January 30, 2019
Swimmers You Should Know – Vladimir Salnikov
There are those milestones in sport that seem unbeatable or unattainable. For a long time in track it was the 4 minute mile and the 10 second 100. For gymnasts the perfect 10, figure skaters a perfect 6. They are the ghosts that push us in training, the seemingly unattainable mark that most will say is impossible and a few have the guts to chase down.
For swimmers it was the mile and the 15 minute barrier. Even though we expect swimmers to now be able to break this time, at one point in swimming’s history it was the great white whale of achievements. Salnikov would be the first, and he would do it in front of a home crowd in Moscow at the 1980 Olympics, lowering the USA’s Brian Goodell’s world mark by 4 seconds to 14:58.27.
He went undefeated in the 1500 for 10 years. In the span, between 1977 and 1986 Salnikov won the most grueling event in swimming over 60 times consecutively at various World Championship meets, European championships and Olympic Games
In Seoul 1988 Salnikov returned to the Olympic pool for one last games. His results had slumped since placing fourth at the 1986 world swimming championships, and in 1987 he failed to make the final of the European championships. Written off as a threat for gold, he won a place on the Soviet team after making a deal with the sports minister that if he did not win the Gold he would give up all his worldly possessions and join the army.
In the preliminaries the Salnikov of old re-emerged, clocking the second fastest time (15.07.83) behind American Matt Cetlinksi. In the finals Salnikov took the lead at 675 meters and didn’t look back. Surging ahead with every lap the last gold medalist for the Soviet Union in an Olympic swimming final took the race in a time of 15.00.40, thus becoming at age 28 the owner of the five fastest times for the 1500 meters ever swum, and the oldest Olympic swimming champion for 56 years.
Other Olympic athletes were so awed by Salnikov's achievement they gave him a standing ovation when he walked into the Olympic Village cafeteria after the triumph. His world record stood until 1991, and whilst that time is now down to 14.34.56, the status of being the first man to swim 1500 meters under 15 minutes will forever be his.