06 February 2007

Ivy@50: David Berkoff

Ivy Leaguers have a remarkable record of innovation in sport. Harvard's James Tyng invented the baseball catchers mask in 1876. In the late 1800s Yale's Walter Camp pretty much invented modern football, including the 11-man team, the quarterback position, the scrimmage line, offensive signal calling, and the requirement that a team turn over the ball after failing to gain a set yardage in a set number of downs.

Columbia played the first basketball game using a three point line in 1945. In the 1960s Charlie and Peter Gogolak created the football 'soccer-style' field goal kick -- now used exclusively in competitive football - while playing at Princeton and Cornell, respectively, before their dual NFL careers. In the 1970s Brown's Dick Dreissigacker and his brother developed the carbon-fiber oar for rowing, now standard equipment for crew.

David Berkoff is such an innovator. A Harvard swimmer who specialized in the backstroke, Berkoff invented the "Berkoff blast-off," starting each race by diving five feet into the water, locking his hands together, and propelling himself submerged with a dolphin kick, then surfacing 30-plus yards into the race to continue with the conventional backstroke. It's faster to swim underwater, using a dolphin kick, because it minimizes drag. Berkoff elaborates, "my [Harvard] roommate Jeff Peltier and I started it. I took it to a new level, and [Coach Joe] Bernal massaged it and critiqued it and got us to the [optimum] point."

For Stephen Eschenbach's full story on Berkoff, please click here.