Legendary Shirley Babashoff, Gold Medalist Olympic swimmer, spoke out against something during the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Today we call that “thing” doping.
I was invited as a reporter to an event in Mission Viejo several years ago. Babashoff was the guest speaker. I noticed how generous Babashoff was with her time answering questions, letting attendees try on her Olympic medals and snap selfies with her. Her sense of humor, outspoken and down-to-earth answers were refreshing.
Babashoff is recognized as one of the all-time great U.S. women swimmers. She won gold at the ’72 Munich Olympics, but unfortunately, she competed against the East German women’s team in Montreal in ’76. Babashoff went public with her story in her 2016 book, “Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program.”
At the event, she spoke about life after her Olympic career. When she was a swimmer, the Amateur Athletic Union, which governed swimming among other sports, kept everyone on amateur status. She said she made a cotton commercial for Arena after representing the United States at the Olympics. When she wanted to swim with US Masters (where swimmers ages 18 and compete and train — including a novice like me) she was told no — she wasn’t eligible.
She coached and taught swimming for 10 years to triathletes and children. She said had a lot of fun, “But I needed a job with benefits like health insurance, so I took a job with the U.S. Post Office as a letter carrier. I’m in Southern California on the beach and I can hear the waves crash while I’m outside at work.” Her life focused on raising her son and centered around her role as a mom.
Babashoff was asked if she swam now, and she said, “Yes, but I don’t get my hair wet.”
THE EARLY YEARSIN CALIFORNIA:
“We moved from pool to pool and I swam on lots of teams.”
At age eight, she took lessons at Cerritos College, not far from their house in Norwalk before switching to the Norwalk High School pool for Red Cross lessons and her first race. At nine years old, she and her older brother Jack joined the Buena Park Splashers. At 11, Shirley joined a team with both brothers Jack and Bill in El Monte. Jill Sterkel (who would be on her future Olympic gold medal relay team) was on the El Monte team and the coach was the infamous Don La Mont.
By age 13, they swam on a team at Golden West College in Huntington Beach called Phillips 66, sponsored by the oil company, and she swam with one of the two most influential coaches she’d have—Ralph “Flip” Darr.
“In California, where the sun shines almost all year long, we could find a meet practically anywhere. We went to meets in San Diego, Redlands, Los Angeles, Apple Valley, Lakewood Buena Park and many other cities.”
Babashoff said the weekends going to swim meets were her life. She has great memories of going out of town, playing cards and clackers with other swimmers in between races. She said she remembers going to Indio for a meet, and her family drove all the way there and back in one day because they couldn’t afford money to stay in a motel.
“I loved going to those swim meets. There were hundreds of kids at them. I saw my friends from my own team and made new friends from other teams. I got to see my competition from a wider group of girls—not just from my own club, but from other cubs that were the ones to beat.” (p. 31 “Making Waves”)
MISSION VIEJO NADADORES AND MARK SCHUBERT:
In 1971, her mom moved them to Fountain Valley which was next to Huntington Beach. Flip Darr retired and she had to find another team. She said there were only two choices that made sense at her level. She could train at the Belmont Plaza in Long Beach or “I could go with the new guy in Mission Viejo—Mark Schubert.”
She said, “I didn’t even know where Mission Viejo was, which was 30 miles away. Back then you could drive 30 miles in 30 minutes.
“We heard all these horror stories of Schubert’s workouts of 15,000 yards a day and more. I went with a couple friends from our team to try it out and it was 8,000 to 9,000 yards, similar to what we were used to doing. After a couple days, I told Mark that we’d decided to join the team. The next day practice was 15,000 yards.
“It was a way of life. Practice before school, classes, practice at the high school and then back to Mission Viejo. I had three practices a day.”
ENCOUNTERS WITH THE EAST GERMAN WOMEN:
Babashoff talked about her first big meet after joining the Mission Viejo Nadadores. “My first FINA World Championships I felt stronger, I was so excited and full of myself. We were in Belgrade, Yugoslavia at the pool to warm up and the doors were all locked. They said, ‘You can’t come in here.’ That was strange because all the nations warmed up together. But they wouldn’t let us in when East Germans were there. I knew then something was up. Super shocking to see the women. They were huge. I’d never heard of steroids, it was so foreign to me. I was very naive.”
She said that from ’72 to ’76, Schubert had to deal with the East Germans saying, “New suits, high altitude training, etc. They never said, oh we’re taking steroids. We beat them sometimes. They did testing back then, but on testing-day, the East Germans didn’t show up (if they knew they wouldn’t pass) because they had a runny nose.” She said one difference today is random testing and the athlete’s whereabouts are known every day.
Schubert was hosting the event I attended and was asked to describe the ’76 US Olympic trials. He said Babashoff had “the best meet that had ever been swum.” In Belmont at the U.S. Olympic Trials, she won the 100, 200, 400, 800 free and the 200 and 400 IM. She won them all.
1976 MONTREAL OLYMPICS:
Babashoff recalled seeing President Gerald Ford for the second time in a couple months. They were in Pittsburg which was a staging area for the US athletes before they left for the Games. After he spoke at the Pittsburg Air Force Base where the athletes joined him on stage, he shook hands with all the athletes. Then he asked, “Where is Shirley Babashoff?” She said it was surreal to hear the President of the United States ask for her.
“Shirley,” President Ford said, “It’s so good to see you again.” He asked her how many events she was going to swim and he said, “Ah, just like that guy Jack Spitz.”
It was on their first trip to the aquatics venue in Montreal when she first heard and saw the East Germans at the ’76 Olympics. She said they were changing in the locker room, and heard low masculine voices. They all screamed because they thought men were in the locker room. Later they saw them with their muscles, broad shoulders and thunder thighs bigger than ever before.
The backlash in the media against Babashoff began when she told the truth about what she was seeing. From her book (p. 137), she explained the scene on her way to the team bus with the media asking questions with lights flashing, and microphones in their faces:
“Shirley, Shirley! What do you think of the East German team?”
“What can you tell us about the East German team?”
The questions were all redundant and overlapping. But I stopped for a moment and said into one of the reporters’ microphones, “Well except for their deep voices and mustaches, I think they’ll probably do fine.”
I saw some eyes widen and a couple of jaws drop. The reporters then fired off a couple of follow-up questions, which I answered basically the same way. Then I got on the bus and went back to the village to have dinner with my teammates.
Jim Montrella, Olympic swim coach who was sitting near me in the audience at this event, said he wished that USA Swimming back in the 1970s had coached or better prepared their athletes for talking to the media. He apologized and said he felt they had let Babashoff down as her coaches of the Olympic Team. The backlash she received for speaking to the media was overwhelming.
Babashoff thanked Montrella but said she was proud of what she said. “It was the truth.” She said she has a sister 13 years younger and her sister said they watched a video on how to talk to the press and that they used Shirley as an example of how not to do it.
She said it was so obvious that the East German’s were doping and everyone ignored it. She worked so hard and lost because of their cheating.
“I’m still bitter about it now,” she said. The media called her “Surly Shirley” but her teammates supported her for being outspoken about the East German team. She was the only one who spoke out about it at the time.
She said she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I learned to swim at eight years old and seven years later, I was breaking World records and swimming in the Olympics. ‘Is that the same Olympics on TV?’ I remember asking my mom after making the U.S. Olympic team in 1972.”
VIDEO OF THE 4 x 100 FREE RELAY WHERE THE US WOMEN’S TEAM WON GOLD AT THE 1976 OLYMPICS — beating the East Germans:
At the ’76 Olympics, Babashoff won four silver medals and the relay team of Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel and Babashoff won the gold.
“When I’m at work and tell my co-workers that I’ve been to Morocco, Japan, Yugoslavia, etc. they think I’m lying. I loved to compete. I loved to travel. Going on all the trips, even to go on an airplane was amazing. Our family didn’t have money and that wasn’t something we got to do.”
THE RECORD BOOKS:
Babashoff said she’d like to get the records corrected for the 1976 Olympics. “The East German women swimmers sued their own country. The doping has been proven, they’ve admitted it. They didn’t have swim coaches, they had scientists and doctors. They couldn’t swim breaststroke correctly, but they were big and strong.”
The Olympic Committee told her no because it had been longer than eight years. She said the Berlin Wall didn’t come down for 13 years later in 1989, so she didn’t think the eight-year rule should apply.
“A lot of women deserve medals,” she said. “There were women who got fifth or sixth who had two or three East Germans beat them. These women are someone’s grandmothers now, and wouldn’t it be nice for them to finally get the medals they earned and share this with their families?”
The same year her book was published, a documentary came out about the East German state-sponsored doping program called “The Last Gold.”
“Weird how things happen,” Babashoff said. “I decided to work on a book 40 years later, it comes out along with a documentary about the East German’s, and then there’s controversy about Russian doping in the 2016 Olympics. It’s coincidental.”
She was asked if her son who is now grown and married ever swam. She said she tried to teach him when he was young and he wasn’t interested and wouldn’t swim for her. She recalled the time she was with him at Mission Bay in San Diego. She watched him swim like Michael Phelps.
I asked him, “What are you doing?” “Swimming,“ he answered. “Yes, but you’re really swimming. I’ve never seen you swim like this before.” He answered her, “I was afraid you’d put me on a swim team.” “Like I’d drop him off with Schubert,” she said laughing.
Most of her mail customers don’t know who she is or that she’s an Olympic star. She did, however, have a connection with the co-author of her book Chris Epstein through her route. She heard his name and recalled having an Epstein on her mail route. She asked Mrs. Epstein if she knew Chris. Mrs. Epstein said, “That’s my baby.” Another coincidence, Babashoff explained, “It turns out that his mom, who was my customer, had been at the 1976 Olympics, too.”
Babashoff swam briefly at UCLA, but the weight trainer gave her flashbacks of the East Germans, she said. The trainer worked them out so hard their legs were jello before they got into the pool. It wasn’t how she wanted to train and Shirley said, “I just had enough.” That’s when she officially retired.
Today, she still loves to travel and has a motorhome and travels throughout the country. She’s been to Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and enjoys the time outside on her own.
About the ’72 and ’76 Olympics: “Everyone knew East Germans were doping but back then there was no way to prove it.” Babashoff says if she had to do it over again, she wouldn’t change a thing.
If you haven’t read “Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program” here’s a link to Amazon to purchase Shirley Babashoff’s courageous life story:
What are your thoughts about Shirley Babashoff being outspoken about what she saw happening with the East German swimmers and the media turning against her?
“Exercise Before Surgery Slashes Post-op Complications”
That’s a headline I found for an article written by Lynn Allison. I’m having eye surgery tomorrow. Then in September some minor outpatient surgery. So the article caught my eye.
Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand say that intense exercise before surgery reduces the risk of postoperative complications as well as hospital stays by as much as 56%, says Study Finds.
“We have found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is safe and effective for surgical patients,” says lead investigator Kari Clifford, of the Department of Surgical Sciences at the University of Otago. “A HIIT program can meaningfully improve a patient’s fitness within four to six weeks, and this reduces postoperative complications and length of stay.”
The work analyzed 12 studies including 832 patients who engaged in HIIT before their surgeries. The training involved repeated aerobic interval exercises at about 80% of their maximum heart rate before going into active recovery.
The most significant result was the change in cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) — a measure of how well the body takes in oxygen and delivers it to the muscles and organs during prolonged periods of exercise. The significant improvement in CRF lowers the risk of adverse postoperative events, says Clifford, in a university press release.
If high-intensity interval training is good for post op recovery, that must transfer to everyday life. I reflected on my own workout routines. I realized that my slow and steady walks and swims are not getting the job done.
When I swam with my Master’s coach, he’d change up the pace. He’d have me swim 75s or 100s alternating “fast and slow.” Like swim 25 easy, 25 sprint, 25 slow for a 75 four times through. I was changing my heart rate. Without a coach, I leisurely swim laps not changing pace, because I’m proud to show up. Period. There’s nobody to push me. Not even my husband. I watch him sprint during his last two hundred yards and worry that he’ll have a heart attack.
We have an assault fitness bike gathering dust. Yesterday I got on it and sprinted for 20 seconds followed by 30 seconds easy a few times. Yes, it got my heart rate going. It’s something I’ll repeat each day and build on. When I swim laps, I’m going to throw in some interval training and sprint a few 25s. It can’t hurt.
What are your thoughts about high-intensity interval training? Is it something you incorporate in your workouts? Do you think you can be too old for HIIT?
Please check out my new blog schedule with posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
I joined US Masters Swimming in 2015 after being on deck as a swim mom and parent volunteer for 14 years. It was the adult program with the team my children swam with from kindergarten through high school. My New Year’s Resolution that year — my first as an empty nester — was to join Masters and swim with a coach. It only took me until April to make good on my New Year’s resolution. But once I got in, I made slow, but steady progress.
My biggest issue with swimming is consistency. It’s something you have to do year round to get stronger. Not every day is a good day, although most of them are. The biggest challenge for me in the beginning was relaxing and getting a steady breathing pattern.
Lately my roadblock to consistency is weather. I do not like getting in or out of the pool when it’s cold. I quit for several months over the winter. Getting back into the pool this spring, I felt like I was starting over.
During the COVID years, our Palm Springs pool (above) was shut down. Then it opened to reservations for every other lane (social distancing). Our Masters team was not allowed to practice until about the time we moved to Arizona.
What I’ve discovered about swimming, rather than cheering on the sidelines, is that being in the water gives me a chance to reflect. It’s mostly a quiet time, where I get the best physical exercise, ever — plus peace and clarity in my day.
I’m still working on the breathing. When I do feel relaxed and smooth, I notice the following 10 things while I swim:
The way the water feels cool against my skin.
The bubbles my hands make entering the water.
Spirographs and kaleidoscopes of shadows and light on the bottom of the pool as the sun filters through the water.
The shadow of the flags as I get close to the wall.
Muffled sounds underwater. It’s like I’m listening to a foreign language.
The view of clouds, saguaro and desert when I stop to rest.
The slope of the pool with tiled, black lines curving to lower depths.
A clump of leaves that looks like a plant growing in a crack at the bottom of my lane.
Floating and swimming relaxed must be what flying would feel like.
Relief at the end of my 1,000-yards. I feel much stronger and smoother than during my first 100 yards.
As a swimmer, I appreciate with new understanding the hard work my kids and coaches have put in for years, every single day.
What activity do you enjoy that brings you peace and clarity in your day?
This is a photo I found of Caeleb Dressel from last year. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a seven-time Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder. I remember watching him swim years ago at meets with my daughter. They are the same age and he’s one of the top swimmers in the world.
I read something very encouraging. It was from the Wall Street Journal and here was the opening paragraph:
Elite swimmers peak in their early 20s, powerlifters peak at 35 and equestrians later still, on average. Creativity peaks either very early in our careers or later, depending on how we think. Our ability to quickly absorb facts reaches its zenith in our late teens, while our vocabulary skills crest in our sixth decade.
This article is called: “Here’s When We Hit Our Physical and Mental Peaks: Even when we’ve peaked in one endeavor, we’re likely getting better in another written by Clare Ansberry.
I especially like the bit about our vocabulary skills improving into our sixth decade. That gives me hope.
Economists, sports scientists and psychologists have analyzed Olympic performances and chess matches, as well as thousands of online quizzes to determine the average age when people peak mentally and physically. They are trying to understandhow our brain and bodies work and if there are lessons on strengthening each. Checkmate Chess players’ performance rises sharply until the early 20s and peaks around the age of 35.
The good news is that while we may have peaked in one endeavor, we are likely getting better in another.
“At every age, you are getting better at some things and worse at others,” says Joshua Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College, who researches how various cognitive functions change with age.
I didn’t realize at the time I posted the photo above of Dressel (which I did because of the first words of the WSJ article “elite swimmers,”) that after almost a year off from swimming he swam at US Nationals last weekend. For swimmers, who practice six days a week, often two practices a day — a year is a lifetime.
He left the 2022 World Championships in Hungary while the meet was still going on. Everyone thought that was odd and the explanation was health reasons. Michael Phelps was one of the first Olympic athletes to talk about his struggles with mental health. I listened to Phelps discuss his battle with depression at an event and I wrote about it HERE.
Dressel returned to the pool at U.S. Nationals this past weekend, and from what I’ve read he feels like he’s in a good place and happy to be back. Although he didn’t make the US World team and was seconds off his best times (which as a sprinter is another lifetime) he has his sights set on 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. His coach and teammates say it’s the happiest they’ve seen him in years and his presence on the team is a huge plus for everyone.
Back to the article, above. I think it’s encouraging that although we may lose some skills as we get older, other ones get better as we age. I’m also happy for Caeleb Dressel that he was able to rekindle his love of swimming and took the time to get the weight of the world’s expectations off his shoulders.
Every morning my husband and I get ready for our walk around 5 a.m. to avoid the heat. We don’t make it out the door for at least 30 minutes, needing clothes, clean teeth and coffee!
Consistently, we see one other couple out early. We say “Good morning!” “What a beautiful day,” and usually walk on.
During the weekend, my husband stopped to ask about their granddaughters who are swimmers. They told us their oldest signed with Northwestern and their youngest is getting calls across the country at top colleges. They talked about how they did at CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) where swimmers compete for their high school teams and how they were top finalists.
“Our daughter was a multiple CIF Champion,” my husband mentioned. Yes, she was. That’s a memory I’ll look back on with pride.
Our neighbors talked about a meet they just returned from in Northern California, the George Haines International Swim Meet. Yes, we’ve been to that meet, too. It’s filled with top swimmers including Olympians from the USA, Europe and Mexico.
Here’s a video I took of warm up from the George Haines International meet in 2017:
The conversation with our neighbors brought back so many memories from the days our kids swam. Busy days traveling to meets, staying in hotels, sitting with favorite parents on the stands. Each morning we wondered what the day would bring.
I felt a little sad and melancholy after talking to our neighbors. I’m glad we were a swim family. But there’s no going back to those days. On a sad note, the team our kids swam with from kindergarten through high school folded a few weeks ago after more than 50 years. I couldn’t count the hours we spent volunteering and supporting our team.
My daughter celebrating with her relay team at the end of a swim meet.
What memories from days past do you think about in a happy or melancholy way?
My daughter leaning on a block, cheering on a teammate who was trying for her first NCAA cut at the PAC 12 swimming championships.
One of the things I like about the resort we visit in Mexico is a super hot jacuzzi outside our patio with a cold plunge pool next to it. We spend the evenings going back in forth between the two.
I’m not alone enjoying this sensation. I read in the Wall Street Journal that a new home trend — besides backyard bars — is cold plunge pools.
In an article called “The Hottest New Home Amenity? ‘It’s Brutal.'” According to reporter Jessica Flint, “Homeowners are spending tens of thousands of dollars to outfit their properties with cold plunges.”
Here’s an excerpt:
Most mornings after Stephen Garten wakes up at his home in Austin, Texas, he goes into his backyard and starts pacing, preparing himself for what’s next. “It’s brutal,” says Garten, 37, the founder and CEO of social impact company Charity Charge. “It’s a real challenge every day.”
He’s talking about lowering himself into a 66-inch-long and 24-inch-wide stainless steel tub clad in customized zebrawood and submerging himself up to his neck in water that he sets at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, with water circulating at 1,400 gallons a minute. “It’s like being in a river,” he says of the flow rate produced by this particular vessel, a Blue Cube cold plunge.
It’s an experience that Garten typically tolerates for less than two minutes at a time, once or twice a day. And it comes at a price of $19,000. Blue Cube, based in Redmond, Ore., makes cold plunge units that cost between around $18,000 and $29,000.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pricey addition to the backyard. Fortunately, our pool only gets a little morning sun and even though it’s June — it’s still pretty cold. Of course not 39 degrees cold, but inviting after sweating during my morning walk! In the winter, it’s cold enough I stand waist deep after a hike on our nature trails. It helps get my legs back under me.
I have a friend from college who lives in Sun Valley, Idaho. Her husband said they have a snowy creek behind their house and he gets in and lays down after working out! Wow!
It reminds me of my daughter’s swimming years. Starting in high school, she’d have an ice bath after prelims. Finals would be in the evening and to get her legs back in shape we’d fill the tub in the hotel with cold water and ice from the ice maker down the hall. She’d get in with some sound effects and sit waist deep in ice water!
Afterwards, she lay on the ground with her legs up against the wall.
Ice baths and cold plunges have been used for years by athletes. Now the trend is going mainstream and the health benefits include less joint, muscle pain and anxiety, boosted energy and more focus.
The good news is you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to reap the benefits. All you need is a tub with ice and cold water!
What are your thoughts about cold plunge or ice baths? Have your tried it? If so, did it help your with pain, sore muscles or stress?
When our kids were young swimmers on the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs.
It was a gorgeous, fun weekend. So, before anyone freaks out why it wasn’t… we’re home safely, but ran into a couple of snafus — so it wasn’t a perfect paradise after all. I’m saving that for tomorrow in PART TWO. Today, I’m showing you photos of paradise.
The weather was perfect. I spent more time in the Sea of Cortez this trip, swimming, floating on my back and loving every moment thanks to Buff (our DIL.) I was talking to my daughter on the phone who spends time with Buff in the Bay Area. They are beach buddies who swim, body surf and boogie board. Buff took up surfing during the last year or two. (If you’re wondering where our son was on this trip, he wasn’t there due to a passport delay.)
“You’re not going to get Buff out of the ocean,” my daughter told me.
Well, we figured out how to get her out of the water….more tomorrow.
Me laughing during our walk to the reef when Buff did a photo shoot of me.
Hubby sitting down during our photo shoot. Downtown is the point in the background.
Buff downtown Puerto Penasco.
One of the statues at the Old Port:
There is large statue of a fisherman and a shrimp that was dedicated in 2003 and is known as “El Camaronero.”
View from one of the many pools at the resort steps from the ocean.
My husband and Buff out for a swim in the Sea of Cortez.
What excitement have you had on a vacation that you didn’t expect? What’s your idea of paradise on vacation?