Into what is usually the brief hiatus between the short-course season that ends with the school year, and the long-course season that picks up as swimmers resume club allegiance to train for national and international competition, comes a new idea in swim meets.
Short-course meets usually are held indoors with the events measured in yards, and long-course meets are held outdoors, the measurements in meters.
But the Avis Swimming Championships being held today and Sunday at the Olympic Swim Stadium on the USC campus is a team short-course meet being conducted in meters. Former Olympian Rowdy Gaines bills it as the Final Four of swimming.
Gaines, working as a spokesman for the meet sponsor, is adept at ticking off the virtues of this innovation. He is seconded, however, by Darrell Fick, associate men's coach at USC and the meet director, and others.
They like the idea of inviting four of the top college teams to compete in a tournament-type dual meet competition. The Texas men's team will join Stanford, USC and California. The Texas women's team will join Stanford, UCLA and USC.
Today at 10 a.m., the Stanford women will swim against UCLA, and at noon the Texas women will swim against USC. At 2 p.m. the Stanford men will swim against USC, and at 4 p.m. Texas will meet Cal.
Sunday, at noon, the winning teams from Saturday will meet for the titles, with the men and women swimming alternate races. The Sunday session will be televised on a delayed basis at 8:30 p.m. by Prime Ticket.
"It's a brilliant concept, because it's a true team competition in a meet that takes place in two hours," Gaines said. "The NCAA meet is more of an individual meet, even though the points go for a team score."
Qualifying standards for the NCAA meet are hard to meet, so the teams that come out on top after those three-day meets are the teams that have the best top-level swimmers picking up points day after day. Not all teams have the same number of swimmers entered.
This format is closer to the regular-season dual-meet format, with each school sending 12 swimmers and 2 divers against another school's 12 swimmers and 2 divers.
Richard Quick, the Texas women's coach and also the U.S. national coach through the 1988 Olympics, likes it because it gives American college stars a real reason for training in the spring.
Gaines, one of the Americans who trained beyond his college years for the 1984 Olympics because of the boycott in 1980, says this type of meet is crucial to developing the national team.
"The more competition, the better," he said. "I know that in all the years I was swimming, the more I competed, the better I got."
This meet also breaks up a stretch of training that can get pretty tedious.
And being a short-course meet in a 25-meter pool, it will give the Americans a chance to compare their times to the Europeans' in their short-course season. The United States is the only country that swims its short-course season in yards.
That being the case, there probably will be a lot of American records at this meet. It has been a long time since Americans swam at this distance.
Fick said that the USC men's team rested for about three days before this meet. The men's NCAA meet was just three weeks ago, and most of the teams took some time off after that. So they should be well rested. The women's NCAA meet was five weeks ago, so some of them may have gone back to intense training.
Fick said, "We're looking at this meet as a springboard into our long-course preparation."
The Olympic pool was, of course, 50 meters long for the Games in '84 but can be converted to 25 meters--or to yards, or any distance--by the positioning of a movable bulkhead. . . . Seedings for this weekend's meet--Texas men No. 1, followed by Stanford, USC and Cal; Texas women No. 1, followed by Stanford, UCLA and USC--were based on the final coaches' poll after the regular team season. . . . Although NCAA rules prohibit any swimmer from being paid directly for competing, Avis is paying each competing team $6,000. It's another step toward the kind of corporate sponsorship needed to keep American amateur sports even with countries that subsidize athletes. . . . U.S. Swimming will announce its Sports Festival teams next week. Californians are expected to make up about 25% of the team of 125. . . . Mission Viejo won its 48th national title March 24-28 in Boca Raton at the Phillips 66/U.S. Swimming short-course national meet, taking the men's title. It keeps alive a streak of a national championship every year since 1976 and continues to build on the record for most titles won. Coach Mark Schubert, who won most of those titles at Mission Viejo, is now the coach at Boca Raton's Mission Bay, which won the women's title and the overall title in Schubert's new home pool.