Host City: Los Angeles, United States
Venue(s): Olympic Swim Stadium, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
Date Started: July 30, 1984
Date Finished: July 30, 1984
The world record had been set in August 1983 by the West German team, and it was expected to be a very close final between the FRG and United States. Nobody could really envision how close, although Sports Illustrated’s Craig Neff did call it, predicting in the Olympic Preview issue, “The West Germans will likely lose their world record and the gold medal to the U.S. – but just barely.” That record went in the heats as the US B team came home in 7:18.87 for a world record to qualify first.
US coach Don Gambril made the choice to lead off with America’s best, Mike Heath, and make the Germans catch up, as the German anchor would certainly be Michael Groß, probably the top male freestyler in Los Angeles. On the first leg Heath went ahead of Thomas Fahrner, 1:48.67 to 1:49.83. On the next leg David Larson extended the lead to 2.87 seconds at 300 metres, but he had gone out too fast, and Dirk Korthals closed so that the US lead was only 9/10ths of a second by the exchange. The third US swimmer, Jeff Float, also went out quickly and had 3 seconds on the Germans at 500 metres, but [Alexander Schwotka] reeled in Float on the second 100, with the margin 1.56 seconds as the anchor swimmers started their work.
Groß anchored Germany, as expected, and he faced off against American Bruce Hayes. At the first turn of the anchor, Groß had caught up, but Gambril later noted that “Groß paid too much to catch Bruce that early.” For the next 100 they swam together, Groß unable to shake Hayes, until Germany took a slight lead at the final turn. With 25 metres to go, Hayes had made that up and they swam together to the wall, nobody really knowing who had won, until the scoreboard showed that it was the United States – 7:15.69 to 7:15.73 – the closest relay in Olympic swimming history. The time was a world record by over three seconds.
Groß was magnanimous in defeat, stating, “I simply did not have any more to give. We never expected to swim so fast in the relay, so we cannot be too disappointed.” His final leg of 1:46.89 was the fastest 200 split ever recorded at that time.