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, July 29. Who shared the gold medal in the women’s 100 freestyle in the first swimming finals of the 1984 Olympics? The answer follows…
The first day of swimming competition at the Los Angeles Olympic Games could not have started much better for the American squad. Eight years after their last appearance at the Olympics – thanks to a boycott of the 1980 Olympics – Team USA won three of the four gold medals to whip the home crowd into a frenzy on the opening day. Though Steve Lundquist and Michael Gross set world records in the 100 breast and 200 free, respectively, it was a jaw-dropping final of the women’s 100 free that would be the talk of the town.
For the first time in Olympic competition, two swimmers were given the gold medal. The naked eye would not have been able to tell if Carrie Steinseifer or Nancy Hogshead got their hand on the wall first, but luckily electronic timing was on hand to make the ultimate decision.
Here’s how Swimming World Magazine described the race in the September 1984 issue:
In the race itself (Annemarrie) Verstappen was out in front immediately, but the lead she held at 25 meters had faded somewhat by the 50 when she touched at 26.96, just five-hundredths ahead of Hogshead. It is usually Hogshead’s trademark to swim a stronger second 50, but this time it was Steinseifer, who, along with Hogshead, passed Verstappen and came from a 27.30-27.01 deficit at the halfway mark to tie for first place.”
“I didn’t even see the scoreboard,” Steinseifer said after the race. “I head Nancy yell, ‘It’s a tie, it’s a tie.’ I had to look twice to see the scoreboard. I didn’t know it was that close.”
Watch video of the race, including a post-race interview with the winners and the medal ceremony.
Hogshead, now married and taking the name Nancy Hogshead-Makar, has been a constant presence in swimming since that momentous swim as the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation. She works for equality in all sports, and is continually outspoken for Title IX opportunities for women in collegiate athletes. She took the time to relive her golden moment with Swimming World.
Swimming World: After not being able to compete in the 1980 Olympics, how did it feel to qualify for the 1984 team?
Nancy Hogshead-Makar: I was just 17 when President Carter announced the United States would not be attending the Moscow Olympics. By the time I made the 1980 team, I’d been world-ranked for almost four years. I’d been on a World Championship team and I’d competed in dual meets with the East Germans and Russians. I thought the Olympics would be like these other events – hey, these other events felt pretty epic to me.
It wasn’t until I arrived to the 1984 pool in Los Angeles that the enormity of the Olympic Games grabbed me; this was – and is – unlike any other sporting event. Through 100 small experiences, I grasped that the Olympics weren’t about me winning, or a country’s medal count, or an event for television – that the Olympics were a celebration of humanity; a celebration of the best in all of us. I’d say most of the people attending knew little about our sport, but they were so moved by the performances, the same way people are moved by great art or music or a speech or literature. Watching the best of anything stirs the soul and the Olympic Games showcases the world’s best athletic feats on a stage for the world to cheer.
So in 1984, the profound loss of 1980 really sunk in. It wasn’t just a personal loss to me and many of my teammates who didn’t get a second shot – it was a loss to the world.
SW: If the 50 freestyle had been a part of the 1984 Olympic schedule, how do you think you would have fared?
Hogshead-Makar: Not well.
I had been a middle-distance swimmer most of my career. I broke my first American Records in both butterflies in 1977, and had qualified for the 1980 team in the 400 IM and 200 fly.
How’d I end up swimming the 100? About six months before the ’84 trials, I saw that Tracy Caulkins had the gold IMs locked up, and Mary T. Meagher had a similar lock on the butterflies. My second places in those events were similarly pretty safe. But I saw an opportunity to win a gold in the 100 and 200 free.
Sure enough, at Trials just .8 seconds separated first and sixth place in the 100 free, whereas a whopping 2.5 seconds separated me from third place in the 200 fly, and 1.1 seconds between me and third in the 200 IM.
So I took a risk and went for the freestyles, for the sprints. It wasn’t a sure-thing, but I had a shot. So I took it!
SW: Take us through those moments immediately after the finish of the 100 free, especially when you realized you had tied for gold with teammate Carrie Steinseifer.
Hogshead-Makar: At the trials, I touched the wall and had no idea if I’d made the team. Oh, the pure glee in seeing a “1” next to my name!
Touching the wall at the Olympics was the same; it was so close, I had no idea if I’d even medaled. I turned around and saw a “2” after my name, and an expletive escaped from my mouth (to be caught on camera, yikes.) But then I saw that our times lined up perfectly with each other when Carrie and I had been swimming in lanes next to each other. Carrie was in full-celebration mode, splashing around, and I turned to her and sputtered with a slack-jaw expression, “Carrie! We tied!” Then it was about 30 seconds of not-knowing…. was the board correct? What would the officials do? Then the announcer said in that low announcer-voice, “THE BOARD IS OFFICIAL. CARRIE STEINSEIFER AND NANCY HOGSHEAD HAVE TIED FOR THE OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL.”
I think just about everyone can imagine how that felt.
SW: As thrilling as winning that 100 free was, you had a health scare in the 200 fly final. What happened?
Hogshead-Makar: Just before the 200 fly – my last of five events – it was obvious that I was having a hard time getting full breath. Behind the blocks, I was putting my hands on my hips, flexing out my rib cage, loosening my belly and relaxing my back, trying to get a full breath.
The last 20 meters of the race, it felt like I couldn’t breathe – in or out. I finished fourth by .07.
Because I wasn’t in the medal’s circle, I was shuttled to a small side room, where a physician happened to see me cough and breathe, hands on knees, bent over, white lips. “Do you always cough like that after a hard race?” And I said proudly, “Yes I do.” He squinted his eyes and asked me to get on a treadmill. Um, sure. I had just finished an eight-year swimming career as a world-class athlete… did I want to get on a treadmill for another test? A few days later, I did. And the diagnosis was exercise-induced asthma.
When my asthma was triggered, I was losing half my lung function: when I really pushed it, when I swam hard in dry air, when I had a cold. The diagnosis made “a-ha” perfect sense – I never swam as fast in dry, outdoor weather as I did indoors where mildew grew on the ceiling. I didn’t know why I didn’t swim as well in California – perhaps I was a head-case or didn’t travel time-zones well. I seemed to need more warm-up than my peers (an hour). The bronco-constriction and inflammation were cumulative, so that of course the last event would be harder than the first. And here I thought that my dramatic passing out, my whooping cough, my purple face, were all signs of being a true toughie. Ha!
But the good news is that I got the opportunity to advocate for asthmatics for about 15 years, funded by GlaxoSmithKline. I was in up to 50 cities a year for asthmatics, giving up to eight lectures per day – to physicians, school nurses, legislatures, advocates, asthma support groups, the media. So I got my 10,000 hours of public speaking in!
SW: You had a very diverse individual event schedule in Los Angeles: 100 free, 200 IM, 200 fly. How did you approach training for these events between Trials and the Olympics?
Hogshead-Makar: It was an odd assortment of events, yes? I had thought my best chance of winning with a world record was the 200 freestyle. I had gone 2:00 unshaven just a few months before the Trials. Cynthia Woodhead won with a 2:00. But, I didn’t have a good finals at trials, and didn’t make the team in the 200. It would have made the event-grouping more sense.
How did I train? I focused on the middle-distance events, with some 100 free sprint sets thrown in. Sprinters were a little flaky, more variance to their workouts, more outward worry when it wasn’t “there.” Pablo Morales was the opposite of that – bad practices rolled off him like Babe Ruth’s strike-out-streaks. They didn’t mean anything. I loved training with Pablo and my other Concord-Pleasant Hill Swim Team teammates – Teri Baxter, Peter Rocca, Steve Gregg, Barb Major, Dan Akre and others – what a hard-working bunch we were.
Still, I wonder what I could have done if I’d trained as a sprinter. I haven’t met a swimmer yet that didn’t play that fun “what-if” game.
SW: Where do you keep your Olympic medals?
Hogshead-Makar: I have a “shrine” – the downstairs powder room, just before the restroom, that is wall-to-wall magazine covers, posters, awards and photos. One of my medals is in there; the one I grab before giving a speech to a YMCA, Police Athletic League, Girls and Boys’ Club, Rotary, Girls’ Inc., Scouting, Rotary. The other three from 1984 are in a drawer, where they’re preserved a lot better than the travel-medal.
I had a few overly-hectic years when our twins were babies. I had a book contract, I was up for tenure at the law school, and my husband got his dream job as Florida’s Solicitor General… in Tallahassee, 2-1/2 hours away. During this time I lost one of my medals. I couldn’t even muster the wherewithal to call the police. A few years after acknowledging a medal was missing, a friend called to thank me for loaning it to the Jacksonville Coliseum for display for the past several years… and when could he return it? It was then that I realized that I was indeed 50 (years old).
SW: You travel the country as the Senior Director of Advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation. How do you feel your Olympic success has helped you be able to spread the word about equality in sports?
Hogshead-Makar: I could not have imagined how an Olympic medal would change my life. I already knew I wanted to be an advocate for women, for those without power. I was raped in college, just 2-1/2 years before the 1984 Olympic Games. Before that time, I knew sexism existed, I just didn’t think it would affect me. I thought my strength, my toughness, my smarts would keep me from getting close to sexism. I walked out of those woods knowing that until it got better for all women, it wouldn’t get better for me.
My Olympic medals meant I could laser in on women in sports – for participation opportunities, for equal treatment and scholarships; to end pregnancy discrimination, and sexual abuse in sport. So it’s probably no surprise that at these Olympic Games, I also started my association with the Women’s Sports Foundation.
For swimmers, gender equality is a given. We all swim side-by-side, lap-for-lap, and lift weight-for-weight with each other. For many other female athletes, they have to work hard to rationalize why their soccer fields, their softball stadium and scoreboard, their field hockey coach’s qualifications don’t measure up to what the school provides their male athletes. So I think swimmers like myself and one of my early mentors, Donna de Varona, are empowered by having the swimming experience. We expect equity.
At the same time, being a female athlete, being unusually muscular, being ambitious, embracing my competitiveness – the world reminded almost daily that I didn’t conform to gender norms. Joe Ehrmann has a great definition for both masculinity and femininity: being judged by who you love and who loves you, and being committed to something bigger than yourself – rather than money or sexiness or athleticism or pleasing others. Being a civil rights lawyer, a long time gender-equity advocate and a feminist requires a certain toughness, a shedding of the desire to please when it conflicts with what’s right. I think I got that from swimming.
I can’t believe how long I’ve been doing this. Longer than I was a swimmer. In 1993, all signs were pointing towards Title IX being a necessity of the past – the NCAA now required progress towards gender equity as a condition of membership, the case law was coming down very strongly for true equality, and the Department of Education was issuing clear guidance for Title IX compliance. If you’d have told me that I’d still be doing this, that I’d need to still be doing this, I’d have politely told you that you were oh-so-wrong. Yet girls and women still lag behind men in every measurable criteria. So I’d like to thank swimming for cultivating grit, the #1 swimmer’s trait!
Swimming Olympic medalists, July 29, 1984
Women 100 free
Gold: Nancy Hogshead and Carrier Steinseifer, USA (55.92)
Bronze: Annemarie Verstappen, Netherlands (56.08)
Men 100 breast
Gold: Steve Lundquist, USA (1:01.65, world record)
Silver: Victor Davis, Canada (1:01.99)
Bronze: Peter Evans, Australia (1:02.97)
100 breast race video:
Women 400 IM
Gold: Tracy Caulkins, USA (4:39.24, American record)
Silver: Suzanne Landelis, Australia (4:48.30)
Bronze: Petra Zindler, West Germany (4:48.57)
400 IM race video:
Men 200 free
Gold: Michael Gross, West Germany (1:47.44, world record)
Silver: Mike Heath, USA (1:49.10)
Bronze: Thomas Fahrner, West Germany (1:49.69)
200 free race video:
Race videos courtesy Gary Kilbride