Great Races: 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials Men’s 400-Meter Freestyle; A Gathering of Hall of Famers

Brian Goodell
Brian Goodell. Photo Courtesy: Tim Morse

Great Races: 1976 US Olympic Trials Men’s 400-Meter Freestyle (From the Archive)

By Dave Bartlett and Brenda Borgh Bartlett

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley

Great races are made of great racers.  Great racers start out with a dream.  That dream becomes reality through limitless training, never-ending miles, demanding coaches, and bone-aching fatigue.  For most, the dream dies there.  Not for great racers.  Great racers get short glimpses of the dream unfolding with a swim at nationals or a trip on an international team.  The dream stays alive.  It blooms.

Swimming is a sport in which racers excel – those athletes who love to compete and do not back down.  The men’s 400-meter freestyle final at the 1976 Olympic Trials in Long Beach California had a field of eight great racers.  It had the current world record holder.  The current Sullivan Award winner for the nation’s top amateur athlete and the athlete who would follow him as the award recipient. Four of the racers had already qualified for the Olympic team.  By the end of the Olympic Trials all eight racers had made the 1976 US Olympic Swimming Team; one month later at the Montreal Olympics, the individuals in this race would win 13 Olympic medals.  Collectively, they set 34 world records. Five of the eight would be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.  The end of this race would see seven of the eight racers break 3:56, a feat previously accomplished by only two individuals.  The last lap of this race would send the Belmont Plaza pool audience from a hushed state of near silence to an uproarious standing ovation.  There was a great deal of anticipation before hand; the race lived up to all of it and more.

Dedicated to George Breen, an International Hall of Fame swimmer,

a dedicated coach, an ardent friend and a swimming fanatic.

A Brief History of Men’s 400 Meter Freestyle

The 400-meter swim has always been considered the swimming equivalent of “The Mile” in track.  The world records today are similar: 3:40 in swimming and 3:43 in running.  Breaking the four-minute “barrier” was considered a historic achievement in both sports. But until the 1970s, the records in the track “Mile” were much faster than the swimming 400. In the late 1800s, there were mile times on the track as fast as 4:12. In swimming, the five-minute mark for the 400 freestyle wasn’t broken until Johnny Weissmuller did it in 1923.  That same year, Paavo Nurmi set the mile record by running 4:10.4.  So while the earth’s surface may be 71 percent water, humans historically preferred their athletics on dry land.  Rick DeMont finally broke the four-minute mark in 1973 with a time of 3:58.18 in the 400 freestyle.

In 1974 and 1975, Tim Shaw broke the 400-meter world record four times.  In 1974 he set the record twice – 3:56.96 and 3:54.69.  In 1975 he did it twice again – 3:53.95 and 3:53.31.  Shaw had lowered the world record in the 400-meter freestyle by nearly five seconds in two years.  To put this in perspective, another amazing swimmer – Katie Ledecky  lowered the 400-meter freestyle world record almost three seconds in seven years.  Shaw was the dominant male freestyler of the mid-‘70s, having set nine world records over distances from 200 to 1500 meters.

Shaw set his 3:53.31 world record in August of 1975 in Kansas City at the outdoor national championships.  He had a great combination of speed and endurance but it was his late race kick that was notable.  Shaw was a back-half swimmer. His world record splits:

57.43 1:57.46 (1:00.03) 2:56.07 (58.61) 3:53.31 (57.24)


John Naber. Photo Courtesy: Bob Ingram

The Racers

It’s easy to write:

  • Lane 1: John Naber – Ladera Oaks Swim Club
  • Lane 2: Casey Converse – Mission Viejo Nadadores
  • Lane 3: Bruce Furniss – Long Beach Swim Club
  • Lane 4: Tim Shaw – Long Beach Swim Club
  • Lane 5: Brian Goodell – Mission Viejo Nadadores
  • Lane 6: Mike Bruner – De Anza Swim Club
  • Lane 7: Bobby Hackett – Bernal’s Gators Swim Club
  • Lane 8: Doug Northway – Oasis Swim Club

Swimming at this level is an exclusive club.  There is a mutual respect for those who bring out the absolute best in you. These eight finalists knew each other well; some were close friends, others only acquaintances. Six of the eight had already competed against each other in the 200 freestyle two evenings earlier.   You can see that Shaw and Furniss were teammates at Long Beach and Goodell and Converse were teammates at Mission Viejo.  What is not obvious is that Furniss and Naber were teammates at the University of Southern California, and that many of the swimmers had been teammates on excursions to World Championships in 1973 or 1975, the Pan American Games in 1975, and other international competitions.  There were many common denominators among these finalists. The winner would need to beat the best the sport had to offer.

The Preliminaries and Prelims to the Preliminaries

The finals of the 400 freestyle were Friday evening June 18, 1976 and as usual the prelims were that morning.  Northway was the last qualifier with a 3:57.76 and a total of 12 swimmers broke four minutes.  In the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1972, not one swimmer broke the four-minute mark. DeMont and Kurt Krumpholz, both former world record holders in this event, failed to make the finals that evening. Three other Olympians in other events also failed to make the finals. Simply to make the finals required an unmatched level of talent and effort.

Of course, the preliminaries are important, but in 1976 the most important race before the 400-meter freestyle was the 200 freestyle two nights earlier on June 16th, 1976.  Because there was an 800 freestyle relay in the 1976 Olympic Games but no 400-freestyle relay, the 200 freestyle had exceptional importance. It allotted six slots to the Olympic Team –  more than any other event, including four automatic spots and two contingent spots.  The automatic spots were earned by the winner and world record holder Furniss followed by Naber, Jim Montgomery and Bruner.  Shaw earned the first contingent spot by placing fifth.  Northway and Goodell tied for sixth at 1:52.76 so the last contingent spot would be dependent on a swim off unless one or the other conceded.  In those years there was no medal if you swam in the prelims of the Olympics but not the finals, and Goodell and Northway decided to delay the swim off to see how the rest of the meet unfolded.

Therefore, the setup for the 400 freestyle: These racers knew each other, their strengths, their strategies, their weaknesses.  Nothing was hidden under the surface of the water.

Race Strategy?

At a high level, there are basically three race strategies, and none is better than the others. One is to go out fast.  Another is to come back fast. And the third is to even split the race. An effective race strategy should reflect the swimmer’s strengths and training background.  In all three strategies there is a mix of speed, strength, endurance and will.

Bruce Furniss

Bruce Furniss. Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

In fact, race strategies are like planning.  “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” said General Eisenhower.  In swimming, most race strategies melt when water is added.  This usually happens because the athlete with a strategy hasn’t trained properly to implement that strategy.  Often another racer had a strategy that fit their training and taper timing better.  There are as many reasons for the failure of a strategy as there are drops in the pool.  A strategy succeeds because it has the right racer, at the right time, with the right training and with the zeal to execute.  One thing is certain, at the end of a 400-meter freestyle all strategies come down to who can summon the will to win from deep down – down where the spirit meets the bone.

One clear disadvantage in race strategies is that if you go out fast, everyone knows it.  If you wait, no one knows what you will have left at the end, including yourself.  There is a bit of a “gambler’s dilemma” – you don’t want show too much too soon –  but ultimately it will come down to who wants the Olympic Team dream the most.

The Race, By Length and Racers

First Length – John Naber Imposes His Will

Naber, 20 years old, was one of the most decorated swimmers of the 1970s. He would go on to win four gold medals and one silver in Montreal; he won ten NCAA championships in backstroke and freestyle; and he won the Sullivan Award as the nation’s best amateur athlete in 1977.  John had already made the 1976 Olympic team by finishing first in 100 backstroke on June 17 and second in the 200 freestyle on June 16.  If he made the team in the 400 free, he would have a chance at six medals in Montreal.  Right from the start, it was obvious that John was going to force the field to prove he was NOT the best swimmer in the world.  He attacked the 400 free with no mercy on the field or himself.  Out in lane one, he was invisible to all but Converse in lane two and Furniss in lane three.

John had been the American record holder in the 500 yard and 1650-yard freestyle events.  He was an excellent and experienced distance swimmer.  He knew that going out fast was showing his hand to the field.  Naber commented on his race plan:

“My Ladera Oaks coach, Mike Hastings, said that this was just a good test event for me, and I should make the race feel good.  I did not bother Peter Daland (USC, Head Coach) for advice, because I was not swimming for Trojan Aquatics.

 Lane one was the perfect place for me to get out to an early lead, and I doubted that anyone would be watching for me in the outside lane.

I barely recall exactly how I felt (I don’t remember any pain) but I do recall the crowd noise may have been the loudest I ever heard during a race.”

Second Length – Doug Northway Inverts the Seeding

On the other side of the pool in lane 8 was Northway – also going out fast.  Doug was the only racer who had been a member of the 1972 Olympic Team that competed in Munich, Germany.  He won the bronze medal in the 1500 meter freestyle.  At the 1975 Pan American games Doug won the 400-meter freestyle.  Doug was the oldest racer in the pool at the age of 21. 

With lane one and lane eight leading the way, the pool was in an inverted “V” – a complete reverse to what the lane seeding from preliminaries predicts with the center lanes out front and the outer lanes trailing behind.  At the 100, Naber turned at 55.59, nearly two seconds below Shaw’s 1975 world record pace with Northway in lane 8 at 56.68 followed closely by the rest of the field.  All but Converse were under the world record 100 split of 57.43.

Lane 1) John Naber 55.59
Lane 2) Casey Converse 57.64
Lane 3) Bruce Furniss 56.68
Lane 4) Tim Shaw 56.90
Lane 5) Brian Goodell 57.33
Lane 6) Mike Bruner 57.36
Lane 7) Bobby Hackett 56.90
Lane 8) Doug Northway 56.68 

Third Length – All Eyes on Bruce Furniss

Furniss, 19, had won the 200 freestyle just a couple nights earlier. He was the world record holder in the 200-meter IM and the 200-meter freestyle.  The 200 IM was not a part of the 1976 Olympic program.  Bruce did compete in the 400 IM at the Olympic Trials and finished a close fourth behind his brother Steve.  An excellent case could be made for Bruce Furniss being the best male swimmer in the world.

Bruce was swimming well with a great combination of speed and endurance.  As he approached the second turn, he took a quick breath to his left and saw Naber well ahead. 

What was Bruce thinking at that moment?  Here is what he said:

During the NCAAs earlier that spring, I finished second to Jim Montgomery in the 200 free in a race in which he won from lane 1.  He smoked the field from the gun and I didn’t react to his rabbit-start soon enough, essentially running out of pool at the end of the race.  I vowed that day, if that ever happened to me again I would not allow an “outside smoker” to lose body contact with the field and I would adjust my race strategy accordingly.  Thus in this race a mere three months later and being in lane 3, closer to John than most anybody else in the field, when I saw what he was doing I vowed to stay ‘connected’ to him.

Great racers don’t back down.  Bruce upped the pace and the pace cascaded across the lanes.  As Bruce moved out, the whole field had to up its game. 

Flipping last at the 150-meter mark were the two teammates and friends from Mission Viejo Nadadores – Converse and Goodell.  Neither had made the Olympic team at this point in the meet.  Both were strong back-half swimmers.

Fourth Length – Bobby Hackett Will Not Be Left Behind

In lane seven was Bobby Hackett, the youngest of the racers at age 16 and the only racer from east of the Mississippi.  Despite his youth, Bobby already had a national title and a Pan Am gold medal under his belt.  He would go on to win a silver medal in Montreal.  Bobby was known for going out fast but it is doubtful that Bobby had ever been in a 400 freestyle where someone went out two seconds under the world record.  Three days later, June 21, Bobby would break the world record in the 800-meter freestyle while going out in his 1500!  Bobby had plenty of endurance.

Between the 150-meter mark and halfway point, Bobby decided he’s not going to wait around.  His strong, smooth stroke took him to the 200 where he turned with Furniss.  Naber was still in the lead and remarkably nearly three seconds below the world record pace set by Shaw.  But more amazingly, at the halfway point the entire field was under the world record pace of 1:57.46.

Bobby’s focus at the trials was to make the team in the 1500.  He had won the 1500 at the Kansas City nationals in 1975.  He was thrilled to be in the finals of the 400 and Bobby remembers the race in detail:

 “Making the finals was a big bonus for me and gave me that finals experience I would need for the 1500 (the last night of the trials).

My prelim time was over 3 seconds faster than my best time from Kansas City in August ’75.

Northway taking it out was helpful for me as I was able to use his speed to comfortably get me out.  I knew Bruner would hang back.  So, coming off the 100 turn I saw ‘Big John’ out there and Bruce.  I decided to jump on the second 100 to get out as I knew any chance of me making the team would depend on a big lead to counter the last 100/50 from everyone in the middle of the pool.”

Lane 1) John Naber 1:54.88 (59.29)
Lane 2) Casey Converse 1:57.05 (59.41)
Lane 3) Bruce Furniss 1:55.72 (59.04)
Lane 4) Tim Shaw 1:56.44 (59.41)
Lane 5) Brian Goodell 1:56.65 (59.32)
Lane 6) Mike Bruner 1:57.18 (59.82)
Lane 7) Bobby Hackett 1:56.32 (59.42)
Lane 8) Doug Northway 1:57.02 (1:00.34)

Fifth Length – Mike Bruner Keeps It Even and Hangs Tough

Bruner was a great distance freestyler and butterflyer who won two Olympic gold medals, set two world records, and was the high-point winner at the 1980 Olympic Trials.  On page 12 of the June 1976 issue of Swimming World was a write-up of Mike Bruner’s 100 x 100 yards in under 100 minutes (completed in 1 hour, 39 minutes, 18.59 seconds), which was good enough to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.  Every racer in this race knew what Mike was capable of and his personal toughness.  Mike had qualified for the Olympic team by finishing fourth in the 200 freestyle. He had been on several international teams and was a fixture in the finals of various events at Nationals and NCAA Championships.

True to his Guinness world record, Mike was evenly splitting his race.  Mike, 19 years old, was in lane 6. On one side he had Brian Goodell – a fast finisher; on the other side he had Bobby Hackett – quick in the front half.  Wedged between these two, Mike kept it fairly even.

Underneath that even tempo was simmering trouble.  Mike remembers:

“When I made the team in the 800 freestyle relay, the impact of this accomplishment not being something that would ultimately provide me with an individual gold medal had not yet sunk in.  Even though I believed I should have been in the hunt for at least a birth in the 400 freestyle, I just didn’t seem to have the fight in me to get there.  I’d always known that swimming at this level was 90% mental.  I was struggling to get to where I needed to be.  Even though I split the 400 pretty well, I wasn’t really where I needed to be to compete for the berth I so desperately wanted.  Following the 400 freestyle, my coach forced me to re-read what I had told a young author (link here) who had written a paper on our conversations a few months earlier.  This helped me realize I had to re-evaluate my race strategy.  So my struggles in the 400 free ended up being my strengths in the 200 fly.”

Sixth Length – Tim Shaw Makes His Move

Tim Shaw

Tim Shaw. Photo Courtesy: Marjorie Shuer/Swimming World

The reigning World and Pan American champion in the 400 freestyle, the event world record holder and no less than the most recent recipient of the prestigious Sullivan Award for the USA’s best amateur athlete was this final’s top qualifier from the morning swims.  Everybody in this field knew what Shaw, age 19, was capable of.  Shaw had at one time or another held the world records in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyles.  With 100 meters left in the race, Naber was still in the lead and 1.5 seconds below world record pace. Shaw punched the accelerator and the field instantly reacted.  The world record pace at the 300 mark had been 2:56.07 – six of the eight were still under the world record pace.

Lane 1) John Naber 2:54.59 (59.71)
Lane 2) Casey Converse 2:55.99 (58.94)
Lane 3) Bruce Furniss 2:55.25 (59.53)
Lane 4) Tim Shaw 2:55.57 (59.13)
Lane 5) Brian Goodell 2:55.39 (58.74)
Lane 6) Mike Bruner 2:56.80 (59.62)
Lane 7) Bobby Hackett 2:55.82 (59.50)
Lane 8) Doug Northway 2:58.53 (1:01.51)

Seventh Length – Casey Converse Throwing It Down

Bringing up the rear for the first 200 meters was Converse, age 18.  Casey was relatively unknown at this time, but he went on to be an Olympian, NCAA champion, and a coach at the Air Force Academy for many years.  In 1976, crazy stories had been coming out of the Mission Viejo Nadadores about an “Animal Lane.”  The Animal Lane did brutal workouts of 12,000 meters, twice a day.  It was a lane of tough, determined competitors. Shirley Babashoff was in the “Animal Lane.”  Goodell came from the Animal Lane and so did Converse.

The race had Naber in lane 1 turning at the 200 in 1:54.88 and Converse in lane 2 turning at 1:57.05 – more than two seconds behind.  That is a great deal of distance and time to make up but when the racers hit the 300-meter turn, Casey had clawed back more than half a second and momentum was shifting quickly.

Casey’s recollection:

My lasting memory of the race: Big John is about nine feet tall and it took a very long time to catch up to him.

It is important to remember who in this race had not yet made the Olympic team.  Naber, Furniss, Shaw and Bruner had all made the Olympic team in the 200 free event or as part of the 800 freestyle relay.  John had made the team in the backstroke.  The four who had not yet made the team included Goodell, Hackett, Northway and Converse.  All those meters in the “Animal Lane” will give you endurance but also determination. In the last 100-meters Casey’s grit and resolve pushed out the pain.

The Turn

Swimming may be the only sport where the athlete comes to an immovable object (the wall), then must go in the opposite direction as quickly and powerfully as possible.  Since 1976, changes to rules and turn technique have been two of the most significant factors for times getting faster.  It isn’t a statistic that is meticulously tracked – time entering the flag zone and time exiting the flags –  but it could be viewed as the most important part of a race.  Coaches often say to “carry your momentum out of the turn.”  It’s not easy to do.

This turn had more than momentum – it had drama.  With three Olympic team berths on the line, five swimmers flipped at the seventh turn simultaneously and Hackett was right there, half a second behind and Bruner was right on Hackett’s shoulder.  As New York Times reporter Leonard Koppett wrote the next day:

“The race began to enter the realm of the unbelievable at the 350 meter wall when four swimmers – Converse, Furniss, Shaw and Goodell – all caught Naber at the same time and the five of them flipped in unison, like porpoises in a Sea World act, to begin the sprint home. All of them were dead even; all had a chance to win; and all had a chance for the world record.”

The most astonishing characteristic of this turn was the sudden stillness.  At the sight of the synchronized flip-turn any spectator who wasn’t standing stood.  Simultaneous with the turn nearly every single person in the Belmont Plaza Pool filled their lungs at the same time to cheer the racers in the final 50 meters.  Thousands of people inhaling at the same moment creates a fleeting hush then a roar as that air comes screaming out. Everyone in the building knew it would take a world record to win this race.

Last Length – Brian Goodell Heading Home

That turn was 17-year-old Brian Goodell’s last moment as second fiddle.  Defying all the laws of physics, he carried momentum off that wall and into the final lap.  Brian negative split the race, had the fastest final 100 at 57.69, and swam his last 50 in 28.60.  That finishing kick would become the trademark of his racing, dismaying his competitors for many years to come. Goodell won the race, setting a new world record.  He would lower the record two more times and win the Olympic gold medal both in this event and the 1500 free.  Goodell became a legend in the sport; the 400 in the 1976 Trials was his breakout swim.

Brian Goodell reflected on the race:

I had been chasing all the racers in this final since 1973, continually building my racing skills and endurance. I knew that Tim Shaw was the man to beat, but that all these men could be capable of doing it. I kept my focus on Tim Shaw and didn’t let the others going out fast distract me. After the 200 final two nights before, I knew I had more closing speed than I’d ever had before, and that I just had to position myself and be patient to use it at the right time. I stayed on Tim’s shoulder until the 300 meter turn and then let that speed run, which worked perfectly for me.

Winning this race and breaking my first world record gave me so much confidence that I felt certain I would win at the Olympic Games.

It is the racer’s determination that is the characteristic that rises at the finish of this race.  Goodell made the 1976 Olympic team with this swim and so did Converse.  Shaw made the Olympic team in an individual event with a ferocious finishing kick.  It would not be the last Olympic team Tim Shaw would make. In 1984 he became that rarest of athletes – a two-sport Olympian – by winning a silver medal with the US Water Polo team.

Naber has no regrets about his race strategy:

In retrospect, I swam as good a race as I was capable of, because my first 200 was 4 seconds faster than my back half.  That’s what I was trying for.

 The fact that the field caught me came as no surprise or disappointment.  In retrospect, it allowed me to train the following month (before the Games) with my longest race being a 200-meter distance.  I credit my significant improvement between the Trials and Olympics to this lighter load.

Bruce, however, might have swum the race a bit differently:

I feel to this day that this decision (not to lose contact with John) resulted in me over swimming the first 200 and essentially deleting any kick required in the last 50 meters of the home stretch.  I still remember the tightness I felt on that last turn.  Looking at the splits, Brian, Tim and Casey swam strategically the smartest races and deserved to make the team.

Hackett has fond memories of the race and racers:

Coming off the 300 I had some thoughts I was in a position to be top 3, but that began to fade going in to the turn when I saw Tim and Brian really close the gap.

Nonetheless, gave it all I had the last 50 (with a two-beat kick and high turnover).  It was a best time and felt great.

Confidence was high after the swim and set me up for the mile.

I decided shortly after the race I would ‘take-it-out’ in the finals of the 1500.  That strategy worked.

Upon reflection, although I was the only swimmer from the east coast (NY area), I had the support of all the teams and swimmers led by Frank Keefe, Bill Palmer, George Breen.  Without that support, and without John Naber calming me down before the finals of the 1500, I would not have made the team.

Such great fun to race.  It would not be the last time and the respect we had/have for each other is what I will fondly remember.  None of us liked to get beat.  But we gave it our all each and every time.

At the end of the 400-meter freestyle at the 1976 US Olympic Trials, seven racers held the top seven times in the world.  Any of those seven times would have won an Olympic medal in Montreal.  It was a great race!

Lane 1) John Naber  4th 55.59 1:54.88 (59.29) 2:54.59 (59.71) 3:53.91 (59.32)
Lane 2) Casey Converse 3rd   57.64 1:57.05 (59.41) 2:55.99 (58.94) 3:53.70 (57.71)
Lane 3) Bruce Furniss 5th 56.68 1:55.72 (59.04) 2:55.25 (59.53) 3:54.33 (59.08)
Lane 4) Tim Shaw 2nd 56.90 1:56.44 (59.54) 2:55.57 (59.13) 3:53.52 (57.95)
Lane 5) Brian Goodell 1st 57.33 1:56.65 (59.32) 2:55.39 (58.74) 3:53.08 (57.69)
Lane 6) Mike Bruner 6th 57.36 1:57.18 (59.82) 2:56.80 (59.62) 3:55.62 (58.82)
Lane 7) Bobby Hackett 7th 56.90 1:56.32 (59.42) 2:55.82 (59.50) 3:55.65 (59.83)
Lane 8) Doug Northway 8th 56.68 1:57.02 (1:00.34) 2:58.53 (1:01.51) 3:59.18  (1:00.65)

Written by Brenda Borgh Bartlett and David Bartlett, who reside in Wayne, Pennsylvania.  If you have an idea for a ‘Great Race’ please contact them at

Dedicated to George Breen, an International Hall of Fame swimmer, a dedicated coach, an ardent friend and a swimming fanatic.

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Gerry Gaintner
3 years ago

I saw that race. Greatest race I ever saw, no question. What a lineup and what a race! The pool arena went totally nuts. What an experience!

Dan Stephenson
3 years ago

Great race and great article.

Nir Shamir
3 years ago
Reply to  Dan Stephenson

Thanks for sharing Brenda And Dave. Wonderful article, beautifully written. Everyone in the race was is a legend, but none bigger than Goodell, of course.

3 years ago
Reply to  Nir Shamir

Fantastic swim and a great tribute by Brenda and Dave. While watching in 1976 I can remember coming out of my couch chair. Seeing it again today, lol I did the same. I got goose bumps all over again. Thanks for the great memory. I’ll cherish forever!!

3 years ago

Who’s who in that final. Legends and legends in the making.

Ed Brown
3 years ago

Great article Brenda and Dave. Love the dedication for George.

Doug Rowe
3 years ago

Amazing race and trials. Had the honor to train with Brian, race against the Trojan rivals and I was in the race in Greenville SC when Casey made his first nationals cuts. All Hall of Famers and even better all great people and ambassadors for US Swimming

3 years ago


Dave Pole
3 years ago

Dave and Brenda, awesome job with the article. It was a legendary time and I was just starting to swim at a national level and thses were the people leading the way. It was my great honor to train and compete with many of them. I learned to be a tough swimmer from these men, but being great racers are a different breed. Thanks.

Wendy Weinberg Weil
3 years ago

What a great commentary! knowing all of them and their personalities, you really filled in the details on the race!

Domino Speca
3 years ago

Thanks Brenda and Dave. Tip of the hat to George. Loved the references to athletes I admired in the 70’s.

Karen Moe Humphreys
3 years ago

Congratulations Dave and Brenda on writing such a wonderful article and telling the story beautifully. It brought me right back to that night in Belmont Plaza and that electric atmosphere – the noise, the energy, even the indoor pool smells! And it is so special to get insight into the minds of those champions.

Thanks for the memories!


Great days in swimming history??
No goggles, caps or speed suits!

3 years ago

Brian Eric Lahmy pour compléter

3 years ago
Reply to  Jacky Brochen

Savez-vous qu’un livre a été écrit sur cette épopée, peut-être la plus grande de l’histoire de la natation, où quelques géants du sport se battirent pour les médailles du 400 et du 1500, et, accessoirement, du 200 mètres? Je l’ai malheureusement perdu dans mon transfert de France au Canada, mais ses héros s’appelaient Bruce Furniss, Tim Shaw, Steve Holland, Bobby Hackett, Brian Goodell, Jim Montgomery, Casey Converse…

3 years ago
Reply to  Eric Lahmy

Je m’appel Daniel

Frank Keefe
3 years ago
Reply to  Jacky Brochen

The article was very well written and researched, the personal interviews excellent and the excitement of the race and trials fantastic. My pulse rate got up to 130 just reading, and reliving that race and excitement. Brenda and Dave brought me back to a special time in life, thanks for “The Words of Wisdom “
Also your dedication to Coach, World Record Holder,
and Swim Fanatic, the Late Great George Breen. Appreciated,

3 years ago
Reply to  Jacky Brochen

Eric Lahmy moi je me rappelle la préparation de Salnikov (Batts 2 Tps) pour battre Goodell ( Batts 6 Tps) aux jeux en terminant le dernier 400m en 3’56”. Le duel n’a pas eu lieu (Moscou 1980 et le boycott USA entre autres) et Salniko a terminé en 3’56”.
Explications de Segeiy Watchekowski ?

3 years ago
Reply to  Jacky Brochen

Goodell était sans doute le nageur de 1500 qui avait de loin le plus fort battement, je me demandais comment il pouvait tenir aussi longtemps, on aurait dit l’hélise du Queen Mary!. Il n’était pas grand non plus, peut-être 1,73m ou 1,75m, mis quel tirant d’eau… Je ne sais pas s’il aurait battu Salnikov à Moscou, et lui-même Goodell, 4 ans après, n’était plus le même nageur; il avait été devancé aux “trials” US cet été 1980 par Mike Bruner, donc il était un peu moins 1500 (et d’ailleurs avait beaucoup progressé en vitesse, passant entre 1976 et 1977 de 1’52s+ à 1’50s7). On ne peut pas savoir ce que cette course aurait donné mais si Goodell avait été avec Salnikov aux 1350-1400 mètres, je pense qu’il aurait montré son battement, qui lui conférait de fortes accélérations, à Salnikov.

3 years ago
Reply to  Jacky Brochen

Eric la stratégie du 3’56” c’était pour obliger Goodell à mettre les battements très tôt et qu’il soit trop chargé en lactates pour flinguer Vladimir.

Dave Roach
3 years ago

Tremendous Race

3 years ago

POSITIVE articles.

Pete Nagle
3 years ago

Great article and kudos for dedication to George!

Bob O’Connell
3 years ago

Fantastic piece. The dedication to George Breen was nice to see. Great job!

Neil Rogers
3 years ago

400 m free is the swimming equivalent to the track mile.
It needs speed and endurance,not an easy mix
All of those in that final were (US Trials) undoubtedly true champions , no argument here at all.
Only 2 swimmers have won the 400 free at an Olympic Games twice.
Both are the next level to those champions.
Murray Rose and Ian Thorpe
Rose could have made it 3 when he wasn’t selected on the Australian team for Tokyo.
10 days after the Tokyo Olympics he won the US long course nationals in world record time and more then a second faster then Don Schollander winning in Tokyo.
These 2 swimmers have legend status

John Naber
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rogers

Brian Goodell would likely have defended his 400-meter title had he been allowed to compete in Moscow in 1980.

Dave Bartlett
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rogers

Thanks for your comment Neil! No question Murray Rose and Ian Thorpe are legends. However, Brenda and I are trying to look at and dissect specific races – moments in time so to speak. While this race was full of legends it was the race itself that became legendary. We would love to come to Australia and look at some races. A race that immediately comes to mind is the 1500 meter freestyle from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with Rose, Yamanaka and Breen. If you have any suggestions please let us know at Thanks!

Huddie Murray
3 years ago

Brenda and Dave, thanks for this wonderful trip down memory lane! And special thanks for the dedication to George. ?? He was one-of-a-kind. (Brenda, you failed to mention that you were on this ‘76 Olympic Team, too!) – Huddie Walsh Murray

Maura Walsh Burke
3 years ago

Brenda and Dave, what an amazing recollection of this historic race and incredible athletes. Loved that you dedicated it to George Breen?….he would have love this!

Chris McKee
3 years ago

Brenda and Dave…..Cheers !! You two have found a new calling. You have pieced together a riveting piece of story telling that even non-poolheads will learn from. I enjoyed not just the remarkable detail of the race itself, but the psyche involved and the ramifications of the results. That was the defining race of the ’76 Trials, which fielded the first Dream Team. These 8 teenage superstars were the nucleus of one of the most dominant teams in Olympic History. Loved the video to (especially Doug’s warm up’s). George would be very proud. Well done and looking forward to more.

3 years ago

I didn’t know this whole story; it was fascinating to read! You two write well together. Thanks for the history and the Entertainment.

Matt Rye
3 years ago

I love the concept giving us a glimpse of what each swimmer was thinking. Can’t wait for more great races to see “behind the curtain”

Chris Breedy
3 years ago

Brenda and Dave-
Your writing and the subject brings back all the sights, sounds and feelings of a very special time in our lives and in the History of swimming! For me that meet was beyond exciting, filled with pride and extreme disappointment— an experience I never forget–particularly every 4 years.
Well done old friends–i look forward to your story of the women’s 400 free relay!

3 years ago

Wow, one of the great races in swimming history! Thanks for the great article and video.

3 years ago

Wow great article and commentary. Please let’s not forget that Tim Shaw was battling an extremely bad case of anemia leading up to and during the trials – so bad that it still affected him in Montreal. I worked this event as a 13 year old runner who collected all the time cards from the timers and the placements from the starter / referee at Belmont Plaza Pool. Shaw spent all his days at this meet laid out on a cot with light grey skin tone behind the bleachers on the south side of the pool struggling to get oxygen to his muscles which is quite important in the 400 freestyle. Not to take anything away from Goodell but have always felt that without the anemia we would have crowned a different champ in 1976. Just my opinion as Goodell will always be the 1976 400 Freestyle Olympic Gold Medalist, and a truly great champion at that !!

3 years ago

This is a terrific piece of work ?

Andy Cinoman
3 years ago

This was a fantastic piece – so well written and put together. And being able to watch the race video was the topper!

Please tell us we’re going to see more of these articles in the future…

Roger Nekton
2 years ago

Thanks for awakening the memory..and..what a spectacular moment in swim history! This run down is great!

David Broggie
2 years ago

Incredible article. I was 11 years old and on the Long Beach swim Club. Tim’s brother Steve was my coach. I remember being in the stands and how loud it was in Belmont Plaza. Such an exciting time. Tim was such an incredible swimmer. I remember once he broke the World record in the 1500 in a “get-out-of -practice” swim in daily practice.

Norbert Ogutu
2 years ago

This was a brilliantly informative article… Well done.

1 year ago

No caps, some with no goggles, waist depth water….. all these guys SO YOUNG…. and lane 8 rocking up in his jeans. Amazing.

P. Taylor
10 months ago

I remember reading after the fact that Tim Shaw had a bout with Mono during the year before the trials. He wasn’t as sharp during trials & the Olympics because of the lost time training. Was that discovered doing the research for this article? Please advise. Thank you

Anne Brodell
8 months ago

Brenda and Dave
Love this. Often we are treated to splits and a dry description of races. Bc we have all been there we can fill in the drama but you 2 made the story even richer with interviews and insights and 20/20 hindsight. Thank you so much. Hopefully this will be a new (high) bar in describing our sport in a way that is compelling and exciting. Thank you both so much

8 months ago

Great read thank you

Allan LaPrino
4 months ago

Arguably, the greatest freestyle race of all time, penned by two spectacularly talented swimmers. Thanks, Brenda and David.

A wonderful tribute to the late George Breen, who along with Ray Essick and the recently deceased Frank Keefe were the backbone of the “new” USA Swimming.

Last edited 4 months ago by Allan LaPrino
Mike Sharadin
3 months ago

Well written Brenda and Dave!! Thanks for the work and George and Frank would be proud!

Wendy Weinberg Weil
22 days ago

Great article, great race! It brought back a lot of memories

Sally Dillon
21 days ago

I too was at Belmont Plaza for that race . . . it was unforgettable and it’s been fun “reliving” it! A part-time lifeguard, I had the opportunity to work as an “usher” at the meet. I also recall that Tim had suffered from mono in the months leading up to the meet and there was a lot of worry that he might not be well enough to make the team. Weeks after Trials, and after a lengthy road trip from Long Beach to Vancouver Island and then across Canada to Montreal, I was in the audience to see the 400 meter race again. It was a highlight of my life being at the Olympics and especially getting to watch Tim. We both swam at Mayfair pool in Lakewood, but not at the same time given our age difference.

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