Swimming legend now a spectator

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Even Rodney Dangerfield receives more respect than this. Mike Burton sits alone in a nose bleed section at the not so spectacular temporary facility being used for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. No one would ever know that he's a three-time gold medalist.

Burton is recognized as one of the 250 greatest Olympic athletics in history by the International Olympic Committee. But he's not in the United States Olympic Committee's Hall of Fame.

"Unbelievable," he says.

Even on the day before the trials began on Tuesday, Burton wasn't allowed to enter the pool venue.

Burton came on Wednesday to watch his daughter, Loni Burton, swim in the trials. While Burton only got to see his daughter swim for a little more than a minute in the 100-meter butterfly - from the nose bleed section no less - it was all worth it.

"I'm very proud of her," Burton said. "She's done extremely well over the last 2 1/2 years, not just in swimming, but her whole life."

Burton, a swim coach in Billings, Mont., who is a good friend of Carson Tigersharks coach Jim Puleo, knows something about accomplishment. He competed in three Olympic Trials in 1964 at the age of 17, in 1968 and 1972.

"I didn't even know what I was doing there," said Burton about his first trials.

His athletic career appeared to be over at the age of 12 when he took on a bicycle with a truck and he obviously lost. But he recovered to win two gold medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics despite battling Montezuma's Revenge. He won the 400 and 1,500 freestyle events in Mexico City.

He came back in 1972 to win the 1,500-meter gold, becoming the first man to win the Olympic title in the event twice. On his way to winning three gold medals, he also won five NCAA titles - three in one year - at UCLA.

But not even that matches the accomplishment of his 24-year-old daughter, who swims for Division II Cal State Bakersfield. She's won eight titles - four in each of the last two years.

"That's more than her dad," the elder Burton said.

Burton admitted that he hasn't had much influence on his daughter's swimming career.

"She never appreciated me as a coach," he said.

He also admitted that he did push her hard during the summers in which they did work out together, saying his workouts were harder than the ones she was used to.

As he sat in the nose bleed section waiting for his daughter to swim, Burton said he didn't know what to expect.

"I just hope she does well and does the best that she can do on this particular day and this particular event," he said. "She's got to be good coming out of the chute."

Loni just made the Olympic Trials cut recently and was seeded 64th out of 77 in the event. But that didn't diminish the accomplishment in her father's eyes as she was only one of about 680 swimmers out approximately 300,000 in the country to qualify for Trials.

"It is quite an accomplishment just to get to the Olympic Trials and swim," he said.

Burton was hoping his daughter could possibly crack the one minute barrier, giving her a chance to finish in the top eight and qualify for finals. But it wasn't meant to be as she finished in one minute, 4.09 seconds.

That still didn't take away the pride that Burton felt - nose bleed section and all.

Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor. Contact him at cwhisnand@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1214.


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