40th Anniversary Special: Relive the 1979 Men’s NCAA DI Championships

The upcoming 2019 Men’s Division I NCAA Championships, taking place in Austin this week, mark the 40th anniversary of one of the particularly star-studded editions of the meet.

The 1979 NCAA Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, ran from March 22nd-24th, and were swum at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio. But this wasn’t just any old college meet – the 1979 featured some names that are still staples in our sport today.

Thanks to SwimSwam reader Stu Swanson, we obtained the original results. You can view those results in full (and in color!) in our new SwimSwam Results Archive, along with hundreds of other complete meet results.

Below, we’ve picked out just a few of the big names that were present. Any other swims stick out to you? Let us know in the comments.

1979 highlights:

  • A sophomore Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines, representing Auburn, won the 50 free in 19.99 seconds.
  • Greg Louganis, who would go on to sweep the diving events in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, won on the 1-meter diving board, but not the 3-meter.
  • Future Olympic coach David Marsh, then a sophomore, led off Auburn’s 400 medley relay in 50.85 and teammate Gaines anchored in 42.81. Auburn was coached by Richard Quick in ’79, as Eddie Reese had departed in ’78. Auburn had a pretty good team that year, but we hear Eddie is doing well in his new job, too.
  • Gaines took second in the 200 free, going 1:36.43. In fourth was USC senior and American record holder Bruce Furniss, three years after winning Olympic gold in the long course 200 free.
  • Marsh took sixth in the 100 back, going 50.63. In first was Alabama’s Puerto Rican Olympian Carlos Berrocal in 49.71.
  • Gaines led off Auburn’s second-place 800 free relay in 1:36.32. The only swimmer to out-split him was UCLA’s Brian Goodell (1:35.93), who had won the 400 and 1500 free at the 1976 Olympics.
  • Goodell went on to win the 1,650 later in the meet by nearly 14 seconds, breaking his own America, NCAA, and US Open record in 14:54.13. Painfully, the results list two DQs in the 1,650.
  • The future Olympic champ Gaines took third in the 100 free in 43.96. First-place finisher Andrew Coan, of Tennessee, had set an American record of 43.42 in prelims. Gaines’ Olympic gold in the event came five years later, in 1984.
  • Gaines wrapped up his meet with a 44.46 leadoff split on Auburn’s second-place 400 free relay.
  • Other names to look for:
    • Cal’s Swedish butterflyer Par Arvidsson, who’d win Olympic gold in the 100 one year later (his son Karl is now a junior on the Cal team).
    • USC’s Joe Bottom, 1976 Olympic medalist and older brother to Michigan’s now-acclaimed coach Mike Bottom.
  • RIP to the programs at this meet that no longer exist: UCLA men, Miami men (swimming), Houston men, Long Beach State, Texas-Arlington, Kansas, New Mexico, Clemson, Central Michigan, UC Irvine, Oregon, and probably a few others that we’ve missed.
  • SMU had a whopping 21 entries at the meet that year. The cap now is 18.

1979 Final Team Ranks

  1. Cal
  2. USC
  3. Florida
  4. Tennessee
  5. UCLA
  6. Auburn
  7. Indiana
  8. Alabama
  9. Southern Methodist
  10. Michigan
  11. NC State
  12. Miami (Florida)
  13. Harvard
  14. Arizona State
  15. Stanford
  16. SIU-Carbondale
  17. Louisiana State
  18. Arizona/Houston
  19. Missouri
  20. Texas – Austin
  21. Arkansas
  22. Long Beach State
  23. Iowa/Minnesota
  24. North Carolina
  25. Ohio State
  26. Texas – Arlington
  27. Florida State/Pittsburgh
  28. Wisconsin

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IMO,the best swim was Goodell’s 1650.
Was this Cal’s only win under Thornton?

Joel Lin

Cal won 2 consecutive under Nort. I believe this was the first.


…is this just a Rowdy appreciation article? What the heck..

I always wonder what new and fantastic ways our readers are going to find to get offended by stuff.

No, it’s an article about how dope it is to have uncovered the 1979 NCAA Championship results. I’m excited about it. I’m sorry if you aren’t. We’ve got lots of other results in the archives for meets that Rowdy DIDN’T swim at, so hopefully this was at least a fun reminder for you that the results archive is there, and you might find a more ‘calming’ set of results to look at.

He Said What?

Thanks, Braden. I get a little tired of the Rowdy bashing. What he does as a commentator should have no bearing on his brilliance as a great athlete. How many of today’s swimmers can make the claim that two years after beginning in the sport, they won 2 gold and one silver medal at the World Championships. Say what you will about his announcing skills – his talent in the pool can’t be denied.

Ol' Longhorn

True. But since you brought up “today’s swimmers”… Today’s guys are going against pros who swim into their 30’s, even late 30’s (Ervin). Very few hung on after college in those days. If you were an NCAA finalist back in 1979, you were a good bet to make a World or even Olympic team. There were at least 10 Olympians in the 1979 NCAA meet, and the oldest guy on the 1980 Olympic team was 26 — only a handful were over college age. Nowadays, even some of the great NCAA champions (Nolan, Licon, etc.) won’t even make the WC or Olympic teams. Let the downvoting commence.

NM Coach

Braden, can we update the article? It is technically “Ambrose Gaines IV”.


When I coached at SMU, Coach MAC used to have a file cabinet with dual meet and NCAA results going back into the 1950’s. Not sure if they survived the Perkins Nat demo and made it over to Robson & Lindley AC – Barr / McMillion Nat. Reach out to Steve Collins or Eddie Sinnott as you may get a pleasant surprise.


If the internet has taught me anything, it’s that people will be offended or freely critique just about everything. Keep doing what you’re doing Braden!



Mr Piano

Rowdy is awesome. Say what you will about his commentary, but the dude is truly a legendary swimmer. Hell, he didn’t start swimming till he was 17! If the boycott in 1980 didn’t happen, we could have seen him win up to 6 Olympic gold medals. Any praise he gets is well deserved.


I don’t get the bashing. It’s just odd. His commentary is fine. He’s enthusiastic and understands the sport very well. Good dude too…

Ol' Longhorn

Steve Harvey announced the wrong Miss Universe. Rowdy announced that Chris Swanson, the Penn guy who was actually going to win the 1650, was getting lapped in his call of the 2016 NCAAs.

Jay ryan

Rowdy actually lost track of Swanson and called him Ransford (mich) down the stretch. Dude split something like 24.3 last 50 compared to Mahmoud (SoCar) 25.8-26.0

Jason Zajonc

He is great to listen to at meets on TV. Great article! Thanks


Because “50 METERS LEFT!” is unforgettable.

Joel Lin

I’ve got a very obscure request – does anyone have a “Vem? Cal!” T-shirt?

In that era the T-shirt was a spoof on Cal having a number of internationals on the squad. The front read Vem? (Swedish for “Who?”) & the back said “MORE POWERFUL THAN A SPEEDING MILK TRUCK” with the icon of a…milk truck.

It’s easily the greatest T-shirt of all times in the sport of swimming. If anyone kept one, would love a pix posted.

Joel Lin

Asking because I remember seeing some of the Cal fans wearing them at NCAAs at Harvard in 1980.

Also, the next year Rowdy dropped the 200 free down to 1:33 & I believe that was the Blodgett pool record until a certain Harvard swimmer broke it last year. This article wasn’t supposed to be a Rowdy appreciation article. But it is now.

(G)olden Bear

We made the Wem? Cal! tank tops in 1985 or 1986, in response to Vic Riggs getting in an accident during Pac-10s. He was hit by a milk truck when crossing the street on foot. The shirts said, “More Powerful Than a Speeding Milk Truck” on the front, and Wem? Cal! on the back. Vic swam at NCAAs just two weeks after the accident. I still have mine. Nort was very lenient with us… # gobears

Joel Lin

Wow, I have some of the deets & year wrong but am glad someone has the shirt + the story behind it. It is absolutely the coolest piece of swag in the history of swimming.

Maybe print some 11th hour ones for this year’s NCAA squad? Any Cal insiders that could make it happen, there’d be fans. Oh, there’d be fans.


As a milk man’s son, I need this shirt.

(G)olden Bear

We also made the infamous “California Uber Alles” shirts, in tribute to the DK’s. #everythingsbetterwithjello #gobears #thanksnort



(G)olden Bear

How do you post a pic in these comments?

Joel Lin

Braden & Co need to make this happen.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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