50 Year Lookback of 1968 Mexico City Olympics: Klaus Dibiasi Wins Gold, Roland Matthes Breaks World Record on Final Day

klaus-dibiasi-1968-10m-platform-podium
Photo Courtesy: International Swimming Hall of Fame ISHOF)

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 26, 1968

Men’s 10m Diving

The 10-meter platform dive is always a spectacular event. It requires iron nerves and a repertoire of difficult dives that must be executed with great consistency, for one error and you can never recover.

There were 36 entries in the event and the field included the favorite, Klaus Dibiasi, Italy; Soviet champion, Mikhail Safonov; three outstanding Americans, and three very well trained Mexicans.

Rick Gilbert, U.S., got off to a shaky start, scoring poorly on his first and fourth dive and never made the final flight of 12.

Mexico’s Álvaro Gaxiola, 31, a veteran of many international competitions, scored high on his fourth dive to give him the lead after the first day, 58.04 to Dibiasi’s 55.07, followed by Win Young, U.S., 52.90 and Keith Russell, U.S., 51.84.

After the second day, with three more dives completed, Dibiasi had moved into a well earned lead with a 108.04 point total. Gaxiola had 103.33 points, with the American pair, Russell at 101.38 and Young 99.98. Lother Matthes, East Germany, had amassed 92.19, just a few points behind Franco Cagnotto, Italy, 94.73 and barely ahead of the Soviet pair, Vladimir Vasin, 91.91 and Safonov, 91.43. Also still in the picture were the Mexicans, Jose Robinson. 91.16 and Luis Niño de Rivera, 93.66.

The final round of dives was more of a contest between the judges and the vociferous crowd of Mexican spectators, whose feeling for sportsmanship must have been developed at the bullring.

The spectators, lacking any knowledge of how diving is scored, not only intimidated the judges into high scores for their countrymen…something that was not unexpected, but their hoots, whistling and jeers must have affected the other competitors. Perhaps the most disgraceful outburst occurred after Gaxiola’s ninth dive when the unruly mob of partisan fans angered by what they believed was too low a score by the judges, brought the competitions to a complete stop for at least 20 minutes by their boos and whistles. Russell was forced to stand on the platform during this outburst, and when it somewhat subsided he attempted to execute his dive. Needless to say, the crowd achieved its purpose, as he dove poorly on a dive that is one of his best and one which he scored eights and nines with at the Trials in Long Beach. It cost him a medal.

Dibiasi, the silver medal winner at Tokyo, was magnificent. The 21-year old physical education student gave Italy its first gold medal ever in swimming and diving as he finished with a total of 164.18 points. His eighth dive, an inward 2 1/2 somersault, tuck position, picked up 19.92 points. He followed this up with 20.02 points from his 3 1/2 forward somersault, tuck and then hit 16.20 on his final dive to clinch the gold medal.

Gaxiola was awarded most generously on his last dive picking up 18.89 points on a 3 1/2 somersault, tuck. It was just enough to give him the edge over Young who had scored 20.88 points from a 1½ forward somersault, with three twists, free position. Young had 153.93 and the Mexican 154.49.

Russell, who could only place second or third with a miracle, made his last dive after the Mexicans had already shouted their approval of Gaxiola’s second placing. Keith picked up 21.17 points on his 1 1/2 forward somersault, three twists, free position for a total of 152.34 points, enough for fourth.

Fifth went to Robinson, 143.62, followed by Matthes, 141.75, de Rivera, 141.16, Cagnotto, 138.89 and Safonov, 138.77.

Dibiasi, 21, six feet tall, was thankful for diving so well: “I am fortunate that Italy is getting better facilities and coaches. My father is my coach and Mr. Gerlitz, the coach of Cagnotto, also helped me. I was not aware of the judging, I had to worry about my diving. I was aware of Gaxiola, having dove with him before in Tokyo and here last year in Mexico City, and he has always been close.”

Gaxiola, said that he had thought after hitting the board in 1964 he was through, but after taking time off from his engineering job he got into condition for the Olympic competition.

Young said: “Keith and I have been very close in local Arizona and national competition and we’re very close friends. I hoped he would do as well as I did and on the last dive I hoped he would hit it. My thoughts were that I hoped we could both do our best for the United States.”

Medalists:

  1. Klaus Dibiasi, ITA, 164.18
  2. Álvaro Gaxiola, MEX, 154.49
  3. Win Young, USA, 153.93

Historical Notes:

  • Dibiasi upgraded his silver in Tokyo in 1964 to a gold in Mexico City in 1968. Joaquin Capilla (1952-1956) and Hu Jia (2000-2004) are the other two men to do that in the 10m platform.
  • Dibiasi went on to win the gold medal in this event in 1972 and 1976 as he is the only diver to win any event three times at the Olympics.
  • Coming into 1968, the Americans had won nine of the last ten gold medals in this event. They did not win the 10m gold again until Greg Louganis in 1984.
  • Dibiasi was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1981.

Men’s 1500 Free

For the final day of swimming, the long awaited duel between Mike Burton, USA, and Guillermo Echevarria, Mexico, had packed the Alberca pool to capacity. This was the 1500 meter freestyle classic.

In lane two, Burton took out the 1500 very hard splitting 1:01.9, but was second as the Mexican Guillermo Echevarria had the crowd on its feet as he split 1:00.4. However, the torrid pace hit Echevarria at about 175 and he and Burton turned together at the 200 in 2:06.8 (this was faster than Echevarria went out in his 400 freestyle in the prelims). At 300 Burton was the clear cut leader with 3:12.5, Guillermo was second, 3:14.1 and Greg Brough, Australia, was third 3:15.4. At 400 Burton was well in front of the field at 4:19.0 and it was apparent that unless he died, the race for the gold medal was over. In fact, it was over after 200 meters. Echevarria was two and a half body lengths back at 4:21.4, Brough was third, 4:23.0, Graham White, Australia, was fourth 4:24.5, and John Kinsella, USA, was fifth 4:25.9. At 500 Burton was 5:25.0 and three body lengths ahead of Echevarria with Brough coming up on the Mexican’s heels.

Burton was 6:23.8 at 600 meters, four body lengths ahead of Echevarria and Brough, both 6:41.3, with Kinsella a tick back at 6:41.4. At 700 meters Burton was way ahead and Kinsella had moved into second after 675 with Brough third, White fourth, and Echevarria had dropped to fifth. Coming into the 800, Burton had five body lengths on Kinsella, 8:47.2 to 8:56.9 with Brough third in nine minutes flat. Ralph Hutton, Canada, was making a move in lane seven on Echevarria who was fifth, at this time. At 900 Burton was still five lengths up on Kinsella who had two lengths on Brough with White at his feet. Echevarria was just a few inches ahead of Hutton. John Nelson, USA, in lane one, looked very tired and was completely off his 17:36.0 qualifying pace. He was out of contention for any medal.

At 1000 Burton was 11:02.8, 18 meters on Kinsella, 11:13.1, who was fourth lengths ahead of Brough, with White fourth and Hutton now fifth.

At 1100, Burton hit 12:10.4 still holding 18 meters over Kinsella, 12:21.3, who was five lengths ahead of Brough, 12:29.1, who had a body length on White, 12:32.0 with Hutton at 12:38.8. Echevarria was now out of the race for third with 12:45.8. Burton was 13:17.8 at 1200 and 20 meters ahead of Kinsella who was a clear cut second, 15 meters ahead of Brough. Kinsella looked sure for a silver medal.

The battle for the bronze medal at 1300 was still open between Brough, White and Hutton, but it was going to take a terrific effort from the Canadian to beat either of the Aussies for third.

At 1400 Burton was running away with the race with 25 meters on Kinsella and stroking as strong as ever, while Brough had a body length on White who had two lengths on Hutton.

Burton won by 27 meters over Kinsella with 16:38.9 as John clocked 16:57.3, and Brough holding off White 17:04.7 to 17:08.0. Hutton was fifth, 17:15.6, Echevarria was a disappointing sixth place in 17:36.4 (17:11.0 in prelims). Seventh went to Juan Alanis, Mexico, 17:46.6 (17:37.4 in prelims) and dead last was Nelson, 18:05.1.

Burton said he expected about a 16:30, but was not really pressed. “I could see John coming in as I was leaving the wall and I was just hoping he didn’t have enough left to catch up to me. I think that altitude slowed me down because after 10 laps I was feeling it really bad. I was concerned with John and Guillermo and the two Australians. Next summer I’ll try and go under 16 minutes.”

Kinsella, 16, said, “I didn’t feel it until 18 to 20 laps because I went out a lot slower than Mike, but after that it felt pretty bad. I wanted to go out about 4-5 seconds slower than Mike at the 400 and then try and pick up on him after 800 but at 1000 I was just trying to beat everybody else.”

Brough, 17, state, “Graham’s had a bad shoulder and I don’t know why he went as hard as he did in the heats (17:10.1). My plan was to try to stay with Burton if I could and if I couldn’t just pick up my speed as I went along. When I finished I thought I was finished for good. I started feeling it after three laps.”

Medalists:

  1. Mike Burton, USA, 16:38.9, Olympic Record
  2. John Kinsella, USA, 16:57.3
  3. Greg Brough, AUS, 17:04.7

Historical Notes:

  • Burton’s gold was the fourth for the Americans in this event all-time. Burton went on to win the gold again in 1972, while the Americans have won it only three times since. Brian Goodell (1976) and Mike O’Brien (1984) have won gold for Team USA.
  • Australia had won three straight gold medals in this event as Brough could only manage a bronze. The Aussies did not win the 1500 again until 1992 with Kieren Perkins.
  • This is one of the few events the Americans do not have the most gold medals in. The Australians have won this event eight times to Team USA’s seven.
  • Burton is one of eight men to win the 400 and 1500 free in the same Olympics. Henry Taylor (1908), George Hodgson (1912), Norman Ross (1920), Murray Rose (1956), Brian Goodell (1976), Vladimir Salnikov (1980) and Sun Yang (2012) are the others.
  • In 1969, Burton lowered his world record from a 16:08 to a 16:04.5, despite him saying he wanted to break 16 minutes. Kinsella was actually the first man to break 16 minutes as he swam a 15:57.10 in August 1970.
  • Burton was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977.

Women’s 4×100 Free Relay

The women’s 400m freestyle relay had the United States off to an early lead as Janie Barkman fought off Gabriele Wetzko, East Germany, 1:01.2 to 1:01.5. Linda Gustavson was second for the US and swam 1:00.5 to stretch the lead over East Germany with Japan third. Sue Pedersen went third and treaked to a body length and a half lead, splitting 1:01.3 to give Jan Henne a comfortable lead (3:05.3, over East Germany (3:07.0), Canada (3:07.7) and Australia (3:07.8). Miss Henne anchored in 59.5 to give the US relay a gold medal in 4:02.5 an Olympic record, East Germany with Gabriele Perthes anchoring (1:00.4) was second, 4:05.7 and Canada with Marion Lay (59.5) anchoring was third 4:07.2. Australia was fourth in 4:08.7 with Lyn Bell anchoring in 1:00.9, Hungary fifth, 4:11.0. Japan sixth, 4:16.6 and Great Britain seventh, 4:18.0. France, 4:14.3 was disqualified.

Miss Pedersen said, “There is no way to describe the feeling of winning a medal at the Olympic Games. We were confident at the start. We thought we’d have some competition from the East German girls. I was swimming scared, but I figured if we were behind Jan could pull it out.”

Miss Henne stated, “When I had the lead coming off the wall I was confident because I took the first 50 out east and I thought I could come back harder if I had to.”

Miss Lay, Canada, said “It was a good job but I wish I could do it in a flat freestyle race.”

Medalists:

  1. United States, 4:02.5, Olympic Record
  2. East Germany, 4:05.7
  3. Canada, 4:07.2

Historical Notes:

  • This was the third straight gold medal for the Americans in this event as they were not defeated until 1988 by East Germany. They have not won the gold medal in the 4×100 free relay since 2000.
  • This was the first of three straight silver medals for East Germany in this relay.
  • This was Canada’s first ever relay medal in women’s swimming and their first since the men won bronze in the 4×200 free relay in 1928.
  • Pedersen won four total medals at the 1968 Olympics, the most won by a woman swimmer at a single Games since Rie Mastenbroek won four in 1936. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995.
jan-henne-sue-pedersen-linda-gustavson-jane-barkman

From L-R: Jan Henne, Sue Pedersen, Linda Gustavson, Jane Barkman; Photo Courtesy: International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)

Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay

In the men’s 400 meter medley relay the battle for the gold medal was between East Germany and the United States who had qualified fastest.

The finals saw the East German’s leadoff man, Roland Matthes swim a super 100 meter backstroke leg breaking his own world record by four tenths with a time of 58.0. Charles Hickcox, USA’s leadoff was second in 1:00.4; Canada’s Jim Shaw was third in 1:01.3 and Karl Byrom, Australia was fourth in 1:01.5. On the breaststroke leg USA’s Olympic Champion Don McKenzie picked up four tenths on the East German, Egon Henninger, 1:07.4 to 1:07.8 but the USA was still two seconds behind, 2:05.8 to 2:07.8. Japan was third, 2:09.9 with Nobutaka Taguchi going 1:07.1. Australia was a hair ahead of Russia, both clocking 2:10.0 with Ian O’Brien going 1:08.5 and Vladimir Kosinsky posting 1:07.1.

On the butterfly leg Doug Russell, USA, was behind for 70 meters but literally flew up the pool and passed the East German, Horst Gregor. Russell went into a two stroke lead (3:02.8 to 3:04.4) with a 55.0 split to the German’s 58.6 (Russell’s split is faster than the world record.) Satoshi Maruya, Japan, clocked 57.8 to hold Japan in third (3:07.7). Vladimir Nemshilov, USSR, posted 58.0 to move his team to fourth (3:08.0), and Australia (3:09.4) was fifth on Robert Cusack’s 59.4.

On the final leg Ken Walsh assured the USA of a gold medal with a 52.1 for a 3:54.9 world record. Frank Wiegand went 53.1 to keep East Germany second, 3:57.5, and the Soviet Leonid Ilyichev notched 52.7 to hold off Australia’s Mike Wenden, 51.4, by a tenth, 4:00.7 to 4:00.8. Kuvihiro Iwasaki, Japan, hit 54.1 and his team was fifth, 4:01.8. West Germany was sixth, 4:05.4, Canada seventh, 4:07.3, and Spain eighth, 4:08.8.

Russell said, “We knew the butterfliers wouldn’t be as fast as we were in the event, but Matthes swam a tremendous backstroke and I didn’t think we’d be that far behind. I knew I’d have to swim a good one or we would be out of it.”

Walsh said, “This is it for me. I may swim a little through December if there is a trip, but probably won’t go past the first of the year.”

Matthes stated, “I wanted to swim between 58 and 59. I didn’t think it would be this fast. I plan to attend the Physical Culture University of Sports.”

Hickcox, the US team captain said, “I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked to have been. I wanted to stay as close as possible, so it wouldn’t be so hard on Doug Russell, but I just didn’t have the speed.”

Gregor, 21, said that he and Wiegand were retiring but that Henninger and Matthes would continue.

Ilyichev said: “We wanted second place and thought we could get it, so we were not surprised to beat Australia.”

Medalists:

  1. United States, 3:54.9, World Record
  2. East Germany, 3:57.5 (Matthes WR)
  3. Soviet Union, 4:00.7

Historical Notes:

  • This was the third time this event had been contested at the Olympics.
  • The Americans have never lost this race at the Olympic Games.
  • Matthes broke his own world record of 58.4 on the leadoff leg. He would go on to lower it five more times, beginning in August 1969 with his 57.8. He lowered it all the way down to a 56.30 at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
  • Matthes was the second German to hold a world record in the 100 back, joining Ernst-Joachim Küppers who held it for a week in August 1964.
  • The Americans’ world record in this event would go on to be broken by East Germany at the 1970 European Championships with a 3:54.4. It was the last time a non-American team would hold the world record in the medley relay, as it has been broken 17 times since.

Aftermath

The medal count was staggering for the US. The women won 11 out of 14 gold meals and the US men took 10 out of 15 first places. In all the United States won 52 out of 77 total medals. In diving the US won six out of 12 medals, including Bernie Wrightson’s and Sue Gossick’s 3-meter victories.

Coach Sherman Chavoor gave his opinion of the US girls and their team performance, “In general, I think most of the American girls were not in as good shape as they were in Los Angeles for the trials, because of the long training camp. This is a general observation.”

He also spoke about his protege Debbie Meyer, who was the first swimmer ever to win three individual gold medals, “I would like to see Debbie at least swim through high school because she hasn’t even started to hit her peak yet. I think she’ll go a 2:03, 4:17, and 17 flat if she stays with it. She can go a 17:00 within a year. She’s got speed, endurance, and guts, and that’s the most important. I don’t think size has anything to do with it.”

Chavoor and George Haines were inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977.

Medal Table

COUNTRYGOLDSILVERBRONZETOTAL
UNITED STATES21151652
AUSTRALIA3238
EAST GERMANY2316
YUGOSLAVIA1102
MEXICO1012
NETHERLANDS1001
SOVIET UNION0448
CANADA0314
GREAT BRITAIN0101
WEST GERMANY0022
FRANCE0011