"Why are we having this meet?" was the most frequently asked question by the coaches in the registration line for the 1998 Phillips 66 Spring Nationals at the University of Minnesota. The next 4 1/2 days were spent watching the swimmers answer that question.
Tom Dolan answered, "I'm still the King," as he ruled over these championships, winning four events and looking the best in the water since the 94 World Championships and 95 NCAAs. If people thought Dolan might be fading after a shaky World Championship performance in Perth-think again.
Ashley Tappin answered, "I'm back!" equalling Dolan's four wins on the women's side. In addition to her Kipputh (high point) Award, Tappin also captured the Sandy Neilsen-Bell Award as the Comeback Swimmer of the Meet, and come back she did.
In 1988, Tappin became the youngest swimmer ever to final at a US Olympic Trials. In 1992, she won a gold medal as a member of the US 4x100 freestyle relay. In 1996, she didn't make the team.
Tappin, now a relatively mature 23, often fell victim to herself as a younger swimmer. Chronically unhappy with herself, her life, and her swimming, Tappin changed clubs-and even universities-as often as most of us change shoes. But 1998 opened with a fit, smiling, confident Tappin dominating the spring meet.
With the men's and women's NCAA Championships the previous two weeks and most of the World Championship team building into serious training, the rest of the meet was left to the young guns and they came in with pistols blazing.
Sunday's finals were swum in front of morgue-like conditions. Most of the swimmers and many of the coaches had already returned to school with only the 24 finalists populating the stands.
With a full season to focus on Summer Nationals, and five national team trips at stake, the young guns have time to get ready for their competitors from the bigger meets. But the way it looked in Minneapolis, it's the veterans who had better get ready!
The question of "Why are we having this meet?" turned into "Isn't there a better way to do this?" by the end of the week.
In early May, Coach Gregg Troy's (Bolles) Senior Swimming Committee will meet to decide on this issue. Although the idea of a National Club Championships to replace the winter junior and senior nationals has been around for years, no consensus has developed around any aspect of the proposal: date, course, days, number of sites, etc.
To make things worse, the institutional inertia of the committee and House structure of United States Swimming make dramatic change all but impossible. It will be Troy's difficult task not only to get a viable, dramatic, and exciting proposal out of his committee, but to shepherd it through a convention without having it butchered.