1999 U.S. Spring Nationals

Another Backstroke Record For Krayzelburg
Wilkens Triple Winner
Irvine Novaquatics Top Team


Nikki Dryden

LONG ISLAND, NY - February, March, and April are three of the busiest months in the swimming calendar. Fortunately there were a few tough swimmers who saved their best races for the grand finale, the US National Championships. Following college conference meets and the women's and men's NCAAs, the US Spring Nationals are often passed over by many of the country's top college swimmers, but for those who braved yet another taper, many realized it can be enjoyable racing in a more relaxed atmosphere. Take Lindsay Benko for instance, the University of Southern California senior who won two events at the NCAA Championships in times just off her best. With another week of taper, the 23-year-old became the tenth woman in US history to break the two-minute barrier in the 200 freestyle.

Shock and amazement for 200 free winner Lindsay Benko
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Coming days before the World Short Course Championships began in Hong Kong, the meet was also missing some of the country's best non-college swimmers. Most notable was five-time Olympic gold medallist Jenny Thompson, who broke three world records this year on the World Cup circuit in Australia. While her presence at nationals was sorely missed, in Hong Kong, Thompson added another world record and three more world titles to her collection.

Sickness and injury kept four Olympic gold medallists away. In mid-March, Gary Hall Jr. was diagnosed with diabetes and spent the weeks leading up to the nationals adapting to his new health condition, and Tom Dolan came down with a severe case of the flu days before the meet began. Brooke Bennett was rumoured to be sidelined with shoulder problems, while 1992 Olympian Ashley Tappin was out of the water undergoing rehabilitation for a partially torn ACL.

The swimmers who did made the trek to Long Island to swim in the 1998 Goodwill Games pool took full advantage of the openings to secure national crowns of their own. Several high school swimmers rose to the occasion and won their first national titles. Kaitlin Sandeno was one of a handful of fresh new faces who accepted the challenge. Sandeno staked her claim on the national gold rush by dropping 7 seconds in the 400 IM to mine her first senior national gold medal. She dropped another 7 seconds in the 800 freestyle, extracting silver along the way.

Day 1

Opening night started slowly as the competitors and coaches trickled in from all over the country. At the end of the night a pair of 16-year-olds were crowned the first national champions of 1999. The 800 freestyle was the lone event and while over thirteen heats of women and men laboured up and down the pool, the people on deck seemed remiss to the efforts of those in the water.

Nassau County Aquatic complex in Long Island, New York
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Diana Munz defended her national title on the women's side with an 8:33.03, well off her best time of 8:29 from 1997. Munz was happy to defend her title, however she admitted that she did not feel like America's best. "We (US women distance swimmers) are just so far off what Janet Evans did. She was just amazing."

Brendan Neligan became the hometown hero with his win in the men's 800 freestyle. Although Neligan was just over his best time, he was happy with the 8:11.12 and, most importantly, with the win.

Day 2

In contrast to the 800s, the first full day of competition was very exciting as Lenny Krayzelburg swam a 1:56.95 in the 200 backstroke, missing the world record held by Martin Zubero by only 0.38 seconds. Swimming unshaved, Krayzelburg erased his own American record set at last summer's nationals. Krayzelburg overpowered former Trojan teammate Brad Bridgewater, who is now swimming for Irvine Nova, and 15-year-old Aaron Peirsol, also of Irvine Nova. Peirsol became the youngest American to break the two minute barrier with his third-place finish. Krayzelburg was shocked after his record-setting swim, having spent three weeks in January recovering from a strained lower back. "I just rested for four days for this meet. It gives me great confidence for the upcoming summer season."

American record for Lenny Krayzelburg in the 200 back
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Two of America's top female backstrokers, Olympic gold medallists Lea Maurer and Beth Botsford, skipped nationals, leaving the door open for Linda Riker of Club Wolverine to win her first national title in the woman's 200 backstroke. Riker swam a personal best of 2:13.97 and was able to beat out 15-year-old Jaime Reid of Puyallup, who posted a 2:14.47.

Linda Riker won the 200 backstroke
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

The women's and men's 100 freestyle were in desperate need of the country's top sprinting superstars, Jenny Thompson and Gary Hall Jr. Although the excitement of these two headliners was wanting, Liesl Kolbisen of Hillenbrand was able to step up in Thompson's absence. She won with a 56.73 ahead of Lindsay Benko. Scott Tucker of Auburn easily beat out Jason Lezak of Irvine Nova 49.69 to 50.26 in the men's race.

100 freestyle winner Liesl Kolbisen
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

In the 200 breast, Maddy Crippen, a freshman at Villanova, won in 2:29.73 ahead of Olympic relay gold medallist Amanda Beard of Irvine Nova. A 1999 Pan Pac team member, Crippen came to the meet "to just have fun and swim some different events" after her win in the 400 IM at NCAAs. Canadian Olympian Riley Mants placed fifth in the race with a 2:34.45. She placed fourth in the same event at NCAAs, competing for Arizona State University.

Villanova freshman Maddy Crippen won 200 breaststroke
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Tom Wilkens of Santa Clara won the men's 200 breast in a 2:14.54 just out-touching Kyle Salyards of Lancaster, who dropped his best to 2:14.94. Wilkens is a self-proclaimed IM swimmer but was ranked first in the world last year for the 200 breast, a race he doesn't even train for. "I'm just a medley guy who swims breaststroke. I train for the 400 IM because it is easier to swim down to the 200 IM and 200 breast."

Tom Wilkens won three golds
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

In the final race of the night, Misty Hyman of Arizona Desert Fox conformed to the new underwater rules, swimming the 200 fly in a solid 2:10.49 just one week after placing second in the event at NCAAs. Molly Freedman of Curl Burke was second in a 2:13.93. At 34, Angie Wester-Krieg of Santa Clara was the oldest competitor in the meet; she finished seventh in a 2:16.78.

Ugur Taner won the men's 200 fly in a 1:59.86. A Berkley graduate, Taner now swims for Hillenbrand in Tucson, AZ. Juan Veloz, 16, of Mission Viejo and Mexico was second to Taner in a best time of 2:00.39.

Ugur Taner, winning style in the 200 butterfly
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Day 3

Lindsay Benko kicked off the third night of finals with a passionate display of her rawest emotions. After touching in a 1:59.72, Benko celebrated her 200 freestyle win with looks of total shock and amazement. "Of course I wanted to come here and swim fast, but I wasn't expecting to go best times. To finally break that barrier it's such a great feeling! I didn't know I was going that fast, but coming into the wall I could see my whole team on their feet cheering for me and I knew I must be close." Benko used the second taper to experiment for future back- to-back meets. "The extra rest didn't hurt me. We train very hard so this second taper has helped me learn a lot about my swimming."

200 freestyle winner Josh Davis
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Josh Davis was able to hold off a fast-closing Ugur Taner 1:49.45 to 1:49.48 in the men's 200 freestyle. The 25-year-old Texan subscribes to the belief that swimmers get better with age and that to think any other way is misguided. "Today there are more opportunities for professional swimming and compared to other sports, swimming is so much easier on the body." Davis, a father of two, plans to swim as long as he can. "I have eight sponsors now, so that allows me to train full time. I work out four to five hours a day and I get to be home with my children, which is very special. I feel very blessed because swimming has allowed me to spend more time with my family."

With only two individual events on the program, the night was short but sweet for 400 IM winner Kaitlin Sandeno. After winning her first title, she admitted that she almost didn't even swim the event. "I had five events this week and I knew there was another spot open for the Pan Am team in the 400 free, but I decided to swim this race anyway! As soon as I touched the wall tonight I just wanted to call my Mom, when I did she started crying and then I started crying too. I am just so happy to win my first nationals."

Tom Wilkens has his 400 IM medal presented to him by former swimming star Dara Torres
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Tom Wilkens secured his second win of the competition, out-swimming Eric Vendt of Providence, RI, in the men's 400 IM. Wilkens' time of 4:17.12 was both a personal best and a pool record. "Although I am happy with a best time, this is just a stepping stone. I am really setting my sights on Pan Pacs this summer." Wilkens graduated from Stanford in December and chose to train full time with Santa Clara instead of continuing with Alma Mater's program. "I wanted to give this year's seniors a chance to be leaders. But swimming out of the college environment is a difficult transition. You no longer swim for a team and have their support, and I am just now starting to think of myself as one of the best swimmers in the world."

Day 4

Nike swimmer BJ Bedford easily captured her sixth national title winning the women's 100 backstroke in the opening event of day four. Bedford, who trains in Colorado Springs, beat out Jamie Reid of Puyallup 1:02.07 to 1:03.42. In the men's 100 backstroke, Lenny Krayzelburg was unable to repeat his American record-setting performance from earlier in the meet, however he easily defeated Bobby Brewer of team TYR 54.77 to 55.72. Olympic gold medallist Brad Bridgewater was third in 56.02. Bridgewater, Brewer, and Adam Peirsol are all training partners at Irvine Novaquatics in California. Bridgewater left Krayzelburg and his other Trojan teammates two weeks prior to the nationals after training with Krayzelburg for over four years.

Diana Munz snared her second event of the competition, beating Lindsay Benko in the 400 freestyle. Munz picked up her eighth national title in a best time of 4:10.67, edging out the 500-yard freestyle NCAA champion by 0.38 seconds.

In the most inspiring event of the evening Chad Carvin broke free of Eric Vendt to take home a win in the men's 400 freestyle. The two swimmers exchanged the lead several times during the race before Carvin beat the defending champion 3:52.58 to 3:53.49. For Carvin this win is an important event in yet another comeback. In 1995 he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a life threatening heart condition. With his health restored, Carvin returned to the sport and won four events at the 1997 US nationals. Within a year he was out again, this time for a bulging disc in his back. Although the 24-year-old from Mission Viejo has been sub 3:50, with the battle for his life won and his back stronger than ever, this win was a simple yet important step towards a successful comeback.

Megan Quann of Puyallup touched out Amanda Beard 1:10.25 to 1:10.56 in the women's 100 breast, Beard then turned around a few minutes later and placed fourth in the 100 fly with a 1:01.73. In another close finish Ed Moses of Curl-Burke won the men's 100 in 1:02.28. Kyle Salyards of Lancaster picked up his second medal of the competition touching just short of the win with a 1:02.41.

After a fast morning swim, Misty Hyman was looking forward to another best time in the women's 100 fly final. She qualified first in the 100 backstroke, but scratched that final in order to get ready for the fly. Hyman won, but her 59.63 fell short of her 58.89 set in heats. "I swim a lot more relaxed in the prelims and I need to work on the same feeling for finals where I sometimes get too excited." This week Hyman dispelled any notions that she is merely a great underwater swimmer. Although she still does her underwater "fishkick" off each wall, she proved she has the ability to swim on top of the water too.

In a foreigner-packed final, Aussie swimmer Adam Pine of Nebraska won the men's 100 fly in a 53.73. He upset defending national champion Brock Newman, who finished in 54.04. Pine came to the meet straight from NCAAs in order to try and qualify for Australia's World Student Games team.

Day 5

On the final night of competition, Laura Davis of the Terrapins clinched her first national title by winning the women's 200 IM in 2:16.55. The 1997 Rookie of the meet is best known as a breast stroke specialist, but after her win Davis proclaimed that the 200 IM is her new favourite event. "On the last length during the freestyle I was screaming at myself ‘come on you've got to win this.'" On the men's side, Tom Wilkens won his third national title of the week, crushing his competition by well over a second. Wilkens beat Ron Karnaugh 2:02.43 to 2:03.77.

A new favourite event for Laura Davis, winner of the 200 I.M.
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Sprinters Tammie Spatz and Bill Pilczuk won the 50 freestyles in 25.60 and 22.58 respectively. With Thompson, Tappin, and Hall absent, Spatz and Pilczuk were able to walk away with wins. For Spatz it was her first national title, while Pilczuk added another title to his growing list. Coached by Dave Marsh, Pilczuk and his Auburn teammates had six of the top eight finallists, several of whom dropped in for the day after winning the men's NCAA team title just days earlier.

In the women's 1500 freestyle Diana Munz lapped most of her competition enroute to a 16:17.96. It was the Lake Erie swimmer's third race and third win of the meet, however she admitted it was not a perfect competition. "I have been training middle distance this season, so I was pretty upset that I didn't get to swim the 200 free." Munz false started in the heats of the 200 freestyle and was subsequently disqualified. "It's a great feeling knowing I won all my races. I would have liked to swim faster, but this is nationals so it's a good feeling."

Distance queen Diana Munz swept 400-800-1500 freestyles
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Chris Thompson closed out the competition with a win in the men's 1500. He came home in 59.8, and lowered his best time from last summer to a 15:14.11. Coached by Jon Urbanchek at the University of Michigan, this is Thompson's third taper, having already shaved for Big Ten's and NCAAs. Thompson attended nationals in order to design a strategy for the timing of next year's Olympic Trials and Olympic Games. "I wanted to create the same situation I will hopefully be in next year, so it has been helpful to see how I would go on another taper."

Several teams were in the hunt for the overall title; however, it was Irvine Novaquatics who swept all three categories, winning the combined trophy as well as the men's and women's team titles. With so many of the country's best bypassing the meet for a variety of reasons, a new wave of swimmers washed onto the national scene. Their message: In one year the world's most competitive swim meet will take place, and as Pablo Morales can attest, anything can happen at the US Olympic Trials.