U.S. Olympic Trials: Great Races in U.S. Trials History; Tracy Caulkins, Terri Baxter Deadheat 1980 200 Breast

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OMAHA, Nebraska, June 30. YESTERDAY, we relived an epic .01-second victory from Glenn Mills over John Moffett in the 1980 men's 200 breaststroke as part of our Great Races in U.S. Trials History series. Today, we return to 1980 to reminisce about one of the very few ties in Trials history. This time, we again harken back to a 200 breaststroke swim.

In 1980, with the U.S. boycotting the Moscow Olympics due to Russian military aggression in Afghanistan, Team USA focused on beating Olympic times put down by the rest of the world. Tracy Caulkins, swimming for Nashville Aquatics, deadheated the women's 200 breast with Ladera Oaks' Terri Baxter with matching 2:34.66s in the event. The only other previous time a tie took place in finals of the event in Trials history was a 3:16.2 shared by Jeanne Wilson of Lake Shore and Carol Pence of Lafayette back in 1948.

Caulkins, the morning's top qualifier and the American-record holder with five 200 breast national titles to her credit, looked to be the Goliath in the finale, while Baxter, just 15 who had never finished higher than fourth at U.S. Nationals, played David. Caulkins entered the meet with an American record of 2:33.06, while Baxter's lifetime best had been a 2:37.72. She wound up touching in 2:36.72 to qualify out of prelims.

“I always thought the 100 was my best race,” Baxter confided later, still looking slightly thunderstruck. “When I qualified second, I thought that was amazing in itself.”

Caulkins initially looked tough to beat in the finale, taking the swim out in 34.33 and 1:13.61, with Baxter splitting only 35.01 and 1:14.59. Baxter began turning on the speed down the stretch, closing the distance to 1:53.58 to 1:53.72 at the 150-meter mark.

“I thought at the 150 mark we could win and we were ahead at the flags and we were ahead in the stretch for the wall,” Baxter's coach George French said. “And that's where experience comes-in.”

Caulkins could feel the turn in momentum down the final 50 meters, seeing the youngster turning up the heat down the stretch.

“On the third turn, I saw her.” Caulkins said, “I went, 'O Wow!' Then after that I didn't look at her. I just didn't want to tie up. I sensed she was right there and I was just concentrating on having a really good finish.”

The finish was even more dramatic, as the timing system showed Baxter's time first, leaving Caulking to initially think she was the victim of an upset big. The scoreboard then showed all of the times, with a rare tie showing up on the board. Caulkins was not too thrilled with the time, having hoped to clock a 2:30-range swim to be among the medal winning times that that year's Olympics in Moscow. USSR's Lina Kaciusyte won the event in 2:29.54.

Baxter, however, was ecstatic with the result.

“I never really thought I could come in first at Nationals,” Baxter said. “I thought, 'God, I really did it! It's hard to believe!”