Host City: Seoul, South Korea
Venue(s): Indoor Swimming Pool, Olympic Park, Seoul
Date Started: September 24, 1988
Date Finished: September 24, 1988
The world record had been broken five times already in 1988, the first three by Soviet [Igor Polyansky], and then twice by American [Dave Berkoff] at the US Olympic Trials. Polyansky was the 1986 World Champion in both backstroke events, but Berkoff had pioneered a new technique. He swam as far as he could underwater after the push-off, often not emerging on top of the water until the 35-40 metre mark. This usually gave him a big lead at the turn, and it was so advantageous that the other swimmers had to adopt the technique, although Berkoff usually still led through the first 40. Berkoff used it in Seoul to break the world record in the preliminaries, recording 54.51.
But in the Seoul final, Berkoff used the technique but only led Japan's [Daichi Suzuki] by about a body length at the turn. That was less than expected and it was not enough, as Suzuki came home faster to win the gold medal. Berkoff won silver, barely holding off Polyansky. In fifth place was Canada's [Mark Tewksbury], the 1991 Pan Pacific Champion, who never adapted well to the new underwater technique. He would not need it long. As soon as the Seoul Olympics ended, Berkoff's underwater start was banned, with the new rule requiring that backstrokers surface and begin stroking on top of the water by 10 metres. This was later changed to 15 metres.