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
Sidelined by a shoulder injury in 1982, Canadian Alex Baumann had to watch as the World Championships were held, and Brazil’s [Ricardo Prado] won the title and set the world record of 4:19.78. But Baumann improved later that year and won gold in both IMs at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Early in 1984, East German Jens-Peter Berndt broke Prado’s world record in Magdeburg, recording 4:19.61, only to see Baumann improve that at the Canadian Olympic Trials in June, with 4:17.53. Berndt was out, a victim of the Soviet-led boycott, but Prado was in Los Angeles, as was American [Jesse Vassallo], once the world best in this event, holding the world mark from 1978-82, but now past his best.
In the final Prado led after the first two legs, with Baumann still 1.7 seconds back at 200 metres, with Vassallo. But Baumann outswam Prado by three seconds on the breaststroke to take the lead, as Vassallo fell back. Baumann held on in the freestyle, and won with a world record 4:17.41, over a second ahead of Prado, as the bronze medal went to the surprising Australian [Rob Woodhouse].
A few weeks later Berndt won the Friendship Games in 4:18.29. On 7 January 1985, after swimming at a meet in Arkansas, Berndt defected to the United States at the Oklahoma City airport, and would later swim for West Germany at the 1988 Olympics. Baumann had known similar circumstances. Born in Czechoslovakia, he and his family were in New Zealand in 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to crush Czech resistance. The family decided not to return to their native land, and settled in Sudbury, Ontario, where Baumann grew up and became the world’s greatest all-around swimmer.