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'Tis The Season To Be ... Tough

Dec 21, 2012  - Chuck Warner

Guest Writer Chuck Warner looks back at some of the toughest swim practices and where they led some of the toughest swimmers in the history book

Winter break training can be used as a time to build confidence and courage, for those willing to tackle difficult challenges. If you’re looking for ideas for long workouts, just do a goggle search of “toughest swim practice” and some amazing examples will pop up. But the results that every swimmer, coach and parent are looking for are at the end of the season, or even more appropriately, at the end of a swimmer’s career. 

Here are a few a few examples of some tough stuff, and the performances they led to. 

At the DeAnza (now DACA) Swim-A-Thon in the fall of 1975, Mike Bruner swam 10,000-yards instead of the normal 5,000 yard format. He held a time of under one minute on his average for each one hundred yards and swam the time of 9:40.3 on his last 1000. The next summer at the Montreal Olympic Games, Mike was the first gold medal winner in swimming when he won the 200-meter butterfly. 

Bruner’s feat is what inspired Bobby Hackett to tackle 100 x 100-yards on 1:00. After Bobby first succeeded at it in December of 1975, he completed it several more times. At the Montreal Olympics Hackett improved his 1500 nearly 30 seconds from the previous year. He won a silver medal and set a 15-16 year old NAG that still stands today. 

Hackett’s 100 x 100s encouraged Coach Sharon Power to assign Ian Crocker that task over the winter break in 1997. Ian is known for speed and holding the world record in the 100-meter butterfly. But he completed 100 x 100s short course meters on various intervals.  Eight months later he swam a 1:49 200-meter freestyle, one of the fastest times in the world. Two and one half years later he won a gold medal on the United States 400 Medley Relay at the Sydney Olympics.

Over the winter break in 1979, Dennis Pursley was the head coach for the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins. They worked very, very hard and for a long time. One evening he gave a portion of the team a 10,000-meter swim for time, and legend has it, told those swimmers that if they performed under a certain time they could miss the next morning practice. Mary T. Meagher and the butterfly group piped up and asked, “What about us?” Coach Pursley offered the same challenge, along with the fact that everyone that swam butterfly had to swim full stroke/legal butterfly the entire 10,000 meters for their effort to count. Mary T and a few of her teammates earned the right to sleep in the next morning. 

That summer Mary T broke the world records in both butterfly events and the next year dropped them down again to the sport’s long-standing milestones of 57.9 and 2:05.9. 

In the 1970s Coach Mark Schubert’s Mission Viejo teams were noted for performing very long difficult training, especially in the “Animal Lane” or distance group. A sparkling example was Casey Converse’s punishment for missing practice too frequently: a 20,000-yard swim for time in the spring of 1976. 

His time? 4 hours, 8 minutes and 33 seconds. 

That summer Casey improved his 400-meter freestyle seven seconds from the previous year and was a surprise in making the USA Olympic team. 

On Christmas Eve, 1974 Coach Schubert walked out on the pool deck and told his team they were going to swim 10 x 1500s.  Here is the scene from the book Four Champions, One Gold Medal. 

The moment Coach Schubert announced the set, several swimmers began to weigh their options. Some thought of leaving and making up the practice another day, or quitting the team altogether. 

Anticipating some backlash from some of the athletes, Mark Schubert’s temper began to boil. “When you stand up on the blocks at the end of the season I want you to know that you have done things that none of your competitors have done!” he said tersely, “and this is one of those things.”

….By responding in kind, they [The Animal Lane]were not only leading the work ethic of the Mission Viejo Nadadores. They were one of the leading ambassadors of hard work in U.S. swimming, not to mention the rest of the world. Brian Goodell stood by lane one, the animal lane. He smiled and thought, “I’m going home tired tonight no matter what. So who cares if the set is 10 x 1500s. Am I going to die from this?” Brian laughed and quietly said to his animal lane teammates, Taylor Howe and Bill Babashoff, “Let’s go.” 

Nineteen months later Brian Goodell set world records in the 400 and 1500-meter freestyles and won both gold medals at the Montreal Olympics. 

Twenty-one months later Brian Goodell began his senior year of high school. 

What about you?

Chuck Warner is the author of: