Couple of centuries ago a word-minded fellow name of Noah Webster gave a definition of "contest" as an "earnest struggle for superiority." The word "earnest," of course, implies that each contestant has a chance to defeat, or at least to upset, his opponent. But another fellow name of Bob Kiphuth rewrote the dictionary in 1931.
That year the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League was formed, and Kiphuth's Yale swimmers started competing in it. Since then Harvard has played bridesmaid more often than either Fred Wilt or the Red Sox.
Harvard's great coach Hal Ulen has built his undefeated 1952 team into one of the finest in the country and easily one of the two or three beat in Crimson history. There is something pitiful, then, in the fact that, when Ulen takes his swimmers to New Haven this weekend, only the most starry-eyed stretching of collegiate spirit could make anyone believe they have a chance for the upset of the half-century.
The vulgar, sordid fact is that the Elis, with juniors John Marshall, Wayne Moore, Jim McLane, and Don Sheff, and freshman Kerry Donovan, have already won the E.I.S.L. championship for 1952 and 1953, and probably for '54 and '55. In fact, Harvard has beaten Yale exactly twice in 23 years under Ulen--in 1937 (breaking an Eli dual meet streak of 163) and again in 1938. As of last weekend the Yalies were working on a new streak of 82 wins. And two years ago, in a listing of the beat swimming teams in America, first was the Yale freshman squad, second the Yale varsity, and third the New Haven Swim Club (Yale graduates)
The Blue's Records
Competitors also gripe because seldom, if ever, does Kiphuth bother to take along all his top performers to a sold-out away meet. Yale now holds most of the national records for 50-yard pools and (by picking on insignificant small-school opponents) most of the 40-yard pool records. Word among swimming schools is that the only way to get the Elis to visit at full strength would be to build a pool with no previous records--say, an egg-shaped one, thirty-seven yards long.
Harvard's Ulen is admired as the only non-griping competitor. "It's a futile business taking my boys down to New Haven," he says, "but it's also foolish to be bitter about their tremendous team. Tradition sends the good swimmers to Yale. I'd like to build up the same tradition and alumni interest here."
Unfortunately, the Yale story is not so much one of tradition as it is of bursary jobs, scholarships, and interested (and well-heeled) alumni. Passing these by, it is difficult to see how tradition--the desire to swim under as good a coach as Ulen--could build up a finer swimming team than Harvard has today. But the world champions with a certain minimum of intelligence still go, or are sent, to Yale, and the rest are sent to Ohio State.
The tradition of turning New Haven into a swimming Mecca doesn't seem to make Yale unhappy, but the picture of seven "contestants" fighting it out for second place in a league still, by any other name, makes no contest.
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