Between Olympics, swimmers might as well be snorkeling in Bermuda, for all the American public cares. What household names do emerge from the sport are highly decorated Olympians such as Mark Spitz, Donna DeVarona, Don Schollander, Debbie Meyer, and John Naber.
Whoever might have followed in their flutter kicks this year is left to speculation because of the US Olympic boycott, but Cynthia (Sippy) Woodhead figures to be one of the names circulating during and after the games.
She had tuned up for the Olympics by winning five gold medals at the 1979 Pan American games and would have been the favorite in the 200-meter freestyle, an event in which she holds the world record.
Though dealt a blow by missing the Olympics, her dedication to swimming hasn't wavered. Explaining how she got over the Olympic disappointment, Sippy says: "I had to realize why I started swimming. It was because I had fun at it. "My parents didn't throw me in the water and say, 'You're going to win an Olympic gold medal; get in there and work hard.' I begged them to let me swim. I was so young they weren't going to let me."
She remembers taking regulars dips while still in diapers at the country club near here Riverside, Calif., home. By age 4, she was a replacement on a club relay team, and by 11 or 12 she had already begun to set national age-group records.
With all she's accomplished, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Sippy is just a 16-year-old high school junior. On the other hand, a refreshing girlishness comes through in person that exposes her fun-loving youth.
She confesses to entering water balloon fights and "stuff like that," stating flatly, "I'm just not a Cynthia." Her playful-sounding nickname, a much better fit, grew out of her sister's attempt to pronounce her newborn sibling's real name.
Even with the chance for Olympic glory gone by the boards, Sippy has lost none of her desire to compete. "Every year there's big meet, and the Olympics are just another big meet," she explained during the East Coast swing of the "Agree Tour of Champions," a corporately sponsored swimming promotion. "In January there's a major international meet in Gainesville, Fla. The World Games are the next year, followed by the Pan-Am Games.
"Just to make the American team [for these meets] you have to be one of the top two or three swimmers in the country. So being No. 1 or 2 in the nation is a major goal of mine."