IT TOOK A WORLD RECORD TO KEEP BACKHAUS FROM OLYMPIC GOLD

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Today, August 28, 2018, is the 45th anniversary of an Olympic moment.

So much history was locked with in the 1972 Olympic Games.

Held in Munich, West Germany, who could forget the slaughter of Israeli athletes by Palestinians in one of the world’s greatest divides?

The U.S. men’s basketball team lost a gold medal that led to an international incident.

Meanwhile, American sprinters Rey Robinson and Eddie Hart, nowhere to be found in the 100 and 200 finals, missed their preliminary heats when they received the wrong starting times.

On the plus side, there was wrestler Dan Gable, marathoner Frank Shorter and half-miler Dave Wottle, who came from behind to win the 800.

At Schwimmhalle, the Olympic swim center at the Munich Olympic Park, an American swimmer was re-writing the record books.

A Redlands swimmer was hot on his trail.

Mark Spitz. Seven gold medals. An American legend.

An Australian teen, Shane Gould, made his own mark with three golds, plus a silver and bronze at age 15.

There was another teenage swimmer at The Games.

That teen, Robin Backhaus, was attending Redlands High School.

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Robin Backhaus, a 17-year-old swimmer at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, won a bronze medal in the butterfly (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Born in Nebraska. Attended Redlands High. His swim club was in Riverside. Wound up in Hawaii. Alabama. In Washington, the U.S. Northwest.

On Aug. 28, 1972, Backhaus won a bronze medal for his third-place performance in the men’s 200-meter butterfly. His time, 2:03.23, finished behind Spitz’s world record 2:00.70, with Gary Hall, Sr. (2:02.86) and Backhaus completing an American sweep.

Imagine that for a Redlands Connection!

A Redlands swimmer beaten only by a world record.

In that 200-fly finale, Backhaus outlasted Jose Delgado, Jr., of Ecuador, by over a second to grab that bronze medal.

Even the pathway to the championship race is littered with challenges.

Backhaus posted the fastest time in the heats leading up to the finals, beating West Germany’s Folkert Meeuw in 2:03.11. By heat four, Spitz won his race and stole away, however briefly, Backhaus’ Olympic record swim.

Spitz, who surpassed Backhaus’ 2:03.11 clocking with a 2:02.11 of his own, claimed the record in that semifinal heat.

The top two finishers from each heat qualified for the finals.

It took that world record swim from Spitz, his 2:00.70 outdueling Hall and Backhaus.

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From left to right, Gary Hall, Sr., Mark Spitz and Robin Backhaus, who swept the 200-meter butterfly event at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Spitz, who won seven gold medals, set a world record in the race (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Delgado, West Germany’s Hans Fassnacht, Hungary’s Andras Hargitay, East Germany’s Hartmut Flockner and Meeuw took fourth through eighth place in the overall outcome. Even Meeuw’s last place clocking, 2:05.57, was world class.

Backhaus was surrounded by superior talent on his U.S. Olympic team:

  • Jerry Heidenreich, two relay gold medals, part of six world records
  • John Murphy, a relay gold and bronze in the 100-back
  • Mike Stamm, silver medals in two backstroke events, plus a relay gold
  • Tom Bruce, former world record holder in 4 x 100 free
  • Steve Furniss, bronze, 100-individual medley
  • Gary Hall, Sr. – Two years before Munich, Hall set a world record in 200-fly
  • Mike Burton (3-time Olympic champion, former world record holder)
  • Steve Genter, gold medalist (silver in 100-free)
  • John Hencken, 13 world records, 21 American records
  • Doug Northway, like Backhaus, was 17, capturing bronze in the 1500-free
  • Tim McKee (3-time silver medalist)

A footnote to McKee: Swimming observers will recall a close finish – losing to Sweden’s Gunnar Larsson by two one-thousandths of a second in the 400-IM – in which the scoreboard reflected a dead heat at 4:31.98. In a controversial decision, event judges named Larsson the winner with a 4:31.981 to McKee’s 4:31.983.

Under new federation rules, timing to the thousandths of a second are now prohibited. It was that race which led to the change in rules.

The U.S. copped 43 medals, seven of its 17 gold medals won by Spitz, two shared in pair of relays.

Spitz, meanwhile, might’ve been caught up in the explosive nature of The Games. As a Jewish American, Spitz was asked to leave Germany before the closing ceremonies. The deaths of those Israeli athletes had left a trickle-down effect for the remainder of The Games.

POST-OLYMPIC CAREER

Domestically, Backhaus won three Amateur Athletic Union titles, at the indoor 200-yard butterfly in 1974, plus the 100-fly in 1973.

He also won NCAA title in the 200-fly in 1975.

His club was based in Riverside. One of his coaches was Chuck Riggs, who would help develop several future champions, including Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead. Riggs was voted into the Swim Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018.

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Chuck Riggs, who was coaching for the Riverside Aquatics Association in the early 1970s, had a hand in coaching Robin Backhaus’ climb to the Olympics in 1972.

Backhaus’ college choice was Washington, later transferring to Alabama, which is where he graduated.

Backhaus, a teacher and swimming coach at Konawaena (Hawaii) High School, eventually surfaced as a swimming trainer in Texas and California for over 20 years.

A year after his Olympic exploits, Backhaus won a pair of gold medals, plus a bronze medal at the 1973 World Aquatics Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

There was a win in his specialty, the 200-fly, plus his part in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. In the 100-fly, Backhaus stroked home in third place.

Born on Feb. 12, 1955, Backhaus never swam competitively for Redlands High. He’s a Terrier Hall of Famer, though, in the school’s growing history of top-level athletes that includes that likes of NFL’s Brian Billick, Greg Horton, Patrick Johnson and Jim Weatherwax, track & field’s Karol Damon, soccer’s Heather Aldama, baseball’s Julio Cruz and volleyball’s Keri Nishimoto.

En route to the ’72 Olympics, swimmers had to qualify at the U.S. Trials at Portage Park in Chicago.

In the 200-fly, Spitz’s 2:01.53 outgunned Backhaus’ 2:03.39.

Backhaus’ only other hope for another Olympic event came in the 100-fly, but he was unable to qualify at the Trials.

Think of it this way: For a brief time, Backhaus held the Olympic record for that 200-meter butterfly. It took a world record swim, from Spitz of all people, to edge the Redlands teenager for the gold medal.

There would no Olympic Games for Backhaus in Montreal 1976.

ALDAMA: HUGE PART OF REDLANDS IN SUMMER OF ’01

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It couldn’t have been a better summer in 2001. At least it was for a local sports editor seeking sports news for a reading public that rejoiced over such information.

Heather Aldama was playing pro soccer for the Boston Breakers.

Landon Donovan was up in San Jose, playing for the Earthquakes.

Donovan, for his part, would eventually become arguably Team USA’s greatest player.

Heather Aldama
Redlands’ Heather Aldama (photo by Santa Clara University).

Aldama had been a stud scorer at Redlands High just as Landon was arriving at Redlands High in 1995-1996. The Lady Terriers, built around Aldama’s goal-scoring and goal-producing passes, won four league championships.

In one season alone, she racked up a phenomenal 38 goals and 22 assists.

Over four seasons at Redlands, Aldama was All-CIF Southern Section each year. Her Lady Terrier teams reached the CIF quarterfinals twice and the semifinals once. The play was usually in the top tier of Division 1.

She was surrounded by terrific talent, plus coach Rolando Uribe who had been a scoring phenom for RHS’ boys side a few years earlier.

Part of a Southern California Blues side that won a state Under-19 title is, most likely, what landed Aldama in the collegiate spotlight; and, evetually, the pros.

That summer of 2001 was great for a small-town daily sports editor.

SUMMER PERKS OF ALDAMA, DONOVAN

The way it works on a small daily is simple. You’re obligated to produce as much local copy as possible.

That routine wasn’t necessarily so simple.

Due to shrinking budgets, the Associated Press wire services were all but unavailable to produce a sports section. Local copy was becoming even more mandatory.

During summer months at a small local daily newspaper, it’s tough to crank out local copy, particularly because schools are shut down between June and September.

You’d have to make up for it with all-star baseball, country club golf results, bowling scores from the local House, maybe some Junior Olympic swimming results courtesy of Redlands Swim Team, while we followed the exploits of that year’s Redlands Bicycle Classic entries throughout their summer seasons.

But when that pair of soccer-playing, midfield scorers put on their professional uniforms, they attracted plenty of attention.

That summer, though, was great. For me. For readers. You rarely read much in the county or regional newspapers about either player. Each time Aldama, or even Donovan, took the field for their respective sides, it was an opportunity for local coverage.

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This is an example of a photo that was available to the local sports desk in Redlands during summer play in WUSA. While Redlands’ Heather Aldama walks off the field in disappointment, the Washington Freedom is celebrating a playoff semifinals triumph (photo by Women’s United Soccer Association).

It almost defied the odds when AP would staff many of those matches with a photographer. A handful of photos from their matches would come across the wire on game nights. Both players, Aldama and Donovan, showed up in photos on local sports pages in their hometowns.

In a way, it almost defied the odds. At any point on a soccer pitch, there are 22 players. One photographer. It seemed like every match included a shot of the Redlanders. It’s not hard to really imagine. Aldama and Donovan were playmakers. Photographers like action. Their lenses are usually aimed toward those making plays.

Photos filled at least one-third of the page.

It’s one way to fill a local sports section.

SANTA CLARA WAS COLLEGE CHOICE

Unlike Donovan, who skipped college to play the European pro leagues at age 16, Aldama chose NCAA powerhouse Santa Clara University as her collegiate stop. Four seasons of Varsity play as a Lady Terrier attacker, plus her club-playing roots, had left her as a prime target for most of the top colleges.

There were some highlights for the Lady Bronco.

As a freshman in 1997, Aldama nailed a game-winning goal against West Coast Conference rival Loyola-Marymount.

She played against No. 3 Florida in the 1998 NCAA semifinals, against No. 19 Brigham Young University, playing in virtually every big Santa Clara match during her 1997-2000 collegiate career.

Aldama netted a 16-yarder against third-ranked Nebraska in a 2-1 win over the Lady Huskers on Sept. 19, 1999.

In an NCAA playoff match against UCLA that same season, she scored in the 23rd minute, assisting on another goal in a crucial win.

Against Connecticut in the NCAA quarterfinals one match later, Aldama assisted on a pair of Aly Wagner goals, helping produce a 3-0 triumph.

In other words, Aldama always seemed to find herself in the mix – scoring, setting up goals and other plays, streaking downfield to work her way open.

Once college was over, though, what next?

REPLACING TEAM USA

Aldama was part of a replacement Team USA side at a Jan. 13, 2000 match in Adelaide, Australia. In an event called the Australia Cup, Aldama surfaced as a substitute in the championship match, 3-1, over the Matildas.

Team USA’s main side had boycotted the match.

Sherrill Kester, Danielle Slaton and Wagner, Aldama’s college teammate, scored in front of 3,500 at Hindmarsch Stadium.

Playing against a more experienced Matildas’ squad, the U.S. held a 20-6 shots advantage, plus a 10-5 edge in corner kicks. It was in the 82nd minute that Aldama fed Wagner for Team USA’s final goal.

Mandy Clemens was part of the team, plus Jenn Mascaro (Streiffer), Michelle French and Veronica Zepeda with Lakeyshia Beene in goal.

Team USA, 2-0-1 in the four-nation tournament, had the same record as Sweden (playing to a 0-0 draw), winning on goal differential, holding a plus-nine to Sweden’s plus-four. The Czech Republic and host Australia made up the remaining tournament qualifiers.

It was that 8-1 win over the Czech Republic that did it for Team USA.

Considering that Sydney, Australia would be the host of that year’s 2000 Olympics, it had to occur that Aldama could see action when the Summer Games started.

Team USA’s co-coach Lauren Gregg noted the team’s approach.

She told Associated Press that Team USA achieved its objectives.

“First, we won by playing some exciting, attacking soccer.

“Second, these players invested in their development every minute they were on the field and took every advantage of this opportunity.

“Finally,” she said, “these games gave us a chance to evaluate our young personalities against much more experienced players, which gives us extremely valuable information as we go forward toward the Olympics.”

Team USA, Olympic gold medalists in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012, took silver in the 2000 Sydney Games. That team was largely built around the same group of historic women that won World Cup in Pasadena a couple years earlier.

China and Team USA played to a 1-1 draw, but the American women made it to the championship match, won by Sweden, 3-1.

Aldama was not part of the side.

SETTING STAGE FOR WUSA

While USA’s women were forming a global powerhouse at the international stage, Aldama was on the bubble to crack onto a formidable national team that included the likes of Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Carla Overbeck, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Cindy Parlow, Tiffeny Milbrett, Clemens, Tisha Venturini, Joy Fawcett, Shannon MacMillan, Julie Foudy and goalkeeper Brianna Scurry, among other well-known American players.

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Brandi Chastain, a 1999 World Cup hero, was a Heather Aldama rival during their days in the Women’s United Soccer Association (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In its most famous triumph in 1999 came in a 5-4 shootout win over China after a 0-0 draw through extended time. Chastain’s famous goal-winning shot was celebrated, dropping to her knees, whipping off her jersey and photographed in her sports bra.

That match was played at the Rose Bowl in front of nearly a packed house while shown on live international TV.

It had to affect an up-and-coming player like Aldama, who was still playing at Santa Clara – Chastain’s collegiate stop, incidentally.

The U.S., who knocked off North Korea, Nigeria and Denmark in pool play, had beaten Germany, Brazil and China, all world soccer powers. By contrast, Team USA’s men had never been able to produce a winning equation during international play.

Aldama had a few national team appearances. The timing of her departure from Santa Clara, however, was met with the formation of a new pro women’s soccer league.

SQUARING OFF AGAINST ’99 CUP SQUAD

In 2001, the Women’s United Soccer Association, or WUSA, was created. One of the founding eight teams was the Boston Breakers. The league lasted three seasons.

Aldama was part of a side that included Lilly, plus Kate Sobrero and Tracy Ducar. International players came over from Germany, Maren Meinhart and Bettina Wiegmann, plus Norway’s Dagny Mellgren and Ragnhild Gulbrandsen.

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Kristine Lilly, another of the 1999 USA World Cup heroes, was a Boston Breakers teammate of Redlands’ Heather Aldama (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Aldama showed up in Boston, courtesy of being the 28th player selected in the 2001 draft, a fourth-round pick by the Breakers. They played her on defense.

It was tough beginnings for Boston, which played to an 8-10-3 mark in its inaugural season, following that up with a 6-8-7 mark in 2002 – but no playoffs.

Matches were played at Nickerson Field in Boston. The team was owned by Amos Hostetter, Jr., who had served as chairman of C-SPAN.

That third and final season, though, under coach Pia Sundhage, former Norwegian scoring playmaker, was a little different. Boston finished 10-4-7 and reached the semifinals before a shootout against the Washington Freedom ended the Breakers’ season.

Aldama, wearing jersey No. 12, missed a shot in the penalty kick phase.

Eventually, when WUSA suspended operations, that was about it for the 25-year-old Aldama.

The Breakers reappeared, however – twice.

In 2007, they showed up as part of the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), folding in 2012. After that, the Breakers became part of the Women’s Pro Soccer League Elite.

Who was Aldama playing against in WUSA?

It was that same core group of 1999 World Cup players.

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Mia Hamm took her celebrated career into the WUSA ranks, where she competed against the likes of Redlands’ Heather Aldama (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Instead of watching them or dreaming of being their place, Aldama was attacking the likes of Scurry, plus defending against the all-star talents of Fawcett, MacMillan, Akers, Parlow, Milbrett, Venturini, Foudy, Hamm, Chastain and Clemens, among others – America’s best players.

In a July 3, 2003 match between Aldama’s Breakers and the Washington Freedom, Aldama notched her first professional goal in the 66th minute. There were 8,105 fans at Boston’s Nickerson Field to witness the two sides play to a 1-1 draw.

The shot was a curving, 25-yarder into the upper right hand corner of the net.

That shot might have originated in Redlands.

 

 

NFL DRAFT: THERE WAS A DARNOLD AT REDLANDS A FEW YEARS BACK

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Mike Darnold, as I remember, was a soft-spoken, seemed-to-recall type of player who blended right into his college football team.

An offensive lineman. I want to say he was a right tackle.

In those days, the mid-1980s, the head coach at the University of Redlands was Ken Miller, who has a nice Redlands Connection resume of his own – a Bulldog play-calling specialist when he returned to the Bulldogs as an assistant. That came before a brilliant career in the Canadian Football League in Toronto, Montreal and Saskatchewan.

As for Mike Darnold, a spot playing offensive line for a small college team in out-of-the-way Redlands was certainly not a pre-signal to raising a son that would turn heads in both college football and the 2018 NFL draft.

That son is Sam Darnold. USC. Heisman Trophy candidate. Possible No. 1 NFL draft choice. A legend, perhaps, in the making.

Mike, Sam Darnold (Photo courtesy of Triton Football).
Former University of Redlands player, Mike Darnold, left, stands next to his son, Sam Darnold, who is holding an award from the Triton Football Club. (Photo courtesy of the Triton Football Club.)

You can never tell. Quarterback John Fouch, a Redlands High School product who took off for Arizona State in 1976, transferred back to his small-town university. He played Bulldog football for two years. A few decades later, his shotgun-throwing son, Ronnie, turned up at Washington and, later, Indiana State.

I always thought John was one of the greatest local athletes I’d ever seen. Track/football’s Patrick Johnson (Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens, soccer’s Landon Donovan (Olympics, World Cup, European and USA pro soccer) and Heather Aldama, football’s Kylie Fitts and Chris Polk, plus softball’s Savannah Jaquish, to name a few, were among some of the others.

Ronnie Fouch tried hard – got into a couple NFL pre-season camps – but he never found that desired roster spot.

Mike Darnold’s kid did, though.

Boy, Sam turned up the heat in playing QB from his Orange County prep spot – San Clemente High School.

Instead of a career playing small-college teams from Whittier, Claremont-Mudd, Azusa-Pacific and La Verne, which were the stops on Mike’s playing career schedule for Redlands, his son was playing the likes of UCLA, Penn State, Notre Dame and teams from Arizona, Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

“Some have asked about Mike,” said current Bulldog coach Mike Maynard, “but he was before my time.”

Which is fairly hard to believe since Maynard arrived in 1988 – that’s 30 years!

It was Miller who recruited Mike Darnold to Redlands.

Miller, who assisted Maynard until leaving Redlands in 2000 after a brilliant career as a Bulldog offensive and defensive play-caller, turned the Canadian Football League on its ear. He led the Saskatchewan Rough Riders to 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup championships. Miller distinguished himself in so many ways while also working for Toronto and Montreal.

Mike Darnold, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound blocker, came from Dana Hills High School, another high school from the O.C. These days, he’s a foreman for a gas company. He’s done plumbing.

After Redlands, he went off and got married to Chris, who played volleyball at Long Beach City.

 

Their older daughter, Franki, was good enough to play volleyball at University of Rhode Island.

It’s an athletic family.

A former Bulldog hero, Brian De Roo, who made it to the NFL, said he rented out his Redlands home on nearby Campus St. to Darnold, among others.

“They lived at my home,” he said, “the summer after they had all graduated. They were working on the grounds crew and needed a place to lay their heads.”

De Roo tried to contact Mike Darnold on his son’s good fortune, “and say congrats … he’s pretty private!”

Redlands, during Mike Darnold’s day, was scrambling to rebuild a football empire. Budgets had crumbled on campus. Women’s athletics were crawling into the scene. Instead of acquiring their own budgets – coaches, assistants, all the necessary expenses for various teams – athletic money was split instead of doubled.

Miller had no fulltime assistant coaches. Plus, he was asked to coach the baseball team. Recruiting two major sports? Please.

Miller did land a couple of major college transfers – lineman Tom Gianelli from UCLA and fullback Scott Napier from Nebraska, where he was teammates with future NFL great Roger Craig.

It wasn’t enough.

Mike Darnold played alongside some good players, but Occidental College wore down everyone during the 1980s. While he was never an all-conference player, it’s hard to land players onto those elite post-season teams when your own team finishes, say, 0-9.

Over a decade after Mike Darnold left Redlands, Sam Darnold was born.