It was appropriate that a prolonged tennis match wiped out Sunday's scheduled CBS telecast of the World Aquatics Games from Guayaquil, Ecuador. From a U.S. viewpoint, the most important swimming meet outside the Olympic Games was a disaster from the moment this nation was awarded the host role several years ago.
The event proved too costly to implement without federal assistance, which was not forthcoming, so it was turned back to FINA, the international governing body, and eventually Ecuador came to the rescue of its embarrassed northern neighbor.
The week-long competition went so badly for the U.S., with only eight gold medals to East Germany's 12, that a spokesman at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs yesterday suggested they probably should hang some black crepe from the building.
However, across the street at the offices of U.S. Swimming, recent replacement for the Amateur Athetic Union as the U.S. government body, Executive Director Ray Essick declined to go off the deep end.
"This is a stimulus and we are not looking at it negatively," said Essick, unimpeded by congratulatory telegrams as he returned to his desk after the flight from Ecuador. "We aren't coming back with our tails between our legs. For one thing, the rest of the world has caught up a little bit. For another, we did not swim well, but few performances were that spectacular.
"Early August is too early for this meet and everyone in the future wants it to be later. In Cali (Colombia) in 1974, at this time of year, there were mediocre performances. In Berlin in 1978, the meet was later, and the whole world performed very well."
The U.S. was particularly good in Berlin, winning 20 of 29 gold medals as the women rebounded from that one-for-12 showing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Supposedly, U.S. swimming was back on top, so it was a shock for some to find a recession in Guayaquil tacked onto the heels of the Olympic boycott. Three of this country's world record holders were beaten last week, one twice, as times in many cases proved disappointing for such a prestigious meet.
Coach Mark Schubert and some of his swimmers cited the brief time between the U.S. Trials, which concluded July 24, and the Aug. 1 start of the World Games as a key problem for the U.S. team.
Both Essick and Schubert pointed out, however, that it would have been difficult to schedule the U.S. Trials earlier, because the U.S. college season ended in March and most swimmers took a long break, for study and relaxation, following conclusion of the U.S. Short Course Championships on April 10.
"How much serious training was done after the college season is questionable," Essick said. "There was no way we could have our trials any further away. The kids were not at all ready. We don't pick our team like other countries, where they know ahead of time who'll make it and train accordingly. Just surviving our trials is an accomplishment. We left three world record holders home who didn't make the team."
The 1984 Olympics will be held even earlier, but Essick sees no difficulty in preparation for them, because "the kids will take a semester, or even the whole year, off from school. Nobody took time off to prepare for Ecuador."