June 4, 2005
By Sean Barker Assistant Sports Editor New Haven Register
Steve Clark has always been a trailblazer, albeit in water. He was the first high school swimmer to break 50 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, doing so as a sophomore in 1959.
Before graduating high school, he shattered the American record during the AAU national championship meet at Yale in 1961.
By the time he graduated from Yale in 1965, Clark had become the first swimmer in the world to break 48, 47 and 46 seconds in the 100 free. His final meet, at Yale, Clark finished in 45.6 seconds.
Back for his 40th class reunion, Clark proved he's still a trailblazer, and not just in the water.
Clark became the first Yale athlete to donate an Olympic gold medal to the school Saturday. Clark won three gold medals as a member of relay teams at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Consider Yale has had 178 competitors in the Olympics, with 54 of their 102 medals gold.
"Having (former coach) Phil (Moriarty) coming back really was the tie (to donating the medal)," said Clark, who works as a financial advisor in San Francisco for professional athletes.
John Lapides, Yale Class of 1972, president of the Yale Swimming Association and the one responsible for asking Clark to consider donating a gold medal, still remembers the excitement generated by Clark's 1961 performance at Yale. Clark, who held the American record for a five-year stretch, finished in 46.8 seconds. The previous mark was 48.2 seconds.
"I remember my father Robert ... showing me the paper the next day, it was the New Haven Register, and showing me this picture of Steve Clark with his hair completely shaved," Lapides said Saturday. "The Aussies had started shaving in 1956 at Melbourne. But no (swimmers) shaved their heads until Steve did that day in New Haven."
But it was Clark's feat four years later, also at Yale's natatorium, and also in the AAU nationals, that defined his legacy. Clark finished in 45.6 seconds, bringing the 2,000-plus in attendance to their feet. In four years, Clark had rewritten expectations. No longer was breaking 50 seconds a goal. Now breaking 45 seconds was within reach.
"I was impressed by the number of younger alumni and swimmers here today," said Roger Goettsche, Clark's 1965 classmate. "They were completely captivated by the accomplishments of this man because it's their legacy, too. It's the Yale swimming tradition. Steve has always been a humble guy, to a fault. I told him you were a big deal, you are a big deal, and this is a big deal."
It was on that day in 1965 that Clark expressed his respect for Moriarty, asking him to present the gold medal for the 100-yard freestyle.
"It was acknowledgement of what he meant," Clark said. "I really don't know why I did it. It was appropriate. I knew it was probably my last race. He had gotten me to the point I was at."
Said Moriarty, who recently turned 91, "He put his arms around me (during the medal ceremony) and gave me a hug that I can still feel. I'll tell you this, we've been as close as that hug."
The two have become extremely close in the past 10 years, even taking family vacations together.
The medal will be displayed in the Kiphuth Trophy Room, home to one of the world's most impressive collection of athletic artifacts. The room will become a study hall for student-athletes this fall.
Sean Barker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 789-5651.