Swim Meet of Champions : The Empire Strikes Back in Water
Officially, it’s called the Speedo Swim Meet of Champions, but Friday night’s competition at the Mission Viejo International Swim Complex could have passed for an extension of the Commonwealth Games.
There were enough “good show, mate” salutations going around to make a season’s worth of Australian tourism commercials. Most of the winners sounded as if they were ready to “throw another shrimp on the bar-b” at any minute.
Of the eight individual Olympic events contested Friday, seven were won by Commonwealth swimmers. Three Australians, three Canadians and one New Zealander made it to the top level of the victory stand.
The most prominent was Canadian Victor Davis, who won the Olympic gold in the 200-meter breaststroke in world-record time last summer. Davis rested and shaved for this meet, and it showed as he set a meet record in the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:03.77, slightly more than two seconds slower than Steve Lundquist’s world mark.
Michele Pearson, who took a 200-meter freestyle bronze medal home to Australia this summer, won the same event Friday night in 2:02.38. Australian Rob Woodhouse, who won an Olympic bronze in the 400-meter individual medley, won the men’s 200-meter freestyle (1:53.14) and Georgie Parkes, who competed on the Australian Olympic team, won the women’s 100-meter backstroke in 1:04.23.
Canadian Mike West, who won a silver in the medley relay and a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke last summer, won the 100 backstroke (58.89), and Canadian Olympian Jill Horstead won the 200-meter butterfly in 2:13.67.
New Zealand’s Anthony Mosse, who swims at Stanford, won the 200 butterfly in 2:01.56.
Davis was one of the few swimmers who came to this meet prepared to go fairly fast.
“I’m taking this meet pretty seriously,” he said. “I even clipped and shaved a bit here and there. I wanted to feel fast for the first time in 10 months.”
Davis was chastised in the Canadian press for kicking a chair in the 1982 Commonwealth Games with the Queen of England looking on and made headlines for the better part of year after he was accused of stabbing a guest during a party at his home in 1983. He was acquitted of the charge.
“I don’t know if I had a bad-guy image, but it was certainly a little rusty around the edges,” Davis said, smiling. “I wasn’t just another boring amateur athlete, though.
“I kicked the chair when the relay team was unjustly disqualified, and the stabbing thing was a total frame-up. This guy was smoking hash in my house, and I didn’t like it. We scuffled a bit, but that’s all. Then four hours later, he shows up at a hospital and says I stabbed him.”
Davis won the Canadian public over when he won the gold and now he wants to go after Lundquist’s record.
“There’s been a lot of demands on my time since the Olympics, and it’s hard getting back into training,” he said. “I just wanted to keep in touch with what it feels like to go fast.”
Teammate Mike West took another approach but still came out on top, even though his time was almost four seconds slower than Rick Carey’s world record.
“I’m in the midst of very heavy training and I’d have to say I’m very encouraged that I swam this well when I was this tired,” West said.
The Australians showed up in a semi-peaked state of preparedness, having rested for the better part of two weeks. Woodhouse, whose time was almost six seconds off West German Michael Gross’ world record, was especially pleased with his time in an off event.
“Not bad for an IMer, aye?” he asked. “I usually don’t swim the 200 free, but I might have to reconsider.”
All three of the Australian winners said they came to Mission Viejo mainly for the chance to swim against world-class competition and they certainly fared well, winning the first three races of the evening.
Parkes, who won the third event of the night, was all smiles as she hugged her countrymen after winning the 100 backstroke.
“We’re doing a bit of all right, aren’t we?” she asked reporters.
More than a bit, it would seem.
Mission Viejo High School sophomore Susan Johnson broke the foreign dominance with a win in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:14.37).