There was a meet record, a pool record, and a national championship qualifier in virtually every event. There was a host of shaved heads and a packed house of screaming fans. And when the first night of Eastern Seaboard Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool ended last night, there was the Harvard swim team, holding a commanding 183-143 lead over Princeton and threatening to break the Tigers' six-year grip on the prestigious Eastern title.
The meet began auspiciously enough with Crimson sophomore hero Bobby Hackett smashing his own pool record in yesterday afternoon's preliminaries of the first event, the 500 yd. freestyle. Hackett--cool, confident, unshaven, and wearing two suits--returned in the evening to cruise to an easy gold medal in 4:26.78, three full seconds under the NCAA Championship meet qualifying time in the 500, but two seconds off his meet record pace of one year ago (the only time all night when the meet record was not bettered). "I felt really strong," said the Yonkers flash afterwards. "I just wanted to go out fast and work on my pace, and that's just what I did." Indeed he did; Hackett reeled off a 49.77 for his first 100 and it was never close after that.
The Tigers still managed to grab a 44-37 lead after the first race, however, on the strength of a two-three finish by two members of their stable of distance thoroughbreds, junior Andy Saltzman and freshman Craig Peterson. But while those two were leading the rest of the pack from the outside lanes, sophomore sensation Andy "Beaver" O'Hara--the man who upset Hackett on the last leg of the 400-yd. freestyle relay to win the meet for Princeton a year ago--was struggling to a surprisingly weak eighth place finish in lane five.
Disappointment was nowhere to be found after Crimson British sophomore phenom Mike Coglin ripped to a blazing 1:52.80 in the 200-yd. individual medley to bring home the gold. Coglin's record-setting time, which earned him a trip to scenic Cleveland State (site of NCAAs later this month), left everyone else in the race in his wake by almost a full two seconds. Princeton managed to hold on to a tenuous 79-71 lead, but the Tigers were hurt again by the fact that senior captain Bruce Kone, after missing a month of the season because he was suspended from the team, failed to make the finals for the first time in three years (he finished ninth).
Senior stud and spring specialist Malcolm F.S. Cooper gave the Crimson its third gold medal, third pool record, and third national qualifier in three events by blasting off the blocks and motoring to a 20.67 clocking in the 50 freestyle. Powerful sophomore Julian Mack complemented Cooper's effort by overcoming a weak start to nail down the bronze medal in 21.21.
The star of the 50, however, and perhaps of the meet thus far, was Harvard's super-psyched Geoff Seelen. Seelen surprised everyone who thought he was a backstroker by ripping off a 21.37 in the trials to sneak into the top eight. The man he displaced, much to the delight of cheering Crimson partisans, was mammoth Princeton junior Alan Stein, who settled for ninth.
Seelen's act didn't end there, however. The budding superstar demonstrated the value of his thrice weekly trips all summer from Cape Cod to Cambridge to train with Crimson coach Joe Bernal by leading off Harvard's medley relay with a 51.56 split for 100 yards backstroke. The sterling sophomore thereby qualified for that event at NCAAs.
Cornell's premier diver, Paul Steck, broke Harvard's gold monopoly by twisting and tumbling his way to his third consecutive eastern one-meter diving title in yet another record total of 503.0. The Crimson's steady duo of Steve Schramm and Jamie Greacen racked up 33 points by landing second and third, respectively. There had been a great deal of concern over whether Schramm, who hit his head on the board two days ago, would be fit to dive. But the former New Jersey state champion dispelled all fears when he nailed his first two dives on the way to a silver medal.
Princeton, who fell behind by 48 points after failing to score in the diving, recovered to win the thrilling medley relay, the evening's final event. Harvard finished third in the event (behind the Tigers and Army) on the strength of strong legs by Seelen and Mack (45.33 split for his 100 free anchor).
The struggle continues today with trials beginning at noon and finals at 7:30 p.m.