"Ladies and gentlemen, you have just seen what Easterns swimming is all about," the announcer at Blodgett Pool said after Harvard's roofraising victory in the Eastern Championship 800-yd: freestyle relay last night.
He was referring to that special quality of unpredictability which characterizes special events--like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Harvard-B.U. Beanpot clashes of a few years ago, and swimming's Easterns.
You quite simply can never tell what will happen next in the emotion-charged atmosphere of an Easterns meet--witness Andy Saltzman's upset of Bobby Hackett and Harvard's wild finish in the 800 free relay last night. Or consider the unfortunate fact that Geoff Seelen banged his head on the starting block while pulling himself up for the start of the 100 backstroke after looking like a shoo-in for his first Eastern gold, and consequently had to settle for a silver.
Tonight's finals promise to be absolutely dandy. "We're going to make it fun," Princeton's laid-back but uncannily successful coach Bill Farley said at the conclusion of last night's heartstopping action.
The biggest of the countless question marks surrounding the finale is the health of Harvard wonderboy Bobby Hackett, who came down with a fever Thursday night and lost his 200 duel with Saltzman last night. Hackett should win the evening's opening race, the 1650 yd. freestyle, handily despite his illness.
But his role in the potentially decisive 400-yd. freestyle relay (the meet's last event) may well be the key to the weekend for the Crimson. Even weak memories can't help but recall the showdown that Hackett barely lost to Princeton's Andy O'Hara in the last leg of that event exactly one year ago.
The status of O'Hara himself is uncertain, after his mysteriously lifeless eighth place finish in the 500 free on Thursday and his personal disappointment at the pair of low 1:40's that he turned in last night while taking fourth in the 200 free and leading off Princeton's ill-fated 800 free relay.
The man they call "Beaver" will have another pair of moments of truth tonight in the 100 free and the final, apocalyptic relay. In both races, O'Hara will accompany the Tigers' renowned crop of freestyle specialists (probably Alan Fine, Saltzman, and Howard Nelson) to the medals stand. The only question is exactly where they will stand.
"Princeton's gonna try to do the same thing in the 100 (free) that they did in the 200," Crimson mentor Joe Bernal predicted last night, referring to the four Tigers in the eight man 200 free final. But Harvard's second-year coach plans to unleash a few seahorses of his own tonight.
Julian Mack and Malcolm Cooper, who qualified first and second (and finished fourth and sixth) in this event in last year's meet at Providence, are both entered in the sprint tonight. Ex-local schoolboy star Jack Gauthier will accompany that duo to the starting blocks in what could be the night's wildest individual race. Gauthier motored to a lightning-quick split of 1:40.19 in his leg of the Crimson's victorious 800 free relay last night.
Another of Harvard's freshman hydroplanes, Ron Raikula, appears likely to join Hackett and superb Cornell diver Paul Steck in the exclusive double-winners' club. Raikula, who smoked the field last night in the 400 IM, should win his specialty--the 200-yd. backstroke--by as much as a full second.
Princeton can match that with at least a silver from lanky sophomore John Christensen in the 200 breast and a certain medal from butterflier Bill Specht. Specht, however, is unshaven (he's saving it for the NCAA's) and took only fourth in last night's 100--"his best event" according to coach Farely. So he may not be able to swipe the gold in the 200 fly final--which might include Harvard hero Mike Coglin and hopefully will see Campari Knoepfler and Dan Menichella in the field.
Other questions remain. Can Crimson freshman Tim Maximoff nab the silver in the 1650? Can diver Steve Schramm recover from a stitched-up head and a flu bug which has caused him to lose 81/2 lbs. in the last five days?