THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 9 : Swimming Roundup : Berkoff’s ‘Submarine’ Slows; He Wins Silver

Times Staff Writer

After setting a world record in his qualifying heat, David Berkoff returned to the Olympic Indoor Swimming Pool Saturday night and had to settle for the silver medal in the men’s 100-meter backstroke.

Berkoff, who has been astounding audiences with his unusual “submarine” start, lost to Daichi Suzuki of Japan, a swimmer who says he has been using the underwater start for almost 7 years.

While the rest of the field was coming up for air and starting to stroke toward the far wall, the leaders, Berkoff and Suzuki, were still under water, each with his hands stretched straight above his head, forming a “V” that pointed him on a straight, streamlined course while he kicked. The unorthodox start figures to revolutionize the way backstrokers swim this race.

Berkoff recently has been using his fast, submerged start to build an insurmountable lead, coming up at about 35 meters, just in time to make his turn and sprint back the other way. But he got off to a bad start Saturday night, and Suzuki was able to get a jump on him with his own 30-meter underwater start.


U.S. Coach Richard Quick said: “There was a quick gun, and David wasn’t really set. The strongest point of his race is his start, and he didn’t get a good start. He wasn’t able to get out to that strong, smooth lead.”

Berkoff was not surprised at the impressive performance of Suzuki, who gave Japan its first swimming gold medal in 16 years.

“I’ve been swimming against him for a lot of years,” Berkoff said. “I knew he was a great swimmer.”

And he knew that Suzuki would use the underwater start. Ever since he used it in the U.S. trials in Austin, Tex., where he broke the world record of Soviet Igor Poliansky--the bronze medalist Saturday night-- Berkoff has been explaining that the technique has been around for many years.


He said he saw Jesse Vassallo use it in 1976 but that it didn’t become a common technique because no one had had great success with it.

That will change now.

Suzuki won the gold in 55.05 seconds, slower than Berkoff’s world-record time of 54.51 and slower, even, than the 55.00 that had been Poliansky’s record until last month. Berkoff took the silver in 55.18, and Poliansky the bronze in 55.20.

Without saying that he had lost anything because of his world-record performance in the morning, Berkoff, 21, did say that he felt tight in the final heat.


Michael Gross of West Germany, a double gold medalist in the 1984 Games, won his first gold medal of the ’88 Games Saturday night by swimming the men’s 200-meter butterfly in 1:56.94. Benny Nielson of Denmark won the silver, and Anthony Mosse of New Zealand the bronze.

Mel Stewart was the top U.S. finisher, in fifth place with a time of 1:59.19. Mark Dean of UCLA won the consolation heat in 2:00.26.

Daniela Hunger of East Germany won the gold in the women’s 200-meter individual medley with an Olympic-record time of 2:12.59. It was East Germany’s eighth gold medal in swimming. Elena Dendeberova of the Soviet Union took the silver in 2:13.31, and Noemi Ildiko Lung of Romania the bronze in 2:14.85.

Mary Wayte had been the top qualifier for the United States, ranking third after the morning heats with a time of 2:15.77, but was disqualified because judges said she had used an illegal dolphin kick on the breaststroke leg.


Former Olympian Nancy Hogshead, on hand to do reports for ABC Radio, was amazed. Hogshead said that Wayte had used the same kick that Tracy Caulkins always used, one that had been controversial at first but has been accepted for at least 15 years.

Wayte’s disqualification put teammate Whitney Hedgepeth in the final. Hedgepeth finished eighth in 2:17.99.

The U.S. women’s 400-meter medley relay team finished second to the East Germans, who won the gold in 4:03.74. The United States finished in 4:07.90, and Canada took the bronze in 4:10.49.

American Matt Cetlinski was the top qualifier in the 1,500-meter freestyle with a time of 15:07.41. The Soviet Union’s Vladimir Salnikov, the world record-holder in the event who is making a comeback at age 28, qualified second in 15:07.85.