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Edison girls edge Fountain Valley after visit from Olympic legend
HUNTINGTON BEACH Edison and Fountain Valley renewed their swimming rivalry Tuesday by first hearing the tale of Shirley Babashoff, the once-scorned Olympic champion from Fountain Valley who stood up to systematic doping by East Germany.
Students from both schools cheered as they watched a grainy video of Babashoff, now 59, anchoring the U.S. women’s 400-meter freestyle relay to an upset victory against the East Germans at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
A few hours later, the swimmers were cheering again as the girls meet between No. 4 Edison and No. 8 Fountain Valley came down to a winner-takes-all, 400-yard freestyle relay.
“These are the meets you remember,” said Edison coach Diggy Riley, a club teammate with Babashoff in the 1970s at the old Phillips 66 team.
Edison’s host girls made the Sunset League clash a memorable triumph, winning the relay to secure the meet, 87.5-82.5, to take sole possession of first place in the Division 1 group. The Chargers’ boys won, 100-70.
Edison’s 400 relay of Samantha Le, Katie Lightle, Nora Deleske and Taylor Newton touched first in 3 minutes, 35.65 seconds to outdistance the Barons’ squad of Hannah Farrow, Shayla Erickson, Monet Favreau and Samantha Soriano by almost 2 ½ seconds.
Fountain Valley led, 65.5-58.5, after a first-third placement in the 200 free relay. But the Chargers’ Riley Crow won the backstroke in 1:00.61 and teammate Darby Hughes stormed from about fifth at the final wall to touch third in 1:05.09.
"That was a catalyst swim," Edison assistant Matt Whitmore said. "That's a swim that everyone sees and pumps everyone up."
Deleske (1:04.47) and Meghan Kluck (1:10.25) then finished first-third in the breaststroke, setting the stage for the 400 free. Deleske later remembered how the afternoon started with Babashoff's story. At age 19, she was labeled “Surly Shirley” after questioning the masculinity of the East Germans, who many years later admitted doping athletes.
“It was really motivating,” Deleske said of the talk.
The victory almost went to Fountain Valley, Babashoff's old school that has excelled despite racing all season without Carly Perri (injured).
"The kids are really tough," Barons coach Mike Nichols said. "They want to get up. They want to crush people. They want to win."
Babashoff, who resides in Fountain Valley, has teamed with O.C. author Chris Epting on a book, "Making Waves: My journey to winning Olympic gold and defeating the East German doping program." The book will be released in July but is available for purchase now on amazon.com.
"Steroids, I'm afraid, are in a lot of high schools," Babashoff said. "And I really wanted to drive that home, how bad they are for your body and how it's not worth it. ... If it helps just one kid, that's great."