The Sports Rivals Podcast

Rivals – Cold War Era: E. Germany vs. U.S.; Swimming Gold medalists John Naber and Rowdy Gaines reminisce


There was once a Berlin Wall and an East and West Germany. That is history, and so are the sports rivalries that sprang from those days of divide.


The competition among athletes from opposite sides of the wall were fierce, fired further by the politics involved.

For U.S. swim teams, the East Germans posed a particularly tough rivalry, born of international competition, the Olympics being THE highlight of their matchups.

Swimmers Rowdy Gaines and John Naber were involved in this rivalry at the highest levels. They came to the competition in different eras, but both faced East German teams when they were at their best.

They remember the rivalry on this edition of THESPORTSRIVALS.

9 Best LIMU Rowdy Gaines images | Rowdy, Gaines, Team usaRowdy Gaines (l) was the World Swimmer of 1980, coming from the collegiate program at Auburn during which time he began his representation of the U.S. in international events.

He won three gold Medals at the 1984 Olympics. His time in the 100 meter free style set a world record as did the 4 x 100 freestyle and 4×100 medley relay teams he anchored. He also collected nine national and two Pan-American titles.

There could have been more gold in his collection, but the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics in which he would have competed.

His freestyle form garnered him the title of “The World’s Fastest Swimmer.”

Los Gatos Woman Raises Champ of 1976 Olympics | Cupertino, CA PatchJohn Naber (l) was the World Swimmer of the Year in 1976. He swam at USC from 1974 -1977 when the program won four consecutive national titles. He was part of arguably the most dominant Olympic team ever when in 1976 the men’s swim team won 23 of a possible 30 medals.

Naber won four gold medals setting world records in all four events! John gained the title of “Back Stroke King” for his amazing career performances.

In their voices you will hear the depth of feelings regarding the East German competition. The mention of cheating by the East Germans generates some no holds barred discussion.

These are two of the world’s all time outstanding swimmers remembering a rivalry that went deep in their competitive souls.

Gary Thorne

Gary Thorne is the television voice of the Baltimore Orioles. A native of Maine, Gary has done lots of play-by-play through the years including the NHL for ESPN. An attorney by training, Thorne's first MLB job was calling Mets games on radio in the mid 1980s.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments