NASHVILLE - A few days before the start of U.S. nationals (July 26-Aug. 1), University of Southern California coach Mark Schubert remarked that this was an unusual season for a post-Olympic year. He expected to see the normal letdown. Instead, Schubert said his practices had been very intense. He felt this was one of the most motivating nationals he's seen in a long time because U.S. Swimming was selecting three teams off the meet.
The top two finishers in each individual event at nationals qualified for the World Championships Jan. 8-18 in Perth, Australia. The top three made the team for the Pan Pacific Games Aug. 10-13 in Fukuoka, Japan. A 52-member team was also selected for the World University Games Aug. 25-30 in Sicily, Italy.
Schubert's feeling was prophetic. Incredibly, the winners here swam faster than the winners at last year's Olympic trials 12 times out of the 26 events. And in three races, this year's national champion surpassed the time of the gold medallist in Atlanta.
Two Trojan club swimmers under Schubert led the way. In the meet's lone American record, Lenny Krayzelburg beat gold medallist and Trojan teammate Brad Bridgewater (and Bridgewater's time in Atlanta) with a 1:58.04 in the 200 metre backstroke, the fifth-fastest time in history. Krayzelburg also won the 100 back in 54.69. Kristine Quance, rebounding from a disappointing Olympic year, earned a Kiphuth Award as the women's high-point scorer with a pair of swift victories in the individual medleys, runner-up finishes in 100 breast and 200 fly, and a third in the 200 breast.
The men's high-point award went to Texas senior Neil Walker from Verona, Wis. He set one of the three meet records in his 100 fly win and added second places in the sprint free and 100 back.
Besides the opportunity to make three international teams, Kurt Grote thinks the fast times can be attributed to a more relaxed atmosphere. "I know I was a lot more tense at the trials and Games," said Grote, whose 200 breast was the fastest by an American in five years.
The meet's swift performances came in spite of conditions less than ideal at the indoor Tracy Caulkins Competition Pool. One 25-yard warmup pool wasn't adequate for the more than 1100 competitors at the meet. The facility's low ceiling and lack of good ventilation combined with the hot temperatures to make competing difficult for asthma sufferers like Tom Dolan, the 400 IM gold medallist. Dolan managed to sweep the men's IMs but had an asthma attack early in the 400 free and wound up last.
Here's a list of U.S. swimmers who moved inot the list of the top 10 fastest swimmers in history in their events:
|Lenny Krayzelburg||200 back||1:58.04||4 th|
|Lenny Krayzelburg||100 back||54.69||5 th|
|Misty Hyman||100 fly||58.72||6 th|
|Neil Walker||100 back||54.77||6 th|
|Brooke Bennett||1500 free||16:10.93||8 th|
|Kurt Grote||200 breast||2:12.35||8 th|
|Neil Walker||100 fly||53.06||8 th|
|Kurt Grote||100 breast||1:01.45||9 th|
On top of that, there were a couple of bizarre mishaps on the third night of finals. A thunderstorm caused power outages at the pool three times, delaying the competition for a total of nearly 2 1/2 hours. The same evening the men's 100 free had to be reswum because the bulkhead moved when a pin holding the structure broke at the start of the race.
"It (the Nashville pool) obviously doesn't stack up to an Indy or some of the best facilities," said Dennis Pursley, the U.S. national team director. "For a meet this size and for selecting a national team, ideally we'd like to have more warmup space and better conditions. We have to look closer for a World Championship trials site instead of the usual parametre (for a nationals) of rotating meets to different parts of the country."
Pursley believes the seven-day format is warranted for a World Championship trials, as it is for the Olympic trials. "It (the meet) could have been a disaster if not for the seven-day format." he said. "If you're going to have easy standards like here, you'd have sessions running all day in a short format and athletes like Walker couldn't swim all their events. Our other options are tightening the qualifying standards or using a site with two competition pools like Fort Lauderdale."
Overall, though, Pursley expressed pleasure with the performances. He admitted, "There are some events where we're at a plateau. But we have more depth than I expected in a post-Olympic year and more youngsters are knocking on the door. That is encouraging."
The facility problems aside, the Nashville hosts kept alive the reputation for Southern hospitality with their friendly and generous help.