50 Year Lookback of 1968 Mexico City Olympics: Roland Matthes Wins 200 Back Gold on Penultimate Day

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 25, 1968

Women’s 200 Back

The women’s 200 meter backstroke marked the first appearance of Pokey Watson, USA; the fastest qualifier at 2:29.20 Kaye Hall, USA, 2:31.1, and Elaine Tanner, Canada, 2:30.9, the first and second place finishers in the 100 meter backstroke were back for their second duel.

Miss Tanner took it out very hard in the finals ahead of Zdenka Gasparak, Yugoslavia, lane seven. Watson and Hall were very smooth the first 50 and were tied for third at the turn. Tanner used the same tactic she employed in the Pan America Games, that of taking it out hard and losing the field. At 75 meters she had a body length on Pokey. At the 100 Elaine led with 1:09.1 with Pokey second, still a body length behind, Gasparak third, Hall fourth, and Lynette Watson, Australia, fifth.

At the 125 mark Pokey had caught Elaine and was ahead at the 150 meter turn with Hall third and Watson fourth. Stroking very strongly, Pokey ran away with it on the last lap leading the field by three body lengths. Pokey posted 2:24.8, an Olympic record in a new event, Miss Tanner was second, 2:27.4, Miss Hall third, 2:28.9, Miss Watson fourth 2:29.5, Wendy Burrell, Great Britain, 2:32.3, Miss Gasparak, 2:33,5, Maria Corominas, Spain, 2:33.9, and Benedicte Duprez, France, eighth 2:36.6. (2:34.5 in prelims).

lillian-pokey-watson-1968-200-back

Photo Courtesy: International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)

“I used to swim the back as a secondary event. I’d been swimming freestyle so long I was getting in a nit, so a new event seemed like a good idea,” said Olympic champion Pokey, 18. “I knew Elaine was going to be out in a nine at least and I knew I wasn’t able to go out that fast so I knew I’d have to catch her on the third lap and then hold her off. I know Karen Muir is a fantastic swimmer and I know 10 years from now I’ll wonder if I could have beaten her, but if she’d been here I would have tried just as hard to win. This is only the fourth meet I’ve swam the 200 back but it paid off for me.”

Miss Tanner, 17, said, “I might retire or I might just swim for fun.” The Canadian champion added, “I think I swam a better race here. I wanted to swim it just the way I do at sea level, but I guess I slowed down on the third lap. I don’t think the altitude was that bad.”

Miss Hall said, “I wanted to get a medal, I was hoping for a gold, but I didn’t swim a very good race. I was out much too slow. I wish I could have done better and swum a better race, but it’s over now and I’m glad.”

Medalists:

  1. Pokey Watson, USA, 2:24.8
  2. Elaine Tanner, CAN, 2:27.4
  3. Kaye Hall, USA, 2:28.9

Historical Notes:

  • This was the first time the women’s 200 back 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.
  • Melissa Belote continued the American streak in this event in 1972 but did not win again until 2012 when Missy Franklin won for Team USA.
  • Canada did not win another medal in this event until Hilary Caldwell won bronze in 2016.
  • The Americans have won four gold medals in this event, while Hungary has won three.
  • Watson was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1984.

Men’s 200 Back

Roland Matthes, East German backstroke world record holder, played cat and mouse with the field in the men’s 200 meter backstroke.

In the finals Matthes was out smooth and easy letting the American duo, Mitch Ivey and Jack Horsley, set the pace. At 50 meters lvey and Horsley turned together with Matthes right behind and Leonid Dobroskokin, USSR, fourth. At 100 meters, Matthes was still a stroke back as Ivey touched out Horsley both splitting in 1:03.2 with Roland 1:03.8 and Dobroskokin, 1:04.7. At 150 meters, the two Americans turned together again with Roland still back and in lane one Gary Hall, USA, was now fourth. But coming off the wall Matthes changed his stroke rhythm and with a faster turnover picked up the pace and stroked right by the Americans.

Matthes set a new Olympic record in winning, 2:09.6, to break Jed Graef’s, USA, 2:10.3. Ivey was second 2:10.6 followed by Horsley, 2:10.9, Hall, 2:12.6, Santiago Esteva, Spain, 2:12.9, Dobroskokin, 2:15.4, Joachim Rother, East Germany, 2:15.8, and Franco Del Campo, Italy, 2:16.5 (2:16.3 in prelims).

Matthes, 17, said he wasn’t too sure he would pass the Americans early in the race, not any more sure than the 100. “I was nervous and excited before the race but it’s normal,” he said. Matthes, young and not matured, should dominate the dorsal event through the 1972 Olympics. He is certain to lower his own world standards.

Mitch, 19, commented, “I wanted to be out in a mid two and be easy to save my legs and try and get him coming home but he was too strong. Jack and I are roommates and we talked it over and figured we’d be out with him even though he has a faster 100 and it would just be a matter of who could come home stronger. I’ve been swimming 13 years and getting a medal at the Olympics is just a dream for me.”

Horsley, 17, said, “I’ve had a cold but it didn’t bother me. I just tried to swim as hard as I could the last lap. I didn’t know what I got. I don’t look during a race because my stroke goes to pot. I would have rather had a silver or a gold medal but I’m satisfied. I’ll just have to swim through college and try again in ’72.”

Medalists:

  1. Roland Matthes, GDR, 2:09.6, Olympic Record
  2. Mitch Ivey, USA, 2:10.6
  3. Jack Horsley, USA, 2:10.9

Historical Notes:

  • This was the third time this event had been contested at the Olympics as it was started in 1900 and discontinued for 64 years.
  • Matthes’s gold was the second for the Germans as Ernst Hoppenberg won the inaugural 200 back gold in 1900.
  • Matthes would go on to dominate the dorsal event, winning both the 100 and 200 back in Munich four years later in 1972.
  • Horsley did not make the 1972 Olympic Team. Mitch Ivey did, and he won bronze in the 200 back in Munich.
  • Matthes is one of six men to win the 100 and 200 back in the same Olympics. John Naber (1976), Rick Carey (1984), Lenny Krayzelburg (2000), Aaron Peirsol (2004) and Ryan Murphy (2016) are the others.
  • Matthes was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1981.
roland-matthes-medal

Photo Courtesy: International Swimming Hall of Fame ISHOF)

Women’s 400 IM

In the women’s 400 meter individual medley, Claudia Kolb, 18, who swims all strokes with equal efficiency, led her opponents from start to finish. She jumped off to an early lead in the butterfly edging teammate Sue Pedersen at the 50 and enjoying a body length and a half over teammate Lynn Vidali. At 100 meters Claudia split 1:08.2, to 1:10.2 for Miss Vidali with Miss Pedersen 1:11.1. On the backstroke Miss Kolb held her lead while Miss Vidali pulled away from Miss Pedersen whose only chance to win a silver medal was to lead Lynn on the backstroke. In lane two, Sabine Steinbach, East Germany, had also passed Miss Pedersen.

At 200 meters Claudia was two and a half body lengths in front at 2:27.9. Miss Vidali was second 2:31.9 working hard to keep ahead of Miss Steinbach, 2:32.7. The East German pulled even with Miss Vidali on the first 50 of the breaststroke but dropped 2 body lengths by the 300 mark. Miss Kolb, a former breaststroker, had nine seconds on Miss Vidali going into freestyle. Miss Steinbach had three body lengths on Miss Pedersen. At the finish, it was Claudia in a fantastic 5:08.5, an Olympic record, with Miss Vidali getting the silver medal, 5:22.2 and Miss Steinbach holding off a fast closing Sue Pedersen for the bronze, 5:25.3 to 5:25.8.

Fifth went to Shelagh Ratcliffe, Great Britain, 5:30.5 followed by Marianne Seydel, East Germany, 5:32.0 (5:30.9 in prelims), Tui Kathleen Shipston, New Zealand, 5:34.6 (5:33.7 in prelims), and Laura Vaca, Mexico, 5:35.7 (5:33.7 in prelims).

Miss Kolb, who is retiring, said, “I feel great, I’m glad I was an IM swimmer. I used to be a breaststroker and had to do it everyday. Now I can workout in anything I want when I get tired of one stroke. It’s more challenging. This is what I’ve been working for, and although I didn’t expect a world record, I got up for the race because it’s the Olympic Games. If I was at sea level I think I could have gone under 5:04, but I don’t know how much. They’ll be going under 5:00 before long.”

Miss Vidali, 16, commented, “I usually swim for third at our nationals but here I felt loose warming up and felt I could get a second. Claudia’s tough to beat and I didn’t think I could beat her. I hope to swim for two more years.”

The European champion, Miss Steinbach was very calm even though she beat out Miss Pedersen for a medal. “I didn’t especially want to beat the Americans as much as get a medal. It’s my best race. My European record is 5:14.9,” she said.

Coach Haines of the U.S. team said: “I’d have to say Claudia was possibly the best I’ve ever coached, but I hate to classify them, it’s not fair. She was great. I thought both kids did well tonight to get one, two and I think Lynn can succeed Claudia if she wants to.”

Medalists:

  1. Claudia Kolb, USA, 5:08.5, Olympic Record
  2. Lynn Vidali, USA, 5:22.2
  3. Sabine Steinbach, GDR, 5:25.3

Historical Notes:

  • This was only the second time this event was contested at the Olympics as Donna de Varona won the inaugural gold in 1964.
  • The Americans have only won the event twice since with Tracy Caulkins (1984) and Janet Evans (1988).
  • Kolb is one of seven women to win the 200 and 400 IM in the same Olympics. Caulkins (1984), Michelle Smith (1996), Yana Klochkova (2000, 2004), Stephanie Rice (2008), Ye Shiwen (2012) and Katinka Hosszu (2016) are the others.
  • Gudrun Wegner was the first woman to break five minutes in the event when she went a 4:57.51 in September 1973.
  • Kolb was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1975.
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Author: Andy Ross

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Andy Ross is the new man on board at Swimming World. He is based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He is a 2017 graduate of Southern Illinois University where he graduated cum laude.

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