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CLEVELAND--"Cleveland?" my friends say as if I had just suggested a canoe trip in the Cambridge sewer system. "What in the world would you want to waste a week there for? All they have there are steel plants and lousy teams."
While the city that spawned such personalities as Dennis Kucinich and Bob Hope is hardly a mecca by any standards, it does have some nice attributes.
Music fans acknowledge northeast Ohio as a rock-and-roll hotbed. A multitude of popular new bands and the country's best rock radio station are located here. Next time you visit Aunt Betty and Uncle George in Shaker Heights, tune in 101; it will make your visit bearable.
Although most of the city's population probably couldn't care less. Cleveland State University provides the Lake Erie port, another claim to fame.
At 1062 Euclid Avenue--J.B. Jackson's told us in Gas Stations that a Euclid Avenue address used to be roughly analogous in prestige to one on Park Avenue or present-day Sunset Boulevard--stands the University's physical education building, which houses the best swimming pool in the United States, and quite possibly the world.
Good is synonomous with fast in describing swimming pools, and Cleveland State's natatorium is unquestionably the fastest around. Its extreme depth (12-16 ft. in the competition end) and huge, wave-swallowing gutters minimize turbulence and thus, maximize potential for record performances. It is no coincidence that current American swimming records practically parallel Cleveland State pool records.
In 1977, NCAA meet competitors set new American records in every event at Cleveland State. Last year, when the meet moved to the shallow-water confines of long Beach's Belmont Plaza pool, the swimmers broke only one of those records.
The same thing happened in '75 and '76, when the meet was held first at Cleveland State and then at Brown. Almost all the records fell the first year, and practically none the second, even though the latter was an Olympic year.
"You simply couldn't build a better pool for competition," University of Southern California swimmer John Naber said after setting three American records in the 1977 NCAA's. "They should have this meet here all the time," he added.
Considering the performances have yesterday (see meet story), one would have to agree.
Crimson coach Joe Bernal came to Harvard two years ago with the stated intention of developing a national-caliber swimming program. He sought to prove that such a program, even with its necessary massive time-commitment, could be compatible with a rigorous academic atmosphere.
In Bernal's first season last year, the Crimson leapt onto the national swimming scene, finishing 15th at the NCAA's. Three weeks ago, strong recruiting and steady improvement by team members brought Harvard's first Eastern Championship title.
While winning the Easterns is a significant milestone documenting Harvard's emergence as the dominant Eastern swimming power, a major swimming program is judged only by its performance at the national championships.
Regional and conference championships serve as qualifying preliminaries to the NCAA's and as development meets for a school's lesser stars. But only the nation's outstanding swimmers score points at the NCAA's. It's as simple as that.
No one is more aware of this distinction than Joe Bernal and the top recruits that he is currently attempting to woo away from the traditional powerhouses.
"It is imperative that we score at least as many points as last year if we are to have a legitimate shot at getting some of these guys," Bernal said before leaving for Cleveland. "The recruits all have their eyes on what's happening there," he added.
The attraction of a school with a strong overall program is heightened in the mind of a potential NCAA point-scorer because 1980 is an Olympic year.
Since any recruit who considers himself good enough to be scoring at NCAA's also views himself as a potential Olympian, the last thing he wants to do is to attend a school whose swimmers do well during the year but not at the big meets.
Olympian Bobby Hackett is a strong lure but he will leave after two more seasons. So this is the year that Harvard must land several top recruits if the drive toward national prominence is to be continued.
The NCAA's will be held at Harvard next year--that in itself is a good recruiting tool. But good performances at the nationals are a coach's strongest leverage and this weekend could well have great impact on determining Harvard's swimming future.
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