League Of Olympic Swim Legends: Historic Three-Way Gold For Tracy Caulkins, Donna De Varona & Yana Klochkova

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Shared gold for a line-up of legends (l-r) Tracy Caulkins, Donna de Varona and Yana Klochkova - Image Courtesy: SwimSketch

What would have unfolded had Tokyo 2020 gone ahead as planned this week – and where would it all have fit in the thread of Olympic swim legends and pioneers like Yana Klochkova, Tracy Caulkins and Donna De VaronaTo mark the eight days over which the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have unfolded had the coronavirus pandemic not forced postponement, the team at Swimming World is filling the void with a Virtual Vision Form Guide and League of Olympic Swimming Legends.

Day 4, event 2 – Hail the queens of medley

Women’s 200m Medley

Yana Klochkova

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Donna deVarona

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Tracy Caulkins

The Podium

  1. Tracy Caulkins (USA); Donna De Varona (USA); Yana Klochkova (UKR)

The Other Finalists (Listed Alphabetically):

  • Shane Gould (AUS)
  • Katinka Hosszu (HUN)
  • Claudia Kolb (USA)
  • Ye Shiwen (CHN)
  •  Our Lane 9* place goes to the Canadian denied by Michelle Smith at Atlanta 1996:
  • Marianne Limpert (CAN)

* – in our series, we will use Lane 9 to add an athlete whose story reflects extraordinary situations of different kinds, including being deprived by those who fell foul of anti-doping rules or by political decisions or, indeed the Olympic program, as well as simple facts such as “he/she was the only other title winner who claimed gold in a WR but didn’t make out top 8 on points”

All-Time Battle Of Olympic Swim Legends Goes To

For the first time in Olympic history (Legends lore, that is), there is a three-way share of the gold medal. There was no separating the exploits of the Ukraine’s Yana Klochkova and Americans Donna de Varona and Tracy Caulkins when analysis and scoring were applied in the 200 individual medley. Yes, there is license taken beyond the reality of what actually unfolded at the Games for a double champion, a single champion and a champion who didn’t event have a shot at this event but the points for our all-time virtual world stacked up to this: we’re happy to celebrate a trio of women.

Klochkova’s appearance on the top of the podium was clear strictly through performance. After winning gold at the 2000 Games by almost two seconds and in Olympic-record time, Klochkova retained her title four years later in Athens. The repeat was not nearly as easy, but Klochkova still managed a half-second decision over American Amanda Beard.

For de Varona,  the first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, there was no opportunity to contest the 200 medley during her Olympic days, the event not added to the schedule until 1968. However, her portfolio serves as enough proof that she would have been the overwhelming favorite had the event been on the program. Between 1961 and 1964, de Varona set seven uninterrupted world records and it wasn’t until 1966 that her name was erased from the books.

In Caulkins’ case, she set three world records in the short medley during her career and captured the gold medal in the event at the 1984 Olympics. But it was 1980 where Caulkins was at her peak, and what was supposed to be her Olympic debut was taken away by the United States’ decision to boycott the Moscow Games. Had politics not interfered, Caulkins could very well be a two-time Olympic champion.

200 IM Down The Decades – Donna de Varona – with underwater camera, 1963 – and post-race interview:

Tracy Caulkins – 1984 Gold In Olympic Record Time

Swimming World January 2020 - Takeoff To Tokyo - The US Boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics - Tracy Caulkins by Horst Muller

Tracy Caulkins in her heyday – Swimming World Magazine

1984 Los Angeles – Women 200m Individual Medley – Athletes: 27; Nations: 21

1. 2:12.64or Tracy Caulkins USA

2. 2:15.17 Nancy Hogshead USA

3. 2:15.92 Michele Pearson AUS

2:16.75 Lisa Curry-Kenny AUS
2:17.82 Christiane Pielke FRG
2:19.69 Manuela Dalla Valle ITA
2:19.86 Petra Zindler FRG
2:20.48 Katrine Bomstad NOR

Date of final: August 3, 1984

Ask just about any leading coach of the past 50 years to name the most versatile woman swimmer in history and most, if not all, will answer “Tracy Caulkins“.

At 15, she won five gold medals and a silver at the 1978 World Championships in Berlin, achievements that earned her the honour of being the youngest athlete ever to win the Sullivan Award, presented each year to the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. Olympic boycott then robbed her of what may well have been her finest aquatic hour in Moscow, 1980.

Four years on at a home Games in Los Angeles, Caulkins, coached by a variety of mentors, including Don Talbot, Ron Young and Randy Reese down the years, stepped up for the 200m medley knowing that the only women capable of beating her – East Germans training under State Plan 14:25, a government-led doping programme – were absent.

Given that the 200m medley had not been raced since 1972 in Olympic waters, it was no surprise to see the Olympic record fall in the first heat. In 2:19.17, Christiane Pielke (FRG) owned the standard for two heats until Nancy Hogshead (USA) crunched it down to 2:16.29 before Caulkins, winner of the 400m medley crown five days earlier, left no doubt about her superiority with a 2:14.47 record in the fourth and last heat.

In the final, Hogshead got away to the fastest start and turned in 29.22, 0.17sec ahead of Caulkins after butterfly. Out of the turn, Caulkins surged into the lead on backstroke and by halfway had built up a commanding lead, 1:02.49 to 1:03.66, with Michelle Pearson (AUS) third in 1:04.38, ahead of Pielke, in 1:05.24. A world-class breaststroke swimmer, Caulkins put in a 38.95 split down the third length and the battle for gold, won on backstroke, was completed on breaststroke as she turned into the last length on 1:41.44, Hogshead next through in 1:44.01, with Pearson on 1:44.75 and managing to keep her teammate Lisa Curry at bay.

A homecoming 31.20 split gave Caulkins the title in an Olympic record of 2:12.64 ahead of Hogshead and Pearson.

Nancy Hogshead’s tale of courage has served as an inspiration for women along the years. Her own harrowing experience led her on a huge journey  she is travelling to this day, an Empowering Athletes Bill awaiting decision by U.S. Congress and designed to protect athletes from abuse and the rogues who have not only found their way into sport and the realm of children for decades but been enabled by wilful blindness and weak systems of protection.

Tracy Caulkins – Olympic gold at Los Angeles 1984 in an Olympic record – with Donna de Varona commentating and then interviewing the new champion: 

Yana Klochkova – 2000 – The First Gold Before She Retained The Title In 2004

2000 Sydney – Women 200m Individual Medley – Athletes: 36     Nations: 28

  1. 2:10.68 Yana Klochkova UKR
  2. 2:12.57 Beatrice Coada-Caslaru ROM
  3. 2:13.32 Cristina Teuscher USA
    2:13.44 Marianne Limpert CAN
    2:13.70 Joanne Malar CAN
    2:13.88 Oxana Verevka RUS
    2:14.82 Gabrielle Rose USA
    2:15.64 Tomoko Hagiwara JPN

Date of final: September 19, 2000

The 200m medley for women was one of the most tarnished in terms of doping scandals in the build-up to the 2000 Games: the 1996 champion Michelle Smith de Bruin (IRL) was unable to defend the crown because she had been suspended for manipulating a drug test sample in 1998, then Wu Yanyan (CHN), who in 1997 clocked a stunning 2:09.72 world record, was suspended for steroids in May 2000.

In Sydney, the way was clear for Yana Klochkova (UKR) to capitalise on her 400m medley victory three days earlier. Turning second at the 50m mark in 28.70, Klochkova clocked a 1:01.78 halfway split before roaring ahead on breaststroke to turn in 1:40.05 with an advantage over Beatrice Coada-Caslaru (ROM), on 1:41.45. Klochkova claimed the crown in an Olympic record of 2:10.68, her margin of triumph almost 2sec over the Romanian, with Cristina Teuscher (USA) stepping up for bronze.

Sadly, fine footage of Yana Klochkova’s Olympic victories is hard to come by. You can, however, get a splendid view of her strengths in this footage of the 2001 World Championships:

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