August 7, 2012

The Late Bloomer: Schroeder's Quest for Gold

Jason Lezak may be UCSB's current ambassador to Olympic swimming, but before Lezak, there was Richard Schroeder, who won Olympic gold with Team USA in 1984 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul for his legs of the 400-meter medley relay.

Schroeder had been swimming since he was about five years old, yet it was only a few short months before the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles that he really became an Olympic caliber swimmer.

He just missed qualifying for the 100-meter breaststroke, as he had placed third in the trial and only the top two advanced to the Olympics. However he did qualify for the 200-meter breaststroke and was also chosen to swim the breaststroke leg of the 400-meter medley relay in the preliminaries. He and his teammates had the fastest time in the preliminaries and ensured that Team USA qualified for the finals. Though he did not swim in the finals, he was awarded a gold medal as a member of the preliminary team. 

After the 1984 Olympics, Schroeder went to work as an accountant in San Francisco. He had won a gold medal and had also taken fourth in the 200-meter breaststroke. Not bad for a guy who just wanted to make the team and who had admitted that he was a no-name heading in to the 1984 Games. Yet after a while, he became convinced that he had not yet reached his potential and that he could still win a gold medal in the breaststroke.

Once again driven to compete, Schroeder took time off of work to begin training back in Santa Barbara. It was not long before he was named to the Pan Pacific team and was ranked among the best in the world. He completed his comeback by winning the 200-meter breaststroke at the Mission Viejo Swim Meet of Champions in June of 1988.

When he got to Seoul, however, he did not compete in the 200-meter breaststroke. Instead, he qualified for the 100-meter breaststroke, in which he placed sixth in the finals, and once again, he helped the United States win gold in the 400 medley relay. This time as part of the team that swam in the finals. At age 26, he was the oldest male swimmer on the Olympic team, but that did not stop him from helping to set a world record that stood for eight years.

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