Vladimir Salnikov of the Soviet Union tonight became the first man to swim the grueling 1,500-meter freestyle in under 15 minutes, an accomplishment swimming aficionados equate with the breaking of the four-minute mile in track.
The jubilant scene at the Olympic swimming complex when the determined Salnikov touched home in the astonishing time of 14:58.27 was one of several moving moments today at the Moscow Olympics, which continued to produce world records and memorable human vignettes despite the boycott by the United States and approximately 50 other nations because of the Soviet invasion of afghanistan.
Earlier in the day, Luciano Giovanetti of Italy won the gold medal in trapshooting and became the first champion to see the International Olympic Committee (IOC) flag raised instead of his national banner, and the Olympic hymn played instead of the national anthem, in the medal cermonies.
Italy is one of the Western European teams that have elected to participate in Moscow, but to use Olympic symbols in place of their national flags and anthems to protest Soviet aggression. The Italian government forbade the use of its flag at the Games, but after the presentation, a group of his countrymen surrounded Giovanetti, embraced him, and draped a green-white-and-red Italian flag around his shoulders.
He wore it proudly, and as tears came to his eyes a lump came to the throats of many who looked on.
There was another especially touching moment tonight as Duncan Goodhew of Great Britain, which also is using the IOC flag and Olympic hym in lieu of national symbols -- won the gold medal in the 100-mete breaststroke, and wore to the victory platform an old-fashioned, plaid golf cap that was purchased before he was born.
"It was my father's," said Goodhew, 23, who has one semester left at North Carolina State University, but returned to Britain to train for the Olympics. "He died in 1972. I wear it as a tribute to him. I admired him greatly, and I think he's with me on this day."
Goodhew is a fascinating character whose golden moment was tinged with a poignant sadness. He wa strongly opposed to the boycott, but much of his family wanted him to comply with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's request that British athletes not go to Moscow. His decision to take part caused a bit of a family feud.
Accordingly, he had mixed feelings as British spectators waved the Union Jack from the stands, but the IOC flag went to the rafters instead during the medals ceremony. Such convoluted feelings are at the heart of these politically charged Games.
"I'm still British, and I still believe in my country, and I believe that I swam for my country in the Olympic Games," Goodhew said. "I back up all the decisions made by the national federation (to go to Moscow, but without using the British flag or anthem). Politics must be kept out of sports, and if this is necessary to do that, then I support it. Even if it hurts."
There were no muddled emotions -- just pure, simple exultation -- when Salnikov shattered the 1,500-meter record of 15:02.40 set by American Brian Goodell in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and broke the 15-minute psychological barrier as well.
There were other world records set here today -- including 15-year-old East German Rica Reinisch's clipping, in a semifinal, of .01 of a second off the 100-meter backstroke record she had tied during the 4x100 medley relay Sunday -- but none compared with Salnikov's
Many men have aspired to swim the exhausting 1,500 at better than a minute-per-100-meters pace, but the 20-year-old Leningrad student, who has a diploma as an English interpreter, was the first to do it. His feat lacked the widespread public interest and historical impact of Roger Bannister's first four-minute mile in 1954, an occasion that transcended sports, but swimming buffs would put it in a similar class.
As salnikov strained to improve upon his previous best time of 15:03.99, a European record, there was bedlam in the 8,120-seat swimming hall.
Spectators were on their feet screaming support. Several waved a huge, red velvet Soviet flag -- a ceremonial version of deeper than usual hue, with yellow fringe, usually used on holidays. There was rhythmic chanting of Salnikov's name, and his nickname "Valodya" which is to Vladimir as "Hank" is to Henry. One man tossed a large toy elephant high into the air, looking like a jubilant Ronald Reagan supporter left over from the Republican national convention.
When salnikov put on a final burst and touched home a second and a half under 15 minutes, there was an eruption of applause and cheering. He had just enough energy left to turn, grin broadly, thrust both arms into the air and root countryman Alexander Chaev to the silver medal in 15:14.30.
"I was sure after 1,400 meters that I would break the world record, but I wasn't sure I would be under 15 minutes," Salnikov said later, through an interpreter. (Even though he is a translator himself, he declined to answer questions in English.) "But I knew it was now or never, and I must somehow find the strength to do it."
He said he would have liked to have raced against the powerful U.S. men, who have dominated swimming in recent Olympics, but felt the world record would have been enough for the gold even if there were no boycott.
"If the U.S. swimmers were here in the pool, I'm sure my time would have been the same," he said. "So far, no one else has broken 15 minutes at this distance. If they can do it, I invite them to prove it. For now, Salnikov is the one to do it."
Knowledgeably observers were not surprised because Salnikov, son of a naval captain who was on the high seas when his son made history, is a strong-willed competitor who trains four to five hours a day.
He is one of the products of a "five-year plan" by the Soviet Union's national coach, Sergei Vaytsekhoski, to develop swimmers, using a combination of methods learned by studying traditional powers, including heavy emphasis on weight training.
"I expected it, because I have seen them training," said journalist Birger Buhre, a former Swedish national coach. "They are well prepared. They have full medical supervision. They do all kinds of tests for endurance as well as technique. It is a very scientific approach."