Swim team's legacy continues

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. was an IU swimmer in the 1960s and received his bachelor's and master's degrees in history from IU. He is now editor in chief of The American Spectator, which he founded in a Bloomington farmhouse during his school days in 1967, originally called The Alternative. Named one of Time Magazine's 50 future leaders of America in 1979, Tyrrell also writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column and has authored seven books.

"In the early 1960s I was swimming six or more miles a day on a legendary athletic team, an Indiana University swimming team that held three-quarters to four-fifths of all world records in men's swimming. No Olympic team in the world was superior to our college team; and there were years in the 1960s and early 1970s when all the world's Olympic teams combined could not beat us in a dual meet."\n-- Excerpt from "The Conservative Crack-Up," by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.

Indiana Daily Student: You guys must have been the big men on campus? Were you?\nR. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.: Big men on campus? No, not at all. The football players and basketball players all had more prestige. The swimmers did make a mark to some degree with bohemian intellectuals on campus, because many of the swimmers were themselves bohemian. The movie "Breaking Away" was actually not based on local hillbillies or stone cutters but on swimmers. The movie's writer, Steve Tesich, hung around with us and as we often listened to high-brow music and wore the raiment of the left-bank intellectual. Steve had opera running through the movie and other continental style. The great scene from the quarry was a scene inspired by the swimmers who used to train there and on one occasion shoved a 1952 Packard off a 50-foot cliff into the water below. Ah for the good old days. May they never come again, as the philosopher said.

IDS: What did the football and basketball players think of the swimmers? \nRET: I suspect they thought we were wimps. One used to play me in handball in the offseason. All he ever did was hit me in the back. I attribute this not to his nearsightedness but contempt. My guess is that if he were to play me today he would still aim for my back though, of course, he would be on a walker. Football players do not age gracefully.

IDS: What was (former IU swim coach) Doc Counsilman's main influence on you? \nRET: A great teacher. He instilled in me a respect for intellect. His wife Marge has written a very good book about him. It should be published. I would love to write its introduction.

IDS: After IU you took up racquetball. What is gratifying about that sport?\nRET: I took up handball. It is as physically demanding as swimming and requires that one become ambidextrous. It is a test of strength, conditioning, and strategy -- chess for fitness enthusiasts.

IDS: Surveying loose American manners, you observed, "Near-naked joggers sweat and wheeze up Fifth Avenue at high noon unmolested." What would be a more proper way for runners to exercise, in New York or elsewhere? \nRET: I suggest a treadmill or where available a track. Actually I loved to run on the quarter-mile cinder track that was adjacent to the (Health, Physical Education and Recreation) building and is now covered by a very attractive park -- if memory serves.

IDS: You've called yourself a gentleman. What is the idea of a gentleman these days?\nRET: I still stick by the old line: A gentleman never gives offense unintentionally, and when he does he does not sweat.

IDS: The American Spectator masthead lists a Kapellmeister. What is that? \nRET: It is a German word for a German guy.

IDS: References to haute cuisine appear in your writings. Not counting the dinner you hosted for Ronald Reagan late in his second term, what would be your ideal meal?\nRET: The Last Supper, but I choose the wine.\n-- Contact staff writer Bill Meehan at

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