Mike Barrowman (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1997)
FOR THE RECORD: 1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: 4th (200m breaststroke); 1992 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (200m breaststroke); 1989, 1990 World Swimmer of the Year; WORLD RECORDS (7): 200m breaststroke; 1991 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (200m breaststroke); 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: silver (200m breaststroke); US NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (6): 2 short course (200yd), 4 long course (200m); NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (3).
During the 20 year period between the 1972 Munich Olympics and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the world record was held by only five swimmers – Hall of Famers John Hencken (USA), David Wilkie (GBR) and Victor Davis (CAN) among them.
Nick Gillingham (GBR) held the record for two days in 1990 sandwiched between USA’s Mike Barrowman. Barrowman joins 1940s swimmer Joe Verdeur (USA) in breaking the 200m breaststroke world record, a record number of six times. Between 1988 and 1992, Barrowman dominated the 200m breaststroke as no other swimmer did, winning 15 of 16 major national and international competitions.
His first world record came after five years and one day in the same pool, same lane when Davis had set the mark of 2:13.34 at the 1984 Olympic Games. Until his retirement after the 1992 Olympics, that mark was to fall an additional five times by another 23 seconds, by Mike.
To Barrowman, success came all of a sudden, but not without a considerable amount of hard work and training. Leading up to the 1988 Olympic Trials, he was ranked 64th in the world and no one had heard of Mike Barrowman. To his astonishment, he dropped an incredible seven and one-half seconds, from 2:21.39 to 2:13.74, to make the US Olympic Team and travel to Seoul. But it was while at Seoul, after finishing a disappointing fourth place that he set his sites for the greatest achievements yet to come that made swimming history. When they played the national anthem of Hungary for Seoul’s winner Jozef Szabo, Mike was under the bleachers in the practice pool – all alone. He had wanted the gold medal. The memory of not getting it was the catalyst that drove him to higher achievements during the next four years.
Barrowman began his first swimming lessons at five months old, from his grandmother, a Red Cross instructor. By eighteen months, he could jump off the diving board and dog paddle to the side, and at four years he could swim freestyle and backstroke. Through high school, he swam for the Rockville, Maryland-Montgomery Swim Club and Churchill High School. But it was in 1986 that he met the Hungarian-born coach Jozsef Nagy and moved with him to Curl-Burke Swim Club and then stardom. The Hungarian-speaking Nagy’s first words to Barrowman were “breaststroke strong.”
Nagy developed the “wave-action technique” of the breaststroke, and Barrowman became the showman of the stroke. Through the technical use of physics and the practical use of “borrowing” the same head and shoulder characteristics of a cheetah running, Barrowman turned this stroke into the fastest in the world. On land, he re-popularized the use of medicine balls, taken from the 1950s, to increase quickness, particularly in the recovery phase of the stroke. Dryland work, but not weight training, was a very important part of his total training. His secret to success was none other than “good ole hard work.”
It was the desirable balance of his University of Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek, and Hungarian-born Nagy that helped Mike perform so well. He not only wanted to succeed for himself, but more so for his coaches and family. Under Urbanchek’s guidance, Barrowman earned three NCAA breaststroke championships and was selected the NCAA 1990 Swimmer of the Year. Urbanchek describes Barrowman as being “very meticulous. He can describe exactly what he is doing in his stroke.”
Under Nagy’s guidance, Barrowman perfected his stroke. His style of coaching, Mike was to criticize. “Nothing is ever good enough. Everything I do, 100 people have done better, girls can do better. Some people couldn’t handle it, but it works for me,” says Barrowman.
Barrowman became a model of concentration, a study in intensity. He won six US National Championships and won the gold medal at the 1991 Perth World Championships by defeating the same two swimmers as he did in the next year’s Olympic Games, Norbet Rozsa (HUN) and Nick Gillingham (GBR). At these Games, this 5’11”, 163 lb. swimmer born in Paraguay, lived his dream, the Olympic gold medal. In the process, he set six world records and was voted World Swimmer of the Year in both 1989 and 1990. He was also selected as a finalist in 1990, 1991 and 1993 for the prestigious AAU Sullivan Award.
After his retirement from swimming, Mike began kayaking, another water event which uses the same muscles as swimming. He finished 15th at the 1996 US Olympic Trials.
He works on sports cars, writes novels, goes to the opera and conducts clinics throughout the world. Kids love him, because he is a champion inside.