Finally, it's here. March 1, 1979. The date that has been tucked away in the back of every East Coast swimming fanatic's mind since the beginning of the training season in October.
Today is the day the Eastern Seaboard Championships begin at Blodgett Pool. By Saturday evening, the question of who is the best swimming team in this part of the country will be answered.
Competitors from 25 colleges and universities have descended on Cambridge for the occasion, but for those intent on the outcome of the team scoring, this year's meet promises to be, once again, a two-team battle.
Six-time defending champion Princeton won last year's affair by the slimmest of margins, sprinting to a three-tenth of a second victory in the final event, the 400-freestyle relay, to sew up a 364-356 win over Harvard. Columbia, the third place finisher, was far behind at 210.
The Crimson squad improved itself immediately in the recruiting war last spring, and in February partially avenged last season's defeat with a dramatic (59-54) dual meet victory at Princeton.
Based on the strength of Harvard's freshman swimmers and the psychological edge gained from the outcome of the mid-season clash, the Crimson have got to be the favorites this weekend. The incentive to be gained from the fact that this would be Harvard's first ever Eastern Seaboard crown, and the friendly confines of Blodgett Pool are both definite advantages on the Harvard side.
Princeton coach Bill Farley is only too glad to thrust his troops into the role of underdogs. "I honestly don't think we can win," he said with a straight face yesterday as he watched his charges go through their final day of pre-meet preparation. "Harvard has the big guns, and better depth than they've shown (in the dual meets), but we're gonna swim like hell, and I think we can make them nervous."
While it is true that Harvard has more potential first-place finishers than any other team in the meet (Bobby Hackett in his events and Ron Raikula in the 200 backstroke are considered practical shoo-ins), Farley seems to underestimate his own team's strength.
Freestylers Andy Saltzman, "Beaver" O'Hara, Alan Fine, and Howard Nelson are all returning finalists, and breaststroker John Christenson and butterflyer Bill Specht are both defending champions. Team captain Bruce Kone and freshman studs Ron Cummins and Craig Petersen will also score points. With this array of talent. Princeton must be considered the favorites in all three relays, which count for twice as many points each as individual events in the scoring column.
Harvard's position as the team to beat has been further eroded by two recent events. First was the decision two weeks ago of freshman distance-man Phil Atkinson to take a semester leave of absence. Conservatively, he could have been counted on to score at least 15 to 20 points this weekend.
Then during his final tune-up session yesterday, junior diver Steve Schramm (who captured two fifths in last year's meet) hit his head on the corner of the diving board. Eight stitches closed the gap on his temple, but whether he will dive for the Crimson will not be decided until he consults with doctors this morning.
Navy's Mark Heinrich will defend his titles in both the backstrokes, Dartmouth's Kent Whitaker and Todd Taylor will attempt to repeat as kings of the 100-yd. breast stroke and 200-yd. individual medley, respectively, and Yale's Mark Devore will take on the field in the 100-yd. butterfly. Cornell's Paul Steck will seek his third consecutive one-meter diving crown.
These swimmers from other schools could have a profound effect on the outcome of the Harvard-Princeton confrontation. Because that duel stacks up as one of Harvard's front-line aces against Princeton's depth and relay strength, the ability of each team's secondary performers to reach the finals will be of paramount importance. Princeton's "bench" seems stronger than Harvard's, so if both schools' supporting casts are kept from scoring because competitors from other schools displace them in the finals, Harvard would gain an edge.
Each squad's strengths will be tested on the first evening. Bobby Hackett will win the 500-yd. freestyle, but the question will be whether Crimson freshman ace Tim Maximoff can hold off Princeton's freestylers for second. Harvard's Mike Coglin and Malcolm Cooper will be favored in the 200-yd. IM and 50-yd. freestyle, respectively, before the Tigers attempt to defend its crown in the medley relay.