50 Year Lookback of 1968 Mexico City Olympics: The Aftermath

debbie-meyer-barkman-wetzko-200-free-1968-finish
Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive

Each day through October 26, Swimming World took you back 50 years to the Olympic Games in Mexico City, and re-told the stories of those Games through archived meet recaps through the Swimming World Vault. Below is the summary of those Games from the November 1968 issue.

Mexico City, Mexico – On October 17, at 10:00 AM the first qualifying heat of the women’s 4×100 meter medley relay boomed off the starting blocks in the spacious new Alberca pool heralding the beginning of 10 days of competitive swimming and diving. This event was five days after the Opening Ceremony, but to some athletes who had been training at altitude for close to a month, and to others who had been living at the Olympic Village for many weeks, it was the end of mañana.

The lucky ones had already been ill, and now it was the fervent prayer of every untarnished athlete, “If I am going to be ill I hope it be after I compete.” Years of hopes, training and readiness could end in frustration without an opportunity to compete at maximum condition.

Ten days later, to the rousing jeers of one of the most repulsive exhibitions of poor sportsmanship by a host nation, the Mexico Olympic aquatic events came to a welcomed close. The loss by Guillermo Echevarria in the 1500 meter freestyle provoked a spontaneous outburst of derision toward an amateur athlete that can never be equalled. In these ten days, world marks were set by Australia’s Michael Wenden in the 100 meters freestyle, East Germany’s Roland Matthes in the 100 meter backstroke (lead-off on the medley relay); and America’s Kaye Hall in the 100 meters backstroke. The United States men’s relay teams also set world standards in both the 4×100 meters medley relay and 4×100 meters freestyle relay, while the U.S. mermaids set a world mark in the 4×100 meters medley relay.

The United States team was expected to carry off the lion’s share of the medals, and though some pre-race favorites failed to live up to the pre-Game predictions, there were others who picked up the slack to give the United States a domination seldom seen in any sport.

In swimming, the U.S. naiads won 10 gold medals out of a possible 15. In addition to the gold, they grabbed off eight silver out of 12 and eight bronze out of 12 to give them a total of 26 swimming medals out of a possible 39. The Americans won all three relays and scored sweeps in the 100 meter butterfly and 200 meter individual medley.

Australia and East Germany each won two gold medals in the men’s events, Mexico one gold. The Soviets won two silver medals in individual men’s events, plus one bronze in an individual event and two bronze in relays.

East Germany, in addition to the two gold medals, won a silver in a relay, while Australia also won relay silver and bronze medals.

Canada and Britain both won silver medals as France and West Germany each won a bronze in an individual event.

The U.S. mermaids did even better than their male teammates, but then this was to be expected, for they were the strongest team ever assembled for an amateur athletic competition. Only illness to their world record holder in the breaststroke, Catie Ball, prevented a greater harvest of Olympic honors. Their expected sweep of all of the freestyle events was thwarted by Australia’s 14-year old whiz, Karen Moras in the 400 meter event, and by Mexico’s Maria Teresa Ramirez in the 800 meter event, each finishing third respectively. For Maria, it was Mexico’s first Olympic medal ever by a female athlete.

Sabine Steinbach, East Germany’s European record holder in the medley, just did manage a razor’s edge margin in the 400 meter individual medley to prevent an American sweep in both medleys. Sabine touched out Sue Pedersen for third to give her country a bronze to go with the silver won by her teammate Helga Lindner in the 200 m butterfly.

Ada Kok, Holland’s popular dolphin champion, won the gold in the 200 meter butterfly after losing the 100 meter title to Australia’s Lyn McClements.

Yugoslavia through the great swims of Djurdjica Bjedov won a gold and a silver, while Elaine Tanner gave Canada a pair of silver medals. Russia won one silver and a bronze in the individual events and added a bronze in a relay.

Illness which hovered over the athletes like the sword of Damocles, struck down West Germany’s Uta Frommater just before her prelim in the women’s 200m breaststroke after she had placed fourth in the 100m event. Steve Rerych of the United States had qualified for the 200m freestyle and ten minutes before the final, he too was stricken by the bug.

Catie Ball, who had appeared to be completely recovered from her attack of mononucleosis, judging by her world record performances at the U.S. Olympic trials, came down with fever and virus, and after losing the 100 meter breaststroke in a form that revealed she had lost her strength, was scratched from the 200 meter event.

Almost every athlete was under the weather during some part of their stay in Mexico, and those that were stricken before their events were unable to regain their strength. It affected the times, and coupled with the altitude, world marks simply were not a possibility.

In the diving competition, the United States won both the men’s and women’s springboard events. Bernie Wrightson who had just missed the 1964 team, dove with great consistency. His coolness and byplay with the spectators while awaiting to execute his dives only confirmed his confidence that he was going to win the gold. Italy’s great Klaus Dibiasi moved in ahead of Jim Henry for second. Sue Gossick, who had made the U.S. team by the narrowest margin after striking the board in the Trials, showed her class to win the springboard event with Russia’s Tamara Pogozheva second and Keala O’Sullivan, USA, third.

In the platlorm, Dibiasi won going away, while a noisy, unsportsmanlike Mexican audience so intimidated the judges that it was impossible to hold a fair championship. For twenty minutes the spectators hooted, whistled and booed the judges for low scoring the Mexican, Alvaro Gaxiola, who eventually finished second. Keith Russell was forced to wait on the platform while the vociferous mob showed their displeasure and succeeded in so unnerving the American, that he did what they wanted him to do…blow his dive and finish out of the top three. Win Young, USA, placed third in the platform.

in the women’s 10-meter event, Czechoslovakia’s Milena Duchkova, won the gold with the Soviet Natalia Lobanova in second and Ann Petersen, USA, third.

International Swimming Hall of Fame Inductees:

  • Don Schollander, USA, 1965
  • Claudia Kolb, USA, 1975
  • Charlie Hickcox, USA, 1976
  • Ada Kok, NED, 1976
  • Carl Robie, USA, 1976
  • Mike Burton, USA, 1977
  • Debbie Meyer, USA, 1977
  • Galina Prozumenschikova, URS, 1977
  • Mark Spitz, USA, 1977
  • Kaye Hall, USA, 1979
  • Jan Henne, USA, 1979
  • Michael Wenden, AUS, 1979
  • Elaine Tanner, CAN, 1980
  • Klaus Dibiasi, ITA, 1981
  • Gary Hall, USA, 1981
  • Roland Matthes, GDR, 1981
  • Milena Duchkova, YUG, 1983
  • Ralph Hutton, CAN, 1984
  • Pokey Watson, USA, 1984
  • Bernie Wrightson, USA, 1984
  • Doug Russell, USA, 1985
  • John Kinsella, USA, 1986
  • Djurdjica Bjedov, YUG, 1987
  • Sue Gossick, USA, 1988
  • Don McKenzie, USA, 1989
  • Felipe Muñoz, MEX, 1991
  • Sharon Wichman, USA, 1991
  • Sue Pedersen, USA, 1995
  • Ellie Daniel, USA, 1997
  • Ross Wales, USA, 2004

Read More on the 1968 Olympics