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30 Jul 1984
Los Angeles 1984

Giant Gross sparkles in Olympic pool

American swimmers were widely expected to dominate the pool at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and for the most part it was the Stars and Stripes being raised at the Olympic Swim Stadium.

However one West German swimmer with an astonishing wingspan and rangy swimming style which had earned him the nickname ‘The Albatross’ went some considerable way to ensuring the host nation did not get it all its own way.

Michael Gross was the European champion in the 200m butterfly but made his first major impact on the global scene with a dominant performance at the 1983 world championships.

He won the 200m freestyle and 200m fly in Ecuador, to become one of the few West German swimmers to make an impact on the major aquatics stage.

He went into the Olympic Games with a fearsome reputation. His reach and powerful finish marked him out as a clear favourite.

First on his programme was the 200m freestyle final and Gross tore through the water to establish a new world record mark of one minute 47.44secs, an astonishing 1.66secs ahead of the second-placed Mike Heath.

The win earned him an immediate place in the record books as the first West German to take gold in the Olympic swimming tournament.

The next day Gross went one better by winning the 100m butterfly, also in world record time, this time at the expense of pre-Games favourite Pablo Morales. Morales would eight years later go one better by winning the gold medal in the event at Barcelona.

Gross was now the big talking point of the pool and was a red-hot favourite to make it a hat-trick in the 200m butterfly and it took another world record, this time from Australian Jon Sieben, to thwart him.

The sight of Gross eating up the yards in the pool, his charismatic nostrils flared, his seemingly endless arms cutting through the water was one of the most abiding memories of the Los Angeles Games.

He would go on to win 200m ‘fly gold four years later in Seoul to cap a remarkable Olympic career.

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