Tom Jager is 23. He graduated from UCLA more than a year ago. But he's still an asset to the Bruin swim program and will, no doubt, be quite an asset to the U.S. team that competes in Seoul next summer.
According to UCLA Coach Ron Ballatore, having the current world record-holder working as an assistant coach and still working out daily in lanes alongside swimmers who aspire to be world record-holders is the ideal situation.
And isn't it great that the powers that be in swimming finally worked some things out so that the country's most talented swimmers are now continuing to compete beyond their college eligibility? Among them are Jager, Pablo Morales, who graduated from Stanford, and Mary T. Meagher, who graduated from Cal. All are world record-holders sticking around for '88.
It used to be such a rare occurence.
Ballatore said: "In the case of Jager, he's a volunteer assistant for us, but he gets a salary for his work with Budweiser, he gets training expenses from U.S. Swimming, and he's allowed to make some money from his work related to swimming as long as he puts that money into a trust fund.
"He's doing very well--for a swimmer. Nothing like what the track guys can do. But it's a big step forward. It will help our national team.
"Jager is still getting better. I don't know what to say as far as what age swimmers peak. We haven't had many swimmers staying past 25 or 30. It's not like other sports, where you might think about competing past college as a way to make a living.
"Most swimmers want to get a degree, win an Olympic medal and then get on with a career. Who knows? Things may change enough so that a guy like Jager might be able to make a living at it for a while."
But things can get kind of slow between Olympic Games.
To keep athletes who can no longer compete for their college teams active during the school competition season, U.S. Swimming has formed a national all-star team that will compete against college teams, much the same way that Athletes in Action competes in exhibition competitions with college teams--except the only mission of this swim team is to prepare for '88.
The next major meet that will include all the top swimmers, high school through free agents, is the U.S. Open Dec. 20-22 at the Justus Aquatic Center in Orlando, Fla. That meet will include top competition from the United States, Romania, Great Britain, Sweden, Japan, Portugal and China.
And then there are other nice little diversions, such as the national team's training camp in Honolulu over Thanksgiving week. The national team coach, Richard Quick, was there to oversee the six-day session that included two-a-day workouts, seminars on goal-setting and time management, media training and drug and alcohol awareness.
Dan Jorgensen, Mike O'Brien, and David Wharton of USC were among the 74 swimmers there. U.S. Swimming repeated the Hawaii training camp because Don Gambril, coach of the '84 Olympic team, thought it had helped so much in '83.
Ballatore was there with both Jager and Craig Oppel, one of the most promising of the young Bruin swimmers. Oppel is the fastest American in the 200-meter freestyle and ranks fourth in the world in that event. He ranks fifth in the 100, but Cal's Matt Biondi can beat him at that distance. Ballatore says Oppel is right on schedule for the '88 Olympics.
"You bet it helps Oppel to have Jager working with him and pushing him, day in and day out," Ballatore said. "We have a lot of younger swimmers this year, and I think it helps all of them. He can't compete for us anymore, but he can help us."
Lucien Pirson was named the swimming coach last Saturday at the opening of the new swim stadium at The Claremont Club in Claremont, where club officials are attempting to build a program similar in caliber to the one at Mission Viejo.