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Feature by Jason Marsteller
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 27. AGAINST the backdrop of an Olympic boycott by the United States of the Moscow-based 1980 Olympic Games, plenty of strong swims occurred at the U.S. Olympic Trials held in Irvine, Calif.
A pair of longtime friendly competitors, Concord-Pleasant Hill's Peter Rocca touched out Conquistador's Bob Jackson at the wall in the men's 100 back, 56.64 to 56.78. The .14-second gap is the smallest margin of victory in Trials' history of the event in finals, and that is amongst what has been a pretty competitive set of finals since Ray Kegeris of Los Angeles first captured the 100 back Trials title with a 1.22 3/5s in Chicago, Ill., in 1920. The meet's largest margin of victory has been a 1.4-second triumph of Yoshi Oyakawa of Ohio State over Navy's Jack Taylor, 1:05.7 to 1:07.1, in 1952.
Back to Rocca and Jackson, the duo had been swimming against each other for years prior to 1980, including AAU and NCAA matchups.
“Bob and I are competitive in a very nice way,” Rocca said. “If he beats me I'm not mad and he's the same way. But it's funny that I beat him tonight because I think his race is the 100 and mine is the 200.”
Rocca was definitely looking for a win at the end of his career, ended prematurely by the boycott, after he'd earlier lost to Steve Barnicoat of Mission Viejo, 2:01.06 to 2:01.34, in the men's 200 back.
“The 200 was my first event and I felt a lot of pressure,” Rocca said. “But in the 100, I wasn't a favorite. I was really relaxed going in. And I felt good warming up.”
Rocca was happy with the win, but disappointed in the time, which was slower than the Olympic gold medal time of 56.53 clocked by Sweden's Bengt Baron.
“I thought I would be faster tonight,” Rocca said. “In my last race I wanted to go out with my best time. I thought Bob would take off tonight and go a 55 and I hoped to be there with him. But it's taking more and more just to win rather than break the record. And this just turned out to be the race I won.”
“Peter's as good as anyone I know at finding the wall,” said Coach Nort Thornton. “I'm really pleased he got the win. He's a great competitor and a great person. I feel for Bob, too. It would have been great for him to win his last race, too.”