How Did George DiCarlo Win 400 Free Gold At 1984 Olympics But Lose Olympic Record?

Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Magazine

Each day through August 4, Jeff Commings will take you back 30 years to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, highlighting one of that day’s swimming events that continues to be a benchmark for the current culture of the sport. A full list of medalists from that day’s competition follows at the end of the article.

Feature by Jeff Commings

PHOENIX, Arizona, August 2. THOMAS Fahrner is probably the most famous Olympic swimmer whose name you probably don’t recognize. For four years, his name was listed as the Olympic record holder in the 400 freestyle, but not among the names of the event’s medalists.

Three days before the heats of the 400 free, Fahrner was part of the epic 800 free relay in which West Germany won the silver medal behind the Americans. Fahrner was picked as a medal hopeful in the 400 free, and in an effort to save energy for the final, cruised to a 3:55.26, good enough for ninth place and one spot out of the championship heat.

Fahrner could only watch as American George DiCarlo blazed through the final to win in 3:51.23, which erased Vladimir Salnikov’s record from the 1980 Olympics. It was a great moment for DiCarlo and the home crowd, who settled in to watch the “B” final mere minutes after DiCarlo’s swim.

Here’s how Swimming World Magazine described Fahrner’s consolation final swim:

Barely had the tumult (from the championship final) subsided when Fahrner jumped in to begin his consolation final swim. He, too, wasted no time in showing his intentions: Fahrner’s 100 split was 55.66, almost a full second faster than DiCarlo’s. He was a half-a-second ahead of DiCarlo’s time at 200 meters — nearly two seconds ahead of the consolation field – and seven-tenths ahead at 300. When he finished in 3:50.91, Spain’s Juan Enrique Escalas was more than four seconds back, at 3:55.25 – and DiCarlo’s record was history.

“I swam like bleep this morning,” Farhner said, accurately. “I decided then that I wanted to swim faster in the consolations than the winner. When I saw DiCarlo’s time, I was convinced I could beat it.

“I should have swum as hard as I could this morning,” he said, “instead of trying to take it easy and just qualify.”

Men’s 400 free medalists:
Gold:
George DiCarlo, USA (3:51.23)
Silver: John Mykkanen, USA (3:51.49)
Bronze: Justin Lemberg, Australia (3:51.79, Australian record)

Public video footage does not exist for Fahrner’s swim, but here is DiCarlo’s gold medal swim, as well as the valiant effort by American John Mykkanen to capture silver ahead of Australian Justin Limberg:

That was the first event of swimming finals on August 2, after a day of rest for all swimmers. Three swimming legends won their first Olympic medals on that day, including Mary T. Meagher in the 100 fly with a 59.26, well off her superhuman world record of 57.96 from 1981. Like many Americans who raced in 1984, Meagher was denied a chance for glory at the 1980 Olympics, but managed to stay with the sport to win three golds (also 200 fly and 400 medley relay) in 1984 and bronze in the 1988 Olympics.

Women’s 100 fly medalists:
Gold:
Mary T. Meagher, USA (59.26)
Silver: Jenna Johnson, USA (1:00.19)
Bronze: Karin Seick, West Germany (1:01.36)

Women’s 100 fly video:

Victor Davis had been waiting for the 1984 Olympics, hungry to win Olympic gold and show his dominance in the event to a worldwide audience. After breaking the world record at the Canadian Olympic Trials with a 2:14.58, Davis took it to another level with a 2:13.34.

The gold in the 200 breast had to feel very good for Davis after being relegated to silver in the 100 breast by Steve Lundquist. Davis had broken the 100 breast world record as well, but couldn’t catch Lundquist in the final strokes.

“Because I set the world record six to eight weeks ago,” Davis said, “I felt like I had to live up to my name. This is the first time I’ve ever felt pressure. I thought I handled it well.”

Davis would win a silver in the 400 medley relay at the 1988 Olympics. Thirteen months later, he was struck by a car in Montreal and died of his injuries two days later at age 25 years old.

Men’s 200 breast medalists:
Gold:
Victor Davis, Canada (2:13.34, world record)
Silver: Glenn Beringen, Australia (2:15.79, Australian record)
Bronze: Etienne Dagon, Switzerland (2:17.41, Swiss record)

Men’s 200 breast video

No one stood out among the field of eight in the women’s 100 breast final, which made the swim even more thrilling. Tracy Caulkins was out in lane eight, and took the race out hard in a bid for a second gold medal after winning the 400 IM.

But Petra Van Staveren led wire-to-wire, taking the victory in 1:09.88, an Olympic record and a lifetime best by almost a second. Caulkins was .18 away from a bronze medal, finishing fourth in 1:10.88.

“I still have to be happy,” Caulkins said. “It was my best time in a long time (since her American record in 1981) and a much better swim than this morning.”

Women’s 100 breast medalists:
Gold:
Petra Van Staveren, Holland (1:09.88, Olympic and Dutch record)
Silver: Anne Ottenbrite, Canada (1:10.69)
Bronze: Catherine Poirot, France (1:10.70)

Women’s 100 breast race video:

Though Rowdy Gaines was the star of Team USA for the men’s 400 free relay and preparing to file retirement papersm the tall and lanky California-bred kid swimming the third leg was just getting started on what would be an even more illustrious Olympic career.

Matt Biondi was the swimmer with the least-impressive credentials on the free relay. Mike Heath and Gaines had already won medals in Los Angeles. Cavanaugh was a part of the 1980 team and was looking for redemption. At that point, Biondi was just 18 years old – seven years younger than Gaines – but swam like a veteran in his first Olympic final. Biondi’s leg is what cemented the gold for the United States, as he gave 100 free champ Rowdy Gaines a lead of five tenths of a second over runner-up Mark Stockwell.

Biondi would go on to win 10 more Olympic medals in 1988 and 1992.

Unfortunately, no public race video exists of the men’s 400 free relay.

Men’s 400 free relay medalists:
Gold:
USA (Cavanaugh, Heath, Biondi, Gaines) (3:19.03, world record)
Silver: Australia (Fasala, Brookes, Delany, Stockwell) (3:19.68, Australian record)
Bronze: Sweden (Lejdstrom, Baron, Orn, Johansson) (3:22.69, Swedish record)

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. Great finds! It’s great to hear the commentary about technique. These videos definitely demonstrate trends in technique (high elbow freestyle, flat breaststroke, side-breathing butterfly, etc.) It makes me wonder what we will think of our current beliefs about technique 30 years from now.

    • Jeff Commings

      Ron, the flatter breaststroke was obviously a necessity to keep the head above water, as they say in the 200 breast video. Once that rule went away, that opened the door for the wave breaststroke.

      If there’s anything that might seem bizarre 30 years from now, it might involve breaststroke, since that’s the stroke that’s changed so much already.

  2. The flat breaststroke trend outlasted the rule through the early 2000′s with Roman Sludnov and Leisel Jones. It would be interesting to see a non-wave breaststroker emerge into the spotlight again.

    Leisel Jones’ 200 Breaststroke WR:

    I think the change of start rules and platforms could open the door for some interesting techniques. We’ll see what happens!

  3. Andy Ross

    These videos also show how far television commentary has begun. I feel like Jim Lampley, Mark Spitz, and Donna DeVarona have dumbed down these broadcasts so much whereas Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines today do a much better job. Like why would they blame Rick Carey’s slow time in the 200 back on wind? Are you serious? I also cannot stand Rick Carey’s pissed off attitude after he won the 200 back but what can I do? Despite this, I love these throwback videos!

    • Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines do an excellent job on commentary. I know it is en vogue at times for people to criticize what Hicks and Rowdy do in the swimming blogosphere, but I’m not quite sure people really understand what that job actually entails. It isn’t as simple as sit down, and yell into a microphone about what you are seeing.

      You have a director in your ear telling you all sorts of stuff they want you to talk about, and you have to listen to that AND have a chemistry-filled conversation with the other person, who also is hearing all the direction in their head set.

      I wish, for once, NBC would do something like ESPN did awhile back when they did a tv broadcast of a football game of the broadcast on ESPN2. You could hear everything in the background, and truly understand how intense it is. It’s way more difficult than people can ever understand unless they have listened to that chatter during a broadcast.

Author: Jeff Commings

Jeff Commings is the host of several shows on SwimmingWorld.TV, including "The Morning Swim Show," which features interviews with people making headlines in aquatic sports. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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