For now, she is till "the other Tracy," the one whose braces don't come off until June 18. Tracy Caulkins, who was the best swimmer in the world in 1978, said, "For a while Tracy Austin had braces, too, and everyone was comparing us. Then she got her's off, and I said 'ooh, that's not fair.'"
Many American swimmers, including Caulkins, think it is just a little bit unfair that professional athletes always seem to come first in this country - even when it comes to getting off their braces.
"It's only once every four years that swimming gets any attention," said Caulkins. "I hope someday, we'll be up there with the tennis players."
For Caulkins, of Nashville, Tenn., that someday should come in July 1980 at the Summer Olympics in Moscow, where she and the rest of the U.S. swimming team undoubtedly will get a lot of attention.
In the 1976 Games in Montreal, the U.S. women were drowned by the East German team led by Kornelia Ender. The East Germans won 11 of 13 events, with the only American victory coming in the 400-meter freestyle relay. The American men lost only one of 13 events, which made the dunking taken by the women look even worse. Next summer, people will be watching to see if the the American women can regain their customary superiority in international waters.
George Haines, the coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic swimming team, believes that the Americans will neither dominate nor be dominated as they were four years ago.
According to Haines, it will be difficult for the men to do as well as they did in Montreal, and difficult for the women to do as badly.
The U.S. may not own swimming but more money is being spent on it than ever before. According to Dr. John Bogert, chairman of the Olympic swimming committee since 1968, the annual swimming committee budget for 1977-1980 is approximately $500,000, double the amount in the previous four years.
The new funds have been used to create physiological testing programs at sports medicine centers to determine more effective training methods,to send swimmers to training camps at the new Olympic training sites in Colorado Springs and Squaw Valley, and to establish a special international competition for women (the Women's International Cup) who have traditionally had less competitive experience than the men.
In other countries, teams are hand-picked by coaches. In the U.S., swimmers must qualify for each of the events they hope to swim in the Olympics by placing in the top three at the trials. This system prevents politicking but makes predicting the makeup of the team difficult a year in advance.
In the U.S., said Frank Keith, coach of the U.S. Pan American Games swim team, "the pool of talent is so large that any given week you can have a new star. You can be on top one week and a bum the next."
As of this week, Caulkins is still the star of women's swimming. The winner of the 1978 Sullivan Award as amateur athlete of the year, Caulkins broke or tied 27 world and American record in one year.
According to Haines, the biggest problem for the 1980 women's team "is that Tracy can't swim everything (the rules permit a swimmer to enter five individual events plus the team relays)."
Tracy's father, Tom Caulkins, said, "People are already talking about seven gold medals for Tracy," but he believes that five individual events may be too much for her psychologically.
Whatever Caulkins can't swim, Cynthia Woodhead, 15, of Riverside, Calif., may try. Woodhead is the world record holder in the 200-meter free-style, the American record holder in the 100-yard freestyle. She says she will swim "all the freestyles, 100 to 800 meters, in the Olympic trials."
Linda Jezek, 19, a freshman at Stanford, is the world record holder in the 200-meter backstroke; Jill Sterkyl, 18, swam the third leg of the gold medal winning 400-meter freestyle relay team in Montreal, and Joan Pennington, 19, freshman at the University of Texas, is the world champion in the 100-meter butterfly.
Other experienced swimmers with a chance of making the team are: Stephanie Elkins, 16, who placed third in three events in the 1979 short-cource nationals; Kim Linehan, 16, American record holder in the 1,650-yard free-style; Nancy Hogshead and Jennifer Hooker, both 18 and veterans of the 1976 Olympics; Wendy Boglioli, 24, bronze medalist in the 100-meter butterfly in the 1967 Olympics; Dian Girard, 19, Asheville, S.C., and Kim Carlisle, 18, from Cincinnati.
Boglioli, the oldest competitive woman swimmer in the country, swam in the 1978 short-course nationals while five months pregnant.
This year's crop of phenoms are so young that some, like butterfly specialist Mary T. Meagher, 14, of Louisville, don't even know what the word means.
Lisa Buese, 16, who trains with Meagher at the Likeside Swim Club in Louisville, finished third in the 100-yard butterfly at the nationals and is another top prospect.
Marybeth Linzmeier, 15, from Mission Viejo, Calif., a middle- and long-distance freestyler, and two breast-strokers. Tami Paumier, 16, of Columbia, Md., (second in the 100-yard breaststroke at the nationals) and Patty Spees, 18, (first in the 200-yard breaststroke) have a good chance of making the Olympic team because their events are ones in which the Amecian women are weakest and their competition strongest.
There is yet another Tracy to be reckoned with in women's swimming. She is Tracey Wickham of Australia and she holds the world records in the 400-, 800-, and 1500-meter freestyle events.
Three Russians, Julia Bogdanova (world record holder in the 100 meter breaststroke), Lina Kachushite (world holder in the 200-meter breaststroke) and Svetlana Uarganov have, in Haines' words, "made a shambles of the breaststroke."
The East Germans, however, will not be the "Red Menace" they were in 1976.
"They made the mistake of holding onto the nucleus of their old team," explained Haines, "of depending on the Kornelia Enders not to retire." Ender did retire and Dr. Rudolph Schramme, the coach of the 1976 Olympic team, was demoted.
According to Keith, "the only new girl we've noticed that they've developed in the last 18 months is Petra Schneider who can swim anything" but specializes in the individual medleys.
The American men will have a tough act to follow in 1980 - their own.
"There's no way we're going to dominate the way we did in Montreal, where we won everything but one event," said Haines. Partly, that is because the Russians have, in his estimation, "improved 300 percent (they won one medal in 1976 in the women's 200-meter breaststroke)."
Still, Haines agrees with world-record holder Jesse Vassallo, who says, " It is tougher to make the finals of the Olympic trials than it is to make the finals of the same event in the Olympics."
Brian Goodell, who won gold medals in the 400- and 1,500-meter free-style events in the 1976 Olympics, is now a sophomore at UCLA with a 3.8 grade average. Although he says he "wasn't thinking about Uncle Sam and being a national hero" when he won the medals, he will be America's best hope for defeating Russia's Vladimir Salnikov.
Many of the veterans of America's 1976 Olympic team have since graduated from college, which for male swimmers often means the end of a swimming career and the beginning of a professional one. Joe Bottom, the world record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, decided to quit swimming last summer when he got a job at IBM because he thought it "was impossible to do both."
Last February, he took two weeks off to swim in France and Holland, where he finished first in the 100-meter butterfly and 50-meter freestyle despite an eight month layoff.
When he got home, he admitted to himself and his boss how much "he loved swimming," and decided to take another shot at the Olympics. He will begin training seriously this summer.
Jum Montgomery, who Haines describes as "one of our great sprinters and relay swimmers," also has resumed training, in Texas with SMU Coach George McMillion. Other "seasoned vets" from the 1976 team who are potential Olympic repeaters are: Peter Rocca, 22, the 1979 NCAA champion in the 200-yard backstroke; Mike Bruner, 22, world champion in the 200-meter butterfly; Steve Gregg, who finished second to Bruner in the 200-meter butterfly; Bobby Hackett, 19, third in the 1,500-meter meter freestyle at the 1978 World Championships, and John Hencken, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke.
Clay Britt, 18, from Rockville, is considered a great prospect in the backstroke, especially in the 100-yard where he placed second in the short course nationals.