freestyle, 100 Freestyle, 200 Backstroke, 200 Breaststroke, 200 Butterfly, Three-meter Diving, 400 Freestyle Relay.