50 Year Lookback of 1968 Mexico City Olympics: Felipe Muñoz Stuns With Mexico’s First Ever Swimming Gold Medal on Day Six

felipe-munoz
Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive

Each day through October 26, Swimming World will take you back 50 years to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and will re-tell the stories of those Games through archived meet recaps via the Swimming World Vault.

Read More on the 1968 Olympics

October 22, 1968

Men’s 100 Back

Charles Hickcox, Larry Barbiere, and Ronnie Mills, USA, were faced with the task of beating Roland Matthes, the speedy German in the 100 backstroke, Canada’s Jim Shaw and Holland’s Bob Schoutsen were outside chances for medals. Matthes and the Americans were the four fastest qualifiers in the 100 backstroke with Matthes setting an Olympic record of 1:01.0 in the preliminaries to break Australian David Thiele’s 1:01.6 set in Rome in 1960.

The finals saw Matthes and Hickcox in a tremendous psyching duel to see who could get into the water last. Hickcox won. In the race it was different. Matthes moved out to an early lead, but Ronnie Mills, USA, was with the leader at 25 meters. Matthes took a clear cut lead at 40 meters and was first to turn by a good half stroke. Mills was second, Hickcox third, and Barbiere, Shaw, and Franco Del Campo, Italy, were all about even for fourth.

Matthes came off the wall with a half a body length lead and steadily pulled away with no one to challenge him after 75 meters. Mills was still ahead of Hickcox, and Barbiere was a clear fourth going into the last 15 meters as Matthes ran away with the gold medal. Hickcox passed Mills in the last 10 meters to nab second.
The East German swam 58.7, an Olympic record, with Hickcox second at 1:00.2, and Mills getting the bronze medal with 1:00.5. Barbiere took fourth in 1:01.1 followed by Shaw, 1:01.4, Schoutsen, 1:01.8, Reinhard Blechert, West Germany, 1:01.9, and Del Campo, 1:02.0 eighth.

Matthes said after the race, “I thought I was very fast at the first 50. It is my coach who deserves the credit. She made my successes and it was all her technique and experience that made me.” The 17-year-old high school student continued: “The Americans are very good. My coach is Mrs. Maurice Grohert. My school takes up a lot of my training time, but I have worked very hard so far with good results.”

Hickcox commented, “I was tired but I don’t think it mattered. He won it a lot easier than I thought he would. I was trying to get out faster but I just couldn’t. It was just one of those things, Matthes swam a great race and so did Ronnie. I think he slipped on the turn or else he might have done better.”

Mills said: “I thought I was going great and then I wen t a little deep on my turn and got behind. I think I was ahead of Charlie and even with Matthes at the time. I tried to get going again but it was tough.”

Medalists:

  1. Roland Matthes, GDR, 58.7
  2. Charlie Hickcox, USA, 1:00.2
  3. Ronnie Mills, USA, 1:00.5

Historical Notes:

  • Matthes won Germany’s first gold medal in the event since Arno Bieberstein won the inaugural 100 back gold in London in 1908.
  • Matthes would go on to defend his 100 back title four years later in 1972, and again win bronze in 1976.
  • Germany would not win another medal again in this event until Stev Theloke won bronze in 2000.
  • Matthes was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1981.

WATCH FULL RACE (10:57)

Women’s 200 Free

In the women’s 200 meter freestyle Debbie Meyer, USA, qualified ahead of her two American teammates, Jane Barkman and Jan Henne with an Olympic record of 2:13.1.

In the finals of the event she took it out hard, as usual, and had a slight lead over Barkman at the 50 meter turn. At the 100 meter halfway mark, Meyer lead by an arm length over Barkman, with Lynette Bell, Australia and Henne following. Debbie’s split was 1:04.0.

As they moved down the pool for the last 75 meters it looked like a third for Debbie, who could not be expected to outsprint her faster teammates, who, with Bell and Mirjana Segrt, Yugoslavia, were close behind. At the 150 Meyer had a slight edge over Barkman and Henne, but Jan lost a little on the turn. At 140 meters, Barkman had moved even with Meyer.

The three Americans came plowing for the finish and were almost swimming as one, but Debbie continued to fight off her teammates challenges and forged ahead to win by a stroke in 2:10.5, an Olympic record.

Miss Henne caught Janie 10 meters from home for second in 2:11.0 and Miss Barkman took the bronze medal with 2:11.2 for an American sweep. Gabriele Wetzko, East Germany, 2:13.3, Claude Mandonnaud, France, 2:14.9, Miss Bell, 2:15.1, and Olga Kozicova, Czechoslovakia, eighth, 2:16.0, followed in that order.

Debbie, who had been ill before the race, said, “It was a tough race, and I’m happy to win it. It’s my toughest race because it’s so fast. I wanted to be out fast and hold them off and I guess it worked.” Earlier in the day, Miss Meyer had swam an 800 meter qualifying heat which might have tired her for the finals of the 200.

Miss Henne, 21, said, “I wanted to be out with her (Debbie Meyer) and then pour it on the last 50, but not go to sleep the third 50, which is where I usually lose it. So, I started kicking on the third lap and then coming home on the fourth lap my arms got tired and my legs went dead and I had a weird feeling I wasn’t going anyplace. I didn’t know if I could beat her or not.”

Miss Barkman said, “I thought I was going all out that last 50 but I was dead. I thought I still had a chance to win it but my arms gave out and when they go you really slow down.”

Medalists:

  1. Debbie Meyer, USA, 2:10.5
  2. Jan Henne, USA, 2:11.0
  3. Jane Barkman, USA, 2:11.2

Historical Notes:

  • This was the first time the women’s 200 free was contested at the Olympics as it was the debut of six new women’s events. The 100 breast, 200 free, 800 free, 200 back, 200 fly and 200 IM made their Olympic debuts in 1968.
  • The women’s 4×200 free relay did not get introduced to the Olympic lineup until 1996.
  • Meyer is one of three women to win the 200 and 400 free in the same Olympics. Shane Gould (1972) and Katie Ledecky (2016) are the other two.
  • The Americans have won this event five times at the Olympics, the most of any country.
  • Debbie Meyer was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977.

Men’s 200 Breast

Felipe Muñoz of Mexico could not have been figured to win the men’s 200 meter breaststroke, yet the 17-year-old qualified first with 2:31.1. Still, not many of the experts would have selected Muñoz over the tough Russians, who qualified all three of their stars, Vladimir Kosinsky, Nickolay Pankin, and Eugeny Mikhailov, or the upset minded Americans, who qualified two of their swimmers, Brian Job and Philip Long. Egon Henninger, East Germany, was also a threat.

In the finals the 17-year old triumphed in the classic style of coming from behind to emerge as the victor. Kosinsky was the first to take the lead and led Job and Henninger into the first turn by a stroke. He continued to lead the field and was first at the 100 meter turn at 1:12.3 with Henninger, 1:12.6, Job, 1:13.4, and Muñoz, fourth,  1:13.8.

As the race progressed toward the 150 mark Pankin and Henninger came up to challenge Kosinsky. No one noticed Muñoz was also coming up, but remained in fourth as Job hung onto second. At the 150 turn the Mexican spectators went wild thinking Muñoz had a chance. He had passed Pankin immediately after coming off the wall. The roar reached a crescendo as he closed in on Job and passed him. The bedlam never ceased as h e drew even on Kosinsky and then flicked out his arms at the finish for a victory. The roof “blew off” as his country-men screamed “Mejico, Mejico”. Muñoz, the first Mexican to ever win a Olympic gold medal in swimming, had become their hero.

Felipe’s final time was 2:28.7, for Kosinsky, 2:29.2, and for Job, 2:29.9 to round out the medal winners. Pankin was fourth in 2:30.3, followed by Mikhailov, 2:32.8, Henninger, 2:33.2, Long seventh, 2:33.6 (2:33.1 in prelims), and Osamu Tsurumine, Japan, eighth with 2:34.9 (2:33.9 in prelims).

Muñoz was very emotional after the victory and said: “I can’t express how I feel upon winning Mexico’s first gold medal. I swam the race  the way my  trainer, Ron Johnson wanted me to, he said to start off slowly and pick it up as the race progressed and this is what I did.”

Job, 16, said, “I think the race went just about as expected. Judging from previous experiences I thought it would go this way. I didn’t know what place I would get. You just go out and try your best and then wait to see what happens.”

Muñoz added, “When I touched the plate and saw the clock I could hardly believe it. My first impression was to jump like everybody else. I didn’t realize I had passed Kosinsky because I went out to swim my own race and that’s what I did. I didn’t look at anybody else.”

Medalists:

  1. Felipe Muñoz, MEX, 2:28.7
  2. Vladimir Kosinsky, URS, 2:29.2
  3. Brian Job, USA, 2:29.9

Historical Notes:

  • Muñoz’s gold medal remains Mexico’s only gold medal in swimming to this day.
  • Muñoz also picked up Mexico’s first ever medal in swimming
  • Swimming World ranked this as the fifth greatest upset in Olympic Swimming history in its June 2005 issue.
  • Muñoz was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1991.

WATCH FULL RACE (3:10)

WATCH RACE AS PART OF 1968 OFFICIAL OLYMPIC FILM (16:15)

(turn on closed captioning for Muñoz’s re-telling)

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