By M. Duncan Scott
SACRAMENTO, Calif., September 15. WHAT a joy the 4 x 200 freestyle relay was in the Olympics. The U.S. wins a nail biter at the wall, even after nearly getting run down already by the 100 meter mark of the last leg.
The American anchor held off the “swimmer of the age” from the country that was favored in this relay, coming into the meet as the world record holder.
The US opened with their American record holder, who had medaled in the individual 200 race, in an attempt to get a lead. The coaches took this unusual strategy knowing that whoever swam the US anchor would have to have a pretty good lead to have any chance at all. The hope was also to have enough of a lead that it might disrupt the race strategy of the opposing anchor, causing him to go out too fast, giving the American anchor, a notorious “back half” swimmer, a fighting chance over the last 50.
The US leadoff came up against the favorite’s second best, a mid distance freestyle medalist. Not much margin to expect there but the US did manage a lead of just over a second on the opening leg. The middle US legs managed to extend the lead to just over a second and a half. And then came the real excitement. The opponent’s anchor was everything we were concerned with as he cut into the US lead right from the block. And as the US anchor cutoff the opponent’s advance over the last 50, it was some of the most exciting swim racing in history, period. Whew!
US Olympic staff, including Coach Reese, told the swimmers to make sure they swam their own races. The American anchor took that advice to heart the best, and it worked to perfection. He touched .04 ahead of their rivals to win the gold!
Wait a minute. Didn’t the Americans just win out over the Australians in Athens by .13?
The Aussies? No, I’m talking about the “Grossbusters.” You know. Los Angeles. 1984. US touches out the West German juggernaut lead-off by 200 free bronze medal winner Thomas Fahrner and anchored by Michael Gross, “The Albatross” who won the 200 free and 100 fly and across his career held world records in not only those events but the 400 free and 200 fly to boot. But after a leadoff from American record holder and 200 silver medalist Mike Heath, and good interior legs from David Larson and Captain Jeff Float, the lead for Bruce Hayes was 1.56. It looked like Gross was mowing him down, but Hayes doggedly stuck to his own race plan just as the US staff of Head Coach Don Gambril, which included coach Randy Reese, had encouraged them to do. Hayes was ready for that last 50 and got his hand to the wall before Gross. What a race. I remember it like it was yesterday!
What are you talking about?
The similarities were almost…no they were fully spooky. The only difference between the 4 x 200 race in Athens and the one in Los Angeles is that no one has come up with a cool and timely nickname for the American squad of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay and Klete Keller that touched first in Athens for Head Coach Eddie Reese.
Before this Games SwimInfo had asked readers to share their Olympic memories, whether of being on the team or the efforts to get there. We were blessed, after the 800 relay, to hear from the third leg of the “Grossbusters,” US Team Captain Jeff Float, who was apparently stirred like the rest of us by the battle in this race, only he had truly personal memories to be stirred. We are pleased to share with you his thoughts. After reading it you’ll probably understand at least a bit why his teammates chose him as a captain. Thanks, Jeff.
As far as that cool nickname, maybe Jeff has come up with another important contribution to Olympic relay history. Fab Four? Well, maybe that’s been used before, though it sure sounds right for the Athens group!
Dear SWIM INFO:
I watched with tremendous pride (and MANY goose bumps) as the drama of the USA men’s 4×200 free relay played out against the favored Aussies. As team captain and member of the “Grossbusters” relay which captured gold in Los Angeles 20 years ago, I was absolutely amazed at the uncanny similarities between the two races. Was history actually repeating itself? Were classic Coaches Eddie Reese and Mark Schubert pulling out the same strategy from the same page of their 1984 playbook? The display of emotions emitted from the Fab Four — Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay, and Klete Keller — really said it all!!!
CONGRATULATIONS to all returning Athens Athletes. Our 2004 Swim Team is to be commended, in particular, for their ever-present international sportsmanship, mind-boggling accomplishments, and awe-inspiring team spirit. Thank you for epitomizing the strength, joy, and hope of the Olympic Movement.
1980/1984 USA Swim Team