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On the surface, most swimmers can be distinguished from other athletes because of their chlorine-bleached blond hair. But in the depths of the pool, a swimmer separates himself from his competitors mostly by what goes on inside, rather than on, his head--or so says Harvard sophomore Jack Gauthier.
Despite his dark brown tresses, Gauthier has become a nationally competitive swimmer with great mental intensity and the drive of a racehorse.
"Competition is the best part of swimming," Gauthier said in his Quincy House suite last week. "You get on the blocks and say to the guy next to you, 'I'm better than you'--it's not a life or death situation, but it's pretty intense."
And the more intense the competition, the better the Braintree native performs. At last year's Eastern Championships, Gauthier placed in all three of his individual events, scoring 36 individuals points. He also was a key member of both the 800-yd. and 400-yd. freestyle relays which placed first and second, respectively.
Gauthier described the Crimson's firstplace finish in the 800-yd. freestyle relay as the "biggest thrill I've ever had in swimming." The 6-ft., 175-lb. freshman joined sophomore teammates Julian Mack, Bobby Hackett and Mike Coglin to outtouch the Tigers by .03 seconds at the finish line. Swimming the third leg, Gauthier sliced almost three seconds off his best time, recording a 1:40.19 relay split.
"The 800 was the ultimate," Gauthier said with a smile. "The cards were against us, but we went out and did it--I've never been so psyched in my life."
The next day Gauthier shattered his personal record in the 100-yd. butterfly, posting a 50.48 for second place. This time places him third on Harvard's all-time fastest list. He also notched a personal best in the 100-yd. freestyle at 46.1 for fifth place in the East and fourth in Crimson history.
Although the 800-yd. relay team qualified for the NCAAs, the squad failed to make it into the finals. But the trip was not a total disappointment as one of the funniest events of the season, according to Gauthier, occurred in Cleveland--"We were all eating at Swingo's Restaurant and I killed this fly that was buzzing around the table and someone told Mack to eat it. We said we'd give him a dollar each, so he dipped it into some chocolate sauce and collected his money."
While the NCAAs may have left a bad taste in the mouths of some of the swimmers, the American history major's performance at the end of the season at the Easterns showed his enormous talent, despite a slow start in his maiden year at Harvard.
"Living in Greenough was an adjustment," Gauthier said. "There was no one to wake you up after the alarm clock went off. This year I'm putting a lot more effort into swimming."
So far this season, Gauthier remains undefeated in the 200-yd. freestyle, despite the constant threat of teammate Coglin. Moreover, Gauthier's 1:43.34 time against Columbia is just .34 seconds off his best individual time of last year.
Gauthier's improved performance stems indirectly from his desire to make the Olympic trials in June and directly from his summer training in Alabama with Crimson--turned--Crimson-Tide coach Don Gambril.
When Gauthier was a seven-year veteran of competitive swimming at the ripe old age of 13, he joined the New England Barracudas, an AAU club which trained in the IAB under Gambril's direction.
"I knew the guys on the Harvard team from way back," the graduate of BC High School said. "Now the old cronies come back, and I ask them how they're doing and they think of the little twerp sitting in the stands."
The "little twerp" grew into a high school All-American by his junior year, although he concentrated mainly on his AAU swimming since the high school competition consisted of "jokers wearing boxer shorts."
Gauthier's smooth and relaxed freestyle stroke plus his strong butterfly put him in a class of his own and made him a tempting prospect for any college team.
With Gambril at Alabama, Gauthier figured he would head south, but Joe Bernal and Blodgett Pool convinced the local to stick around for a few more years.
This summer, Gauthier partially made up for lost time with his old coach, training a total of six hours a day by running, working out with weights, and swimming 15,000 meters. Monday morning workouts were especially taxing as the swimmers entered the snake-infested waters of Lake Tuscaloosa for a five-mile swim (about 84 minutes).
"A couple of times I was swimming along, and I'd hit a branch and totally freak out because they told us there were water mocassins in the water," Gauthier said.
When Gauthier came back to Cambridge this fall, he found a changed attitude on the team. "Last year we hated to wear shirts and ties, but this year's freshmen came to our first meet dressed like New York bankers in three piece suits."
This aversion to formal dress reflects Gauthier's overall down-to-earth attitude toward swimming--"Swimming is a way of life; no one can have inhibitions in a bathing suit. There are no tweed jackets; you're not a jock or a preppie. You're just a swimmer."
And though only his hairdresser does not know for sure, a swimmer is exactly what Gauthier is.
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