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Stanford's Streak Ends

3/7/2013

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

March Madness is coming. By which, of course, I mean the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. We’ve already seen American Records (Breeja Larson and Georgia women). We’ve already seen dominating relay performances (Michigan men sweeping the Big Tens for their first time ever). But just last night, we witnessed a historic streak come to an end:

Stanford men’s run of 31 consecutive Pac-12 titles is over.

Think about that number for a minute. 31 consecutive championships. 31 years in which Stanford men winning the Pac-12 Championship was as sure of a bet as the sun rising or distance freestyle sets seeming “long.” The last time anyone but Stanford won a Pac-12 Championship? 1981. IBM had just unveiled their first PC, and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born yet. Ronald Reagan was President, and Barack Obama was only 19-years-old. Heck, back in 1981, Rowdy Gaines was still three years away from winning three Olympic gold medals, and Michael Phelps wouldn’t be born for another four years. 1981 was the last year anyone not wearing a Stanford Cardinal swim cap ever won the Pac-12 men’s title.

It’s become known in swimming circles as “The Streak.”

And now, The Streak of “31” has been reset back to “1.”

The men of California-Berkeley upended the Stanford Cardinal, a fitting foe to change the tides. (Cal and Stanford are bitter rivals.) The overall team score was close: Cal (825) just barely defeated Stanford (800). While there are still other “Streaks” in the swimming world to celebrate – Carmel High School’s 27 consecutive state championships comes to mind – we take pause to reflect on one of swimming’s great streaks coming to an end. The other streak that was eerily similar to Stanford’s Pac-12 run was Kenyon men’s swimming and diving. Similarly, both Stanford and Kenyon’s programs won championships for 31 years in a row. The Kenyon men’s number for NCAA Division III Championships was also snapped at “31” just two years ago.

Could 31 be the new reversal of superstitiously-unlucky 13?

Possibly. But while we look ahead to the beginning of new possible streaks on the horizon, we reflect on what a historic week this has been for NCAA swimming. For some fun, as well as some celebration, here are just a few more factoid tidbits as we tip our hat to the ending of the remarkable Stanford Streak:

-Over 31 years, Stanford welcomed nearly 8 completely different teams. That’s almost 8 cycled-through groups of totally different swimmers sharing one thing in common: all of them won a Pac-12 Championship.

-The Streak has lived through five Presidents, eight summer Olympics, and ten Michael Jackson Billboard #1 hits.

-In 1982, Time Magazine’s “Machine of the Year” was “The Computer.”

-“The Streak” outlived Saturn Car Company, which formulated in 1982 and halted production in 2009.

-A 1982 Super Bowl ad cost $324,000. Now, it costs $4,000,000.

-The “Pac-12” was known as the “Pac-10” in 1982. And just a few years before that, it was actually known as the “Pac-8” due to having only eight teams. (In 1978, Arizona and Arizona State were added to the conference.)

-“Eye of the Tiger,” which is many swimmers’ favorite pre-race songs, was released the same year as “The Streak.”

-All 31 championships were won under the same head coach, Skip Kenney.

-The Streak was the longest Pac-12 conference championship streak in any sport, not just swimming.

-The same year “The Streak” began (1982) another Pac-12 team (UCLA) won the NCAA Championship. UCLA no longer has a men’s swimming program. It was cut back almost nineteen years ago, back in 1994.

-During “The Streak,” Stanford won NCAA Championships seven times.

-Interestingly, four other Pac-12 teams ultimately won the overall men’s NCAA title but not the Pac-12 title. (UCLA 1982, Arizona 2008, and Cal 2011/2012.)

-There are lowly swimming scribes such as yours truly who have never been alive to see Stanford not win a Pac-12 Championship.

That is, until yesterday.

Ultimately, records are made to be broken, and streaks can never last forever. Congratulations to the Cal Bears for accomplishing the feat that countless other Pac-12 teams over 31 years failed to do. And congratulations to Stanford men’s swimming and diving for what was one of the most impressive accomplishments by a singular program in the history of NCAA sports.

As a swimming community, it’s important to recognize accomplishments not just within USA Swimming, but everywhere people swim. And it’s important to recognize when those accomplishments are finally book-ended and legends known as “The Streak” come to a spectacular and extraordinary close.

Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer with USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.