18 year old Glen Housman was having the race of his life. It was December 13, 1989, and on a special night in Adelaide, Australia the distance prodigy was about catapult himself into the ranks of the all-time greats in distance swimming.
A t the Commonwealth Games Trials that December, Housman would swim the race of his life, a swim that he would be unable to duplicate over the rest of his swimming career, a swim that would make the North Adelaide swimming center infamous for all of the wrong reasons.
This was all at a time where the 15 minute barrier was still considered the highest achievement in the sport. Only Vladimir Salnikov – a legend in his own right – had crossed the threshold, and now, in this pool in Adelaide there were whispers that Housman was jockeying himself for a crack at it.
In the same race a familiar name, a certain Kieren Perkins, swam on the outskirts, still just another emerging young distance swimmer from a country that seems to pump them out at will. For now, long before Perkins remarkable swims in Barcelona, Rome and Victoria, it would be Housman’s time.
Nay, it was Housman’s time.
IT AIN’T OFFICIAL UNTIL IT’S OFFICIAL
Those who were there described the race as nothing short of magical. With each turn the crowd, coaches and swimmers could see how far Housman was under the minute-per-100m mark with on the electronic scoreboard above.
When Housman touched he had not only passed under the 15 minute barrier, he had thoroughly destroyed it. Those keeping track on stopwatches saw what the timekeepers did, and what the electronic scoreboard should have seen.
Housman had swum a brilliant 14:53.59, breaking Salnikov’s vaunted world record.
But despite the celebrations – Housman’s coach Ian Findlay vaulted himself into the pool in glee – there was split reaction amongst the officials. The scoreboard had kept running – it didn’t stop when Housman did. The only timed result would be from the handheld watches.
World records have to be verified by the electronic scoreboard. Which meant that Housman’s swim was for naught, and that epic swim on that December night would be lost to the annals of history.
THE TALE OF TWO RECOVERIES
For Adelaide the night turned from a massive outpouring of pride and happiness to outright embarrassment. The equipment failure was cited as one of the reasons they believed they lost the bid to the 1998 Commonwealth Games, losing out to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
For Housman, he would go on to win gold at the 1990 Commonwealth Games the following year in the 400 and 1500 free. The next year Housman would miss a considerable amount of training due to illness, only to watch the emergence of Kieren Perkins, who would take break Salnikov’s world record.
Housman’s final international competition was at the 1996 Atlanta Games, where having missed making the team in the 1500m freestyle behind Perkins and Daniel Kowalski, he swam as an alternate on the 4×200 free relay that placed fourth.