The Top 8 Swimming Moments from the 1988 Seoul Olympics

  28 Olivier Poirier-Leroy | June 17th, 2014 | Featured, International, Lifestyle, Masters, News, Opinion

pinit fg en rect gray 28 The Top 8 Swimming Moments from the 1988 Seoul Olympics

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

The storylines that came out of the Seoul Olympics were as varied and colourful as the athletes whose names became synonymous with Games. There were the emerging stars such as Egerszegi, Nesty, Otto, Biondi and Darnyi, while other big names like Gross and Salnikov sought to end their Olympic careers with the reflective awesomeness of gold.

The Seoul Games were notable in that it was the first time the major swimming powers would all be competing against each other at the Olympics since the Montreal Games in 1976, a gap of 12 years. The West had boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980, with the Soviets following suite in 1984 when the Games were held in Los Angeles. Additionally, the Seoul Games would be the last time we would see the East Germans and Soviets compete as sport powers.

Here are the 8 biggest moments — in no particular order — that came out of the pool that fall in Seoul:

1.. Anthony Nesty out-touches Matt Biondi in the 100m butterfly.

Screen Shot 2014 06 17 at 6.47.54 AM 300x225 The Top 8 Swimming Moments from the 1988 Seoul Olympics

Anthony Nesty wins 100 butterfly, 1988 Olympic Games.

Matt Biondi, otherwise known as the “California Condor”, was billed as the next Mark Spitz coming into the Seoul Olympics. With world record holder Pablo Morales not competing – he placed third at the US Trials a month earlier – Biondi looked to have the field at his whim.

And for 99 metres, he did. With the pack — including defending Olympic champion Michael Gross — coming back on him, Biondi held a comfortable lead with about 5 metres to go. Under the flags he was faced with the classic swimmer’s dilemma – to finish on half a stroke or glide in.

He choose the latter.

Surinam’s Anthony Nesty, swimming two lanes above, finished on a full stroke, out-touching the American by the slimmest of margins – just 1/100th of a second.

Biondi, in a diary that he kept for Sports Illustrated during the Games, summarized the margin of victory and the expected reaction he had upon watching it: “After all, what’s a 100th of a second? Could I have won with longer fingernails? A slightly quicker start? Looking at the tape of the race just makes me sick to my stomach.”

RACE VIDEO: 1988 OLYMPIC 100 BUTTERFLY FINAL:

2. Tamas Darnyi wins the IM double.

Daryni was the master of the individual medley for close to a decade, dominating both IM’s at every major international competition between 1985 and 1993.

Forged under the heavy and demanding workload heaped on him by his father – who would spank him mid-workout if not performing adequately – and his coach (who once made Darnyi swim 200 laps with paddles and a t-shirt for extra resistance as punishment for an “uninspired workout”) Daryni dominated the IM’s in Seoul, winning the 200, and then completely dismantled the field to win by over 3 seconds in the 400, breaking his own world record in the process.

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Janet Evans prepares for her 800 free on night one of the 2012 SMOC. (Photo Courtesy: Melissa Lundie)

3. Janet Evans captures hearts and gold in the 400m freestyle.

Faced against a daunting East German opposition, whose members had been running the table on international swimming since the early 1970’s, here was this tiny, bouncing ball of smiling energy wrapped in the stars and stripes.

With her trademark windmill and endless endurance Evans was one of the very few to break the East German stranglehold on gold medals, winning both distance freestyles and the 400 IM. Her greatest performance came in the 400m freestyle, where she not only won gold, but swam a world record that would go unbeaten for 18 years.

RACE VIDEO: 1988 400 FREE OLYMPIC FINAL:

4. Kristin Otto wins 6 gold medals.

A year before the Berlin wall came down– and the subsequent unveiling of their sophisticated state-sanctioned doping program — the East Germans put on one final display of overwhelming superiority on the Olympic stage. Their crowning achievement would be a tall blonde from Leipzig named Kristin Otto.

In Seoul she would put on a stunning display of versatility by winning the 100 free, 100 back, 100 butterfly, and 50 free, while also contributing to the GDR’s winning 4×100 medley and 4×100 freestyle relay.

Becoming the first woman to win six gold medals in a single Olympic games – the previous record was multi-way tie with four golds – she could have won 7, tying Spitz’ record, had the 4×200 freestyle relay also been competed on the women’s side.

5. Krisztina Egerszegi becomes the youngest swimmer to win gold in Olympic history.

At just 14 years of age, Egerszegi won the silver medal in the 100m backstroke, and then qualified second fastest for the final behind defending World Champion, Cornelia Sirch from East Germany. At the 100 it was a 3-way race between Egerszegi, Sirch, and another East German, Kathrin Zimmermann, with the rest of the field left in the dust. The tiny Hungarian not only took on the two more experienced GDR athletes, but dismantled them over the last 50 metres, pulling away to win gold and break the Olympic record.

Three years later she would also break the world record, holding it until 2008, a span of 17 years. She would cement her place as the best female backstroker of all time, winning the 200m backstroke again in 1992 and 1996, becoming the second swimmer behind Australia’s Dawn Fraser to three-peat the same event at consecutive Games.

RACE VIDEO: 200 BACKSTROKE 1988 OLYMPIC FINAL

OVP 5598 Edit 160x300 The Top 8 Swimming Moments from the 1988 Seoul Olympics

Matt Biondi and Tom Jager, 24 years later, race at the 2012 Tiburon Sprint Classic

6. The 50m Freestyle is held at the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

It had been 84 years since the 50 freestyle was held at the Olympic Games, and it’s long awaited return did not disappoint. In his second to last event, Matt Biondi had a self-professed “perfect race,” securing himself medal number six – the fourth gold — and yet another world record.

Biondi would lower the world record by 0.09 seconds, beating teammate Tom Jager’s mark, and leading an American 1-2 punch in the event.

7. Vladimir Salnikov finally wins a non-boycotted 1500m freestyle gold medal.

Vladimir Salnikov had won gold in the 1500m freestyle at the 1980 Moscow Games. Winning gold at a boycotted Games was an empty victory for Salnikov, who also became the first man to break the vaunted 15 minute barrier that year. With the Soviet Union boycotting the 1984 Games, Salnikov would have to wait until 1988 to swim his prized event with the whole world present.

By the time Seoul rolled around, Salnikov was 28 years old, and in the previous two years he’d shown cracks in the armour, failing to medal at Worlds in 1986, and not even making the final at European Championships in 1987. Despite this, Salnikov would become the oldest swimmer to win gold at the Olympics in over half a century, swimming a gutsy 15:00.42, and receiving a standing “O” from competitors of all sports and countries in the athletes village.

8. East German women utterly dominant in the pool.

While this isn’t what you would call a “top moment,” the East Germans and their long running PED program need to be mentioned, as the long running state-driven doping program cheated countless athletes chances at records, medals, and second swims.

By 1988 the East German machine had been running on overdrive for years – as far back as the 1976 Games the GDR women took 11 of 13 gold medals – and with Kristin Otto leading the charge with her 6 golds, the East German women would win a total of 10 of 15 gold medals in Seoul, forever tainting the record books.

Fortunately for future athletes, the large-scale doping program would disintegrate along with the Berlin wall in upcoming years, but too late for the women who attended the ’88 Games and were cheated out of seeing their hard work be fully recognized on the world’s brightest stage.

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Comments

  1. thomaslurzfan says:
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    Its sad, how many americans are talking about gdr and its athletes, although in athletics there is at least one athlete from usa caught doping every year and although usa nowadays shows the same dominance in swimming (what might be the reason?). These people should show at least a little bit of respect, because these athletes trained harder then anyone of you ever will. The reason for their victory wasnt doping alone, but most importantly the very hard training (Im sure nearly every of their opponents was doped as well). Today everyone knows that every swimmer who wins a medal at olympics is doped, but noone says that american swimmers only win because of doping, but because they have the best coaches and are training at a very high level. When someone from another country shows a great performance (Meilutyte or Shiwen at 2012 olympics) its nearly always american coaches or representatives talking first about doping.

    • Flyin' says:
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      That is a ridiculous and unfounded accusation. Yes, there are athletes still who dope, but to accuse nearly every athlete who wins an Olympic medal of doping is preposterous. Yes, sometimes American athletes dope and are caught doing it, but random drug testing is used to catch these athletes. Regardless, there is a big difference between a few athletes a year and the entire East German national team being coerced into a government-run program to artificially enhance their ability.

      That said, I do agree with you on a couple points. Yes, these athletes still worked very hard; however, I think to say they necessarily worked harder than the athletes they pushed out of medals or WRs is a stretch.

      But you do make a great point when you say that people (perhaps especially Americans) need be more lenient on their accusations when a non-American swimmer has a great swim.

  2. thomaslurzfan says:
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    I didnt say that a few american athletes are doped, what i wanted to say is that in my opinion these athletes who are caught are just the tip of the iceberg. Justin Gatlin/Tyson Gay/LaShawn Merriot (Marion Jones) they were all caught doping (and now are all back even better) and i have no doubt that the guys who replaced them in the american team were doped as well, otherwise they wouldnt have been able to run as fast. I think that in the United States doping is part of the system (just look at how ”accepted” doping is in american baseball/football), there are so many great athletes in the us that you dont have a chance to get into the team if youre not doped. I dont blame american athletes for that, they dont win by doping, but because they have the best conditions and best coaches (I just want to say that its pretty ridiculous to believe that nowadays you can win a medal in swimming/athletics without being doped. People from poor countries often would do nearly everything to win a medal at olympics, if you want to beat them you also have to dope, that is just the game. In swimming the world records of the soviet/gdr swimmers were improved by seconds in the last couple of years, how do you think did this happen? In athletics we just dont see this amount of new world records, because there are much more controls). When the american girls broke the 4x100m wr in athletics at 2012 olympics, previously held by gdr, by over 0.5s, everyone knew they were doped, but (nearly) noone in the us accused them, because the usa just loves these stories. In the above article its pretty funny, that there were still some ”good” american swimmers who were able to beat the ”bad” doped gdr athletes (of course without doping themselves). Its up to you to believe these stories and i dont blame you for it, because thats the way sport in usa works, the people just love these stories of underdogs who win just by hard training and the strength of their mind. Im sure that gdr athletes worked harder than their opponents, by that i dont mean that they just had more dicipline or sth. like that, they were forced to work that hard, if they didnt want it, they were thrown out of the team. You act pretty childish, if you think that american swimmers are not able to not get caught doping. It would be a start if they would compete more often in other countries earlier in the season. Most of the time american swimmers only compete in the united states until june/july, but by that time they could easily be ”ready” with doping, because doping is not used right before the competitions but some months before that. If you look at the american anti doping agency and how bad they work concerning athletics, i dont think they are very likely to ever catch an american swimmer, even if everyone of them would be doped.

  3. Andrew says:
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    Jeez dude, would it kill you to break up your comment? Besides your ridiculous claims that world records that have gone down from the GDR era by large amounts are a result of doping (did you even think about the plethora of records broken by the tech suits???), it’s really hard to follow your posts. Paragraphs, man, paragraphs.

  4. David Berkoff says:
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    To assert that the GDR and US swimmers were on a level playing field during the 70’s and 80’s is perhaps the dumbest comment ever posted on this site. I was there. I saw how ridiculously ‘roided out the GDR swimmers were. I felt terrible for our women swimmers because it was clear tha the GDR was cheating clean athletes out of medals. Otto was part of the system and celebrating her six medals is inappropriate.

    True story. In Seoul, there was a training pool under the stands. Next to the pool was a scale. It provided weight in pounds and kgs. I was standing there next to some of the GDR swimmers. I randomly stood on the scale to see if it worked. Up popped the number 69.5 kg (about 152 pounds). The GDR women saw the number and started laughing and pointing. They were laughing at the fact that I was probably 10 kg lighter than their smallest swimmer, and it was not because they were fat.

    My top 5 efforts would be Evans’ 400 free, 800 free, and 400 IM wins over the ‘roid women. Next would be all of Matt’s performances. Third would be all three men’s relays. Then Darnyi’s IMs. The fifth would be Nesty’s or Armstrong’s wins.

  5. thomaslurzfan says:
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    The thing with paragraphs is certainly true, but when i started to write it i didnt think it would become the long, still no reason for you to play drama queen.

    The suits have absolutely nothing to do with the world records being broken. Today they wear normal suits and are still by far faster than any of those gdr athletes, although everyone of them was, as we now know, was doped. All of these gdr swimmers had the hardest possible training and doped as much as possible, so how can nowadays someone be (by far) better, without being doped, it just cant be pure talent. I know that training and technique improved, but not nearly to such a degree that these two factors can explain the huge improvement of the world records since the times of the gdr.

    One point i didnt mention before is the fact that swimmers like Phelps or Lochte or Franklin or Hosszu can swim multiple events in a very short period of time at a world class level, without getting tired. I dont think that this is normal, even for such world class athletes.

    • MarkB says:
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      I don’t know how the age group programs work in other countries but in the US, swimmers have swum 10 – 12 events at every AAU, USS or USA swim meet since they were 10 years old and have been since the 60’s. (It was the only way to win High Point at meets since everyone else was swimming a million events) You get used to it and continuing it at 18 – 24 is just the norm.

    • Flyin' says:
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      To say that the suits have nothing to do with it is completely ridiculous. Both for the suits and for technique coaches have started integrating more science. They learn better ways to do things or make things and this causes swimmers to improve, simple as that.

      I would have to say the opposite of you, on the records and such. I think it is crazy how close Spitz (for example) was to the times they swim now. He was wearing no goggles or cap and like a cloth suit!! Also, the breaking of records has slowed at a relatively steady rate since the beginning of swimming as a sport.

      Further, it is only natural for athletes to improve. First off, their are simple more people both in the world and exposed to swimming. The more people that get a chance to swim, the more likely we are to find the next Spitz or Phelps, simple as that. Plus, psychological, as the competition gets faster, other athletes at the top of their mental game will also get faster.

      Lastly, these athletes do get tired. I remember when Lochte had to pull the 2 back, 2 IM double in London and he ended up losing to Phelps in the IM. As much of a Phelps fan as I am, it’s obvious Lochte’s double contributed to his loss and Phelps’ win.

  6. thomaslurzfan says:
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    @David Berkoff: Haha youre really ridiculous (or i dont understand your sense of humor) and you dont seem to be able to read/understand the comments of other people. Youre exactly doing what i mentioned in one of my post above. The poor us girls were stolen their medals by the gdr girls (most people in the usa are not used to losing against other nations and if they lose than their opponent played unfair), but some of the (for sure not doped) brave us girls beat these pumped up gdr girls just by their mental strength. The more i think about it, the more i seem to understand the purpose of your comment: You call my comment one of the dumbest every posted and then you directly try to post an even dumber comment?

    • ERVINFORTHEWIN says:
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      Hey due , cool your stuffs down here . I personnaly don’t care one second about reading your moral bible and secondly , the article is about the 88′ Games . That’s the time i got infected with a virus : i love swimming more than any sport ever ! and thanks to who ? great swimmers giving their best . And yes , Usa team with M Biondi and Tom Jaeger got myself into passion for that amazing sport . Just stop bluring the whole topic here and maybe follow Thomas Lurz path to find out how it is about open water swimming . Give yourself a break from your non stop talkative mind , will ya ? dive into the water , swim swim swim and see how u Feel ! let me know how u are or who u are after that . I feel great swimming every week . I feel happy .

    • Flyin' says:
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      Dude, David Berkhoff was there…swimming. His point is, it was obvious that the gdr girls weighed waaaay more than the other girls.

  7. david berkoff says:
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    Lurz, you are either a troll or a nut. Either way, you have no ides what you are talking about. The GDR systematically doped. Its a proven fact no debate necessary.

    • ERVINFORTHEWIN says:
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      i couldn’t agree more . By the way , i loved watching D Berkoff swimming !

    • danjohnrob says:
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      David, I too am a huge fan of yours and actually met you once when you gave a stroke clinic in RI that really inspired some of the swimmers I coached, thank you!

      I absolutely agree that it was terrible that so many swimmers lost to doped GDR athletes during this period; however, the way I look at it, it was the GDR government that cheated, not the athletes. I know the athletes did the swimming, but from what I understand they were not informed about what they were taking and were given extreme punishments if they asked questions. If I were them, until I developed strange side-effects, I would just have assumed that my success came from good nutrition and supplements and hard work in the pool and weight room. By that point most of them were at the end of their careers or had serious medical problems that ended their careers.

      I think the US women were a LOT luckier to leave the games with a silver medal and their HEALTH than the GDR athletes, most of whom suffered severe consequences like cardiac/liver disease, gender confusion/depression, infertility/children with birth defects, or death! So, I feel like the GDR swimmers paid a terrible price for their medals and should be respected because they were as much victims of the GDR government’s systematic doping as the other athletes of the world. I only wish the GDR officials who experimented on human beings like lab rats had been brought to justice, but that never happened.

      I don’t know how to post a link here, but there’s an excellent video on YouTube about this subject that really changed my perspective. If you’re interested, search for: “Doping Scandal of East Germany in the 1970s” on that site.

  8. swim_coach1 says:
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    I can’t believe that Gold Medal Mel didn’t make the top 8 :)

    • aswimfan says:
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      Gold medal mel’s win was very predictable. That would be akin to saying that Lochte’s 400 IM win in London is one the top swimming moments.

  9. Coach says:
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    DUNCAN ARMSTRONG

  10. aswimfan says:
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    I can’t believe an article about the top 8 swimming moments at the 1988 Seoul Olympics does not include the BIGGEST UPSET at the swimming competition:
    DUNCAN ARMSTRONG

    Armstrong was ranked 46th in the world leading to the Olympics, and he faced the three absolute best in 200 free: Michael Gross, Matt Biondi, Arthur Wojdat, all of whom broke 200 free WR.

    If his win is not memorable to the writer of this article, surely Laurie Lawrence’s reaction is..??
    Or maybe the writer never watched Seoul Olympics..

  11. thomaslurzfan says:
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    I knew that i would get these reactions, but i still wrote it, because i thought maybe at least one person here reads it and begins to change his mind, but im shocked how few people are able to read other persons thoughts and actually understand it.

    @David Berkoff: I never denied that in the gdr there was systematic doping and i never said that this cruel system is comparebable to that in the usa. I never said that us swimmers in the 70s doped as much as gdr swimmers, but i said that they for sure doped as well. You wrote to comments here and nothing really had anything to do with what i said.

    @Ervin: If you wouldve read my comments and wouldve tried to understand them, you wouldve known that my comments are in no way supposed to be a moral bible.

    For those who didnt grasp the essence of my comments:

    I never said doping is a bad thing and i never said gdr didnt use doping systematically.

    All i was up to is the following:

    If you look at the progression of the world records in swimming (and look at the progression of the world records in athletics) you just cant believe that this progression just came by better technique and better training.

    The gdr swimmers trained as hard as possible and doped as much as possible, but still today they wouldnt even have a chance to make an olympic final, so how does that come (without doping)? Are swimmers nowadays just all more talented?

    In athletics most of the world records havent been broken since the 70s or 80s, but in swimming there is no world record even half that old.

    The coaches/reporters in the USA are often the first to accuse athletes from other countries of doping, but they nearly never really ask who the usa can be so dominant in athletics/swimming (sports that are practiced everywhere in the world) or how for example the womens 4×100 in athletics in 2012 olympics broke the very old gdr world record by 0.5s, although all those gdr athletes were caught doping?

    So the essence is:
    Not only gdr athletes were doped, but many us athletes too (and they arent even forced to do it) (that doesnt mean you can compare the cruel gdr system with that in the usa), so people in the usa shouldnt always just accuse other nations but they should also view the performances of the us athletes more critically.

    • Flyin' says:
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      Athletes just get better, it’s true of any sport. It was true before steroids even existed, it’s true now. You have no foundation for an accusation that nearly every athlete dopes. It’s simply crazy.

  12. thomaslurzfan says:
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    For me Kristin Otto is clearly the number one, probably the greatest female swimming performance at olympic games ever. With the 4×200 she wouldve probably won 7 gold medals. She today works as a sport reporter for german television. At the moment missy franklin seems to be the only female swimmer who could match that.

    • Fritz says:
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      So Lurz, you’ve made the insulting accusation that all top US swimmers cheat, then compounded that with stating that nobody here is smart enough to understand what you are saying. Gotta call BS on that. I would maintain that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. It is not that we cannot understand exactly what you are saying, it simply means that it can be rejected out of hand. You’ve unfortunately projected your own ignorance.

      If you’ve ever spoken with an athlete who competed at this level (I’d suggest contacting Dave Berkoff since he has already been kind enough to reply to your absurd statements) you would know that they get tested all the time in competition, out of competition, visiting their parent’s house for Thanksgiving, etc. All. The. Time. Occasionally someone gets bagged for cheating, but US swimmers are subject to incredible (and invasive) scrutiny. The bad ones are weeded out quickly, the good ones are around for 10-12 years at a high level.

  13. swimrtod says:
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    The facts are:
    East Germany doped better then the rest of the world and it allowed them train harder. And they took medals from others who should have won if drug testing was better.

    Today training is all together different then in the 70’s and 80’s and swimmers are faster because of it.
    Do some still dope.
    Yes,
    Do I hope they get caught and banned from this great sport.
    Yes
    As a past swimmer and US Swimming coach I look at the changes in stroke, turns and conditioning and see times continuing to get faster.
    If you Don’t believe me watch the races from the 1984 Olympic trials. I saw them at the Swimming Hall of Fame in March. The strokes where horrible and the turns and walls sucked.
    Mel would you win Nationals today training like you did then?

  14. 0
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    Duncan Armstrong saying he just surfed biondi’s wave on in…nort wasn’t happy….One guy in lane one of the 100 meter back tried to swim the first 50….he is the only guy above the water!….some Russian breastroker with the best pullout ever….the guy who wins the 400 free has a kind of claw stroke…I think a guy named Jacobs really helped out on a us 800 free relay

  15. James Loveless says:
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    Just small things to add…….Duncan Armstrong says,”I just surfed the wave on in”…..Nort didn’t think it was funny….Guy in lane 1 of 100 back final tries to swim the first 50 and is only guy making splashes…….Russian breastroker best pullout ever…it gets replayed and studied by commentator, guy who wins 400 free has a kind of claw freestyle stroke….guy named Jacobs really helps out on 800 free relay

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About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former National level swimmer from the beautiful West Coast of British Columbia. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook.com: a comprehensive tool that designed for swimmers to track and analyze their results.

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