x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Salnikov's success was popular on a number of levels

Best Olympic swimmer No 3 Vladimir Salnikov's victory at the Seoul Olympics was popular not just because of how impressive it was.

The Soviet Union's Vladimir Salnikov swims his way to a gold medal in the men's 1500m freestyle at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
The Soviet Union's Vladimir Salnikov swims his way to a gold medal in the men's 1500m freestyle at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

So, why did the accomplished diners in the restaurant in the athletes' village in Seoul in 1988 erupt in applause upon the entry of Vladimir Salnikov?

It could have owed to their respect for the 1,500 metres and the fathomless endurance required to swim that marathon in 15 minutes, as he had just done.

Surely it helped that Salnikov's 15:00.40 represented the fifth-fastest time ever, and that the four faster times belonged to Salnikov.

It could have owed to Salnikov's comeback within the race, roaring from a 10-second deficit to beat Stefan Pfeiffer of West Germany and Uwe Dassler of East Germany.

It could have been his age. At 28, he was on verge of swimming dotage, an age when the split seconds of relative decrepitude start to impose themselves. With a sterling career having wound toward its close, this son of a sea captain from Leningrad had been the "monster in the waves" for so long that his presence rang familiar.

Beyond all of that, though, another factor surely lent oomph to the ovation. He may have finished fifth remarkably at age 15 at Montreal 1976, but his gold medal at Moscow 1980 suffered from diminished competition and his absence for Los Angeles 1984 gutted a chunk of his Olympic prime.

No, this marvel of the long haul had come back in 1988 not only to defeat all others but to defeat the scourge that tore at Olympics for almost an era, the villain known as the political boycott.


cculpepper@thenational.ae