1982 US vs. USSR Dual Meet
- August 26th-28th, 1982
- University of Tennessee Aquatic Center, Knoxville, Tennessee
- 50m (LCM) Pool
- Timed Finals
- Media Guide
- Complete Results
Earlier this week, we put out a call for our readers to dig through their archives to find any old meet results that we could preserve in our archives for the whole community to access, and you all have responded in spades, unearthing a lot of great old results that we’re currently working through.
One of the true heroes of the effort has been University of Tennessee swimming & diving team manager John Golliher. John has dug through the school’s files to find a lot of old SEC and NCAA Championship results that we currently didn’t have – most of those have been uploaded (and even recreated some old paper results with HyTek). What’s even better is that he was able to scan a lot of old results via OCR service – which means that unlike normal scans, they are searchable.
One of John’s really unexpected finds has been the results of a 1982 dual meet between the USSR and the USA at the 1982 World’s Fair that was held in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the University of Tennessee is located.
This meet was really a peculiarity of history. In 1980, the United States government blocked the American Olympic Team from participating at the Moscow-hosted Summer Olympics to protest the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, the USSR and several other Eastern Bloc countries pulled out of the Los Angeles hosted Olympic Games, which western media said was a retaliation and which Soviet media painted as a move to protect their athletes.
At the midpoint, however, in 1982, the Americans apparently lost steam for their protest and the Soviets didn’t yet feel a threat for their athletes on American soil, and the two sides got together for an epic swimming clash between two swimming powerhouses that we never really got to see at the Olympics.
“The dual meet was one of the most fun meets I’ve ever experienced partly because our expectations were so low going in as we thought the Soviets were the “Evil Empire” and a bitter enemy,” said Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, who raced in the meet. “As It turns out they were SO much fun. After the meet there was lots of dancing on tables, Russian vodka and trading American jeans for USSR stuff. Still friends with some of those guys almost 40 years later. People are great. Governments suck.”
This was at least the 2nd-straight year in which the event had been held. A year earlier, the American roster included Cynthia Woodhead
It wasn’t a full roster, per se, but a lot of the big names were there, including several included in our “best swimmers to never win Olympic gold medals” lists.
- Top 10 Women’s Swimmers Who Never Won an Olympic Gold Medal
- Top 10 Men’s Swimmers Who Never Won an Olympic Gold Medal
The American women’s roster included names like Betsey Mitchell (featured here), Mary T. Meagher, Kim Rhodenbaugh, Tiffany Cohen, and a 15-year old Dara Torres, who was making her international debut a few months before setting the World Record in the 50 free in January of 1983.
The Soviet men brought a ton of firepower as well, with names like Vladimir Salnikov, who won gold in both the 400 and 1500 freestyles at the 1980 Olympic Games, Vladimir Shemetov, and 400 IM gold medalist Aleksandr Sidorenko.
The Russian list was not quite as star-studded on the women’s side, but included 1980 Olympians Irina Gerasimova, Larisa Gorchakova, and Natalya Strunnikova.
The meet featured 34 events, with 12 each for the women and men, with the women racing first. There was 1 heat per race.
Day 1 Lineup – Thursday, August 26th, 1982
- Women 200 fly
- Men 200 fly
- Women 100 free
- Men 100 free
- Women 100 back
- Men 100 back
- Women 800 Free
- Women 200 IM
- Men 200 IM
- Men 800 Free
- Women 400 Free Relay
- Men 400 Free Relay
Day 2 Lineup – Friday, August 27th, 1982
- Women 400 IM
- Men 400 IM
- Women 50 free
- Men 50 free
- Women 400 Free
- Men 400 Free
- Women 200 Back
- Men 200 Back
- Women 200 Breast
- Men 200 Breast
- Women 800 Free Relay
- Men 800 Free Relay
Day 3 Lineup – Saturday, August 28th, 1982
- Women 200 Free
- Men 200 Free
- Women 100 Fly
- Men 100 fly
- Women 1500 Free
- Women 100 Breast
- Men 100 Breast
- Men 1500 Free
- Women 400 Medley Relay
- Men 400 Medley Relay
ESPN aired a total of 9 showings of the meet, with 2 different shows developed out of 3 sessions. Leandra Reilly was the play-by-play commentator, with World Record holding backstroker John Naber acting as the analyst. Lardner was a pioneer for women in sports journalism as one of the first females to ever do play-by-play.
At the time, ESPN bragged about being America’s only “Total Sports Network” that reached more than 17.5 million homes across the country. Now there are dozens of competitors and the network reaches over 150 million homes in 190 countries internationally.
The Sponsors & Promotion
McDonald’s, which has long invested its brand into the Olympic movement, was the title sponsor for the event. The meet program boasted the 1984 Olympics as the first “private sector” Olympics and discussed the McDonald’s Olympic Swim Stadium that was being built in Los Angeles entirely through money contributed by McDonald’s franchisees, and not the public.
That pool is now the Uytengsu Aquatics Center on the USC campus, after a major renovation that was unveiled in 2014 thanks in large part to an $8 million donation from Fred Uytengsu. The original cost of the facility was only $3 million.
At the time, McDonald’s was also “the official national sponsor of the Age Group/Junior Olympic Swimming program in America,” including sponsoring 4 U.S. Junior Olympic national championship meets between 1982 and 1984 and over 180 other age group events.
The program also included a feature celebrating 10 years of partnership between Phillips Petroleum and U.S. Swimming – a deal that preceded USA Swimming’s formation in 1980. Phillips, now Phillips 66, is still the sponsor of the US National Championships every summer and is the organization’s longest-running partner. 2023 will mark the 50th consecutive year of the partnership.
The Americans swept the team titles at the meet rather handily:
- Team USA Men – 111, USSR Men – 79
- Team USA Women – 113, USSR Women – 77
- Combined USA Men – 224, USSR Women – 156
That’s as compared to a year prior in Kiev, where the two teams had their closest outcome with the Americans winning 203-141, including just an 18-point margin on the men’s side, which at the time was the more competitive of the two.
Among the top individual performer at the meet was Rowdy Gaines, who won all 5 events that he entered. That included wins in the 100 free (50.30) and 400 free relay (3:19.41) on day 1; the 50 free (22.78), and 800 free relay (7:22.94) on day 2; and his specialty the 200 free (1:49.43) on day 3.
His time in the 200 free was only half-a-second away from the World Record that he set a month earlier at the US National Championships. This was the 3rd big meet in about 6 weeks for both swimmers, after a condensed World Championship Trials/World Championships from mid-July until late August.
For the Soviets, the star of the show was Vladimir Salnikov, who is now the head of the Russian Federation. In a year where he broke World Records in the 400, 800, and 1500 frees, he won that trio in Knoxville, starting with the 800 in 7:54.88, followed by the 400 in 3:51.07 and the 1500 in 15:09.77. He was more than a second away from the World Record in the 400, more than 2 in the 800, and more than 13 in the 1500 – though he still went unchallenged in the latter. The runner-up was American Jeff Kostoff in 15:20.99.
On the women’s side, Mary T. Meagher swept the 100 and 200 meter butterfly races in 1:00.19 and 2:09.50, respectively. She also swam on the winning 400 (3:48.84) and 800 (8:15.25) free relays.
For the Soviets, Larissa Gorchokova swept the backstroke races in times of 1:03.43 and 2:15.10. Among those she beat was Betsy Mitchell, who was only 16 at the time. Mitchell finished 5th (last) in the 200 backstroke in 2:21.74, more than 6 seconds behind the winner. Over the next decade, however, Mitchell would go on to set World Records, win 3 Olympic medals, and eventually in 1994 find herself on the U.S. Women’s Rowing Team at the 1994 World Championships. Specifically in that 200 back, Mitchell swam 2:08.60 in 1986 to break the World Record.
As for the young Torres, she won the 50 free in 26.27, which just missed her best time of 26.13 that won the event at the 1982 US National Championships – remember that it wasn’t added as an event at the World Championships until 1986, so Torres’ win wasn’t enough to push her on to the Worlds team that year. The World Record at the time belonged to Jill Sterkel in 25.79. By the time the 1984 Olympics arrived, she had lowered that record 3 times.
30 years later, in 2012, Torres was 4th at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50 free in her attempt at a 6th Olympic team. A specialist early in her career as she was late: the 50 free was Torres’ only race at the 1982 dual meet.