Dolfin Swim of the Week: Gaines, Meagher Set World Records Before Lost Olympics

Disclaimer: Dolfin Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The  Dolfin Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.

This week, we look back at a pair of April 11, 1980 swims that might personally resonate with a number of swimmers right now.

On April 11, 1980, the best of the best met for the AAU Senior National Indoor Championships in Austin, Texas. There was a thick air of uncertainty over the event. For some, it was a tune-up for that summer’s Olympic Trials, scheduled for late July. But there was already a strong possibility of an Olympic boycott.

The 1980 host nation, the Soviet Union, was facing heavy international pressure over its invasion of Afghanistan. By January of 1980, the United States had joined the potential boycott as one threatened consequence if the Soviet Union refused to leave Afghanistan. It was still unclear if the United States would actually go through with the boycott as of the National meet, but the thought of a ‘lost’ Olympics hovered over the top Americans.

That cloud, though, didn’t slow down Rowdy Gaines or Mary T. Meagherwho broke world records on the same day. Gaines was the defending World Champs silver medalist in the 200 free, and at age 21, he smashed the world record with a 1:48.16. That record would stand until Gaines re-broke it in 1982, and no one else would knock Gaines off the record until 1983.

Meagher, meanwhile, was a 15-year-old phenom who had set a world record in the 200 fly the summer before, at Pan Ams. At those 1980 Nationals, Meagher added the 100 fly to her collection, going 59.26. She, too, would break the record again a year later, and her name would stand on that record for an incredible 19 years. No one could best her mark until nearly the turn of the century, in 1999.

A few other notable swims from this week in history:

  • The men’s short course 100 back mark took a beating this week, though spread across three decades. In 1993, Jeff Rouse became the first man ever under 52 seconds in the event, on April 12. Almost 13 years later to the day (April 9, 2006), Ryan Lochte became the first ever under 50 seconds.
  • Speaking of short course world records, on April 10, 2008, Jessica Hardy broke a nearly-four-year-old world record in the short course 50 breast, going 29.58. Hardy would reset the record four more times over her career. From there, the history of the record gets wacky. After five years holding the record, Hardy watched Yulia Efimova break the record in fall of 2013. But Efimova later failed a doping test and the record was invalidated. Hardy would then hold the record another three years, until Alia Atkinson finally toppled it in 2016.

 

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Joe
1 year ago

What made Mary T Meagher so ahead of her time? Through the 80s swimming times across the board were dropping like crazy, yet her 200 fly WR would have 2019 Worlds, a whole 40 years later!!!

Khachaturian
Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

This might seem weird but I think it is because people swam more. Right now the sprint events are the ones getting broken every few years because technique is being refined to a point of perfection. Back then swimming technique was…. interesting but for sure all of those swimmers had an iron endurance and a whole lot of raw power. This power and endurance I believe came from swimming tons of laps instead of sets such as USRPT

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
1 year ago

It’s mind-boggling how gifted and diligent Mary T was! Those Beamonesque records would still put her in the mix today.

SwimSam
Reply to  ALEXANDER POP-OFF
1 year ago

“Beamonesque” comparison spot on!

frug
1 year ago

Mary T. Meagher would held the 200 Fly WR from July ’79 to May ’00 (20 years and 10 months) which I believe the is longest anyone has held any WR. (Janet Evans’ 800 fr. (March ’88 – August ’08) is the only other 20 year reign as I recall)

Joe
Reply to  frug
1 year ago

Will Biedermann 200 free or Zige 200 fly last beyond 2030 to break this longevity record?

frug
Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Those 2 along with Zhang Lin’s 800 fr are likely safe unless baring the emergence of a truly transcendent talent along the lines of Thorpe/Phelps/Ledecky, And viven that Thorpe’s 2002 is still the second fastest time ever, you could maybe put Biedermann’s 400 fr WR in that group as well*

That said, Phelps has held the 400 IM record since August 2002 and unless Seto explodes next year in front of the home crowd it is more than likely to make it another 3 years to break the record.

Among active swimmers, Ledecky (who has held the 1500 and 800 WRs since July and Aug 2013 respectively) and Peaty (with the 100 br since April 2015) are the most likely… Read more »

Bearly Breathing
1 year ago

>at age 21, he smashed the world record with a 1:48.16
I believe it was actually a 1:49.16 at this meet.
Rowdy broke that record with 1:48.93 in 1982, which was broken in turn by the legendary Michael Gross.
Cool story tho

Mr Piano
1 year ago

Crazy how Rowdy only started swimming 4 years before this

Konner Scott
1 year ago

Probably an unrealistic ask, but does anyone know where we might find video of these swims?

Fiveos
Reply to  Konner Scott
1 year ago
Khachaturian
1 year ago

400 im might hold out for some time if it isn’t broken in Tokyo

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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