MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. - The USA spring nationals on April 1-5 promised to be more interesting than past championships at this time of year because it served as the selection meet, in part, for the 1998 Goodwill Games (July 28-Aug. 2). But the chance to compete in an international competition this summer in New York didn't attract very many more of the top swimmers. And some came to the University of Minnesota indoor aquatic centre not fully tapered; others with no rest.
The Goodwill team of 18 men and 18 women was chosen based on the fastest times in the Games' events (there is no 1500 or 400 IM) from either the World Championship finals or this nationals. More than a few swimmers declined a spot on the U.S. team because the Goodwill Games end just nine days prior to the U.S. summer nationals. That competition in Clovis, California, serves as the selection meet for four 1999 international championships (Pan Pac, Pan Am, World University, and Short Course Worlds).
Most interested in the Goodwill Games were those swimmers out of college who are eligible to collect the prize money being offered and have swimwear contracts that give bonuses for participation in the Games, which are to be televised on TBS and CBS.
Tom Dolan could easily have skipped this nationals or trained through it. He wasn't seeking a Goodwill berth because it didn't include the 400 IM. Being a distance swimmer, the nationals at this time was a bad fit, coming less than three months following the World Championships and with the need to train for the important summer nationals.
Nonetheless, Dolan became the first man to win four titles in two different nationals. He first did it in 1994. The other four-time champs are Mark Spitz (1972) and Chad Carvin (1997).
Dolan breezed to victories in the 400 and 800 freestyle (3:52.75, 8:00.80) and 400 IM (4:16.39). After swimming those tough distance events, he was tired in warmups and wondered if he had anything left for the 200 IM the final day. Still, the former Michigan swimmer took it out hard (26.68, 57.93, 1:32.78) and enjoyed an uncharacteristic lead over the fast-starter Ron Karnaugh. Dolan kept a body-length advantage to the finish, winning in 2:01.61 to Karnaugh's 2:02.63.
"Tonight was my best swim," he said. "I really wanted to win four titles. Anytime you have the opportunity to do something of that magnitude, you have to take advantage of it."
Unlike Dolan, Ashley Tappin was competing in her first big meet in two years. She retired two years ago after having rotator-cuff surgery on her left shoulder, an injury that forced the 1992 Olympian to miss the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. She launched a comeback this fall.
Fully tapered for her return to national competition, the ex-University of Arizona competitor, 23, had the meet of her life. She swam personal bests in winning the sprints (25.54, 55.28) and 100 fly (59.84) and also took the 200 free in 2:01.99. The last woman to win four events at a nationals was Kristine Quance in 1992. The modern record (records before 1972 are incomplete) is five by Tracy Caulkins in 1978. Tappin's times made her the fifth-fastest American of all time in the 50 and sixth-fastest in the 100.
There were doubters about her comeback. Tappin recalled, "I was burning a little bit because I would hear ‘She's washed up.' They were saying there was no way I could come back. It was neat to prove a lot of people wrong and to prove to me I was right."
Tappin had to rally from behind in two of her victories. In the 200, she overtook Sarah Tolar during the final lap and held on to beat Ashley Whitney, an Olympic gold medallist in the 800 free relay. She passed former national champion Richelle Fox (nee Depold) in the final strokes of the 100 fly.
A fifth title was in the minds of both Dolan and Tappin. However, there is now a rule at nationals limiting swimmers to four individual events. Dolan would have added the 200 back to his schedule, and Tappin the 100 back.
Gary Hall made the Goodwill team in the sprints. Hall, who finished runnerup to Alexander Popov at the Olympics, didn't make the World Championship team in either sprint. He was back in form here with victories in 22.40 and 49.60, both faster than the winning times at last year's summer nationals-the World selection meet.
The 23-year-old from Phoenix swam the 50 in unorthodox fashion, taking a breath on each of his 14 strokes instead of the normal one or two.
"I took three breaths this morning and it felt good," explained Hall. "It was just some showmanship on my part." Hall admitted he felt some pressure to do well here.
"It was painful for me to sit in the stands for the World Championships," he added. "I could have done well there. This was a redemption for me. I am looking forward to a rematch with Popov. This will be the first time he loses the 100 since 1991."
The women's breaststroke, as always seems to be the case, featured a couple of rapidly improving youngsters. Ashley Roby, 17, of Athens (Ga.) and Megan Quann, 14, from Puyallup (Wash.) swam 1:09.51 and 1:09.56, respectively, in the 100 breast prelims to make them the fifth- and seventh-fastest Americans in history. In the final, Quann got out ahead and was never headed. She won in 1:09.42 to replace Roby, second in 1:09.70, as the fifth-fastest of all time and win the Phillips Performance Award given to the meet's best performance.
"I just wanted to be out ahead of her (Roby)," said Quann, whose personal best was a high 1:14 going into the meet. "I'm usually out faster and have to push really hard the second half of the race."
Quann wasn't the only impressive youngster from Puyallup, a small club located near Seattle. Jamie Reid, also 14, came from behind to touch out Stanford signee Shelly Ripple of Bengal Tiger in 1:03.96 and earn female Rookie of the Meet honors.
"It's neat to see you can be small and still be competitive," said Puyallup coach Richard Benner, whose club has only 100 swimmers. "There is an advantage to being small. You work with kids from their start when they are under 10 and develop the correct mechanics and technique so when they become 14, they can swim effectively."
Benner is allowing both his youngsters to compete at the Goodwill Games. The former assistant to Foxcatcher's Dick Shoulberg says, "We appreciate the opportunity to gain international experience while staying in the United States. It would be hard for them to travel abroad at their young age."
Ian Crocker,15, from Portland, Maine, collected the male Rookie of the Year award for placing second in the 200 free to 25-year-old Josh Davis (1:50.51). Crocker's time was 1:51.57.
Maggie Bowen, 17, third at last year's summer nationals in the 200 IM, was another swift youngster. The Sunkist (Miss.) swimmer dropped a second and a half to win in 2:14.60, lifting her to sixth on the all-time U.S. 200 IM list.
Lake Erie's Diana Munz, the 15-year-old silver medallist in the 800 at the Worlds, took advantage of Brooke Bennett choosing not to rest and swept the distance frees (4:12.05, 8:35.28, 16:20.93). Munz comes from a distance program, doing from 16,000 to 18,000 a day. Bennett, the gold medallist in the 800 at Perth, placed second in that event and 12th in the 400.
Although Maddy Crippen was sixth at the World Championship in the 400 IM, the Foxcatcher (Pa.) swimmer won a national title for the first time with an easy 4:43.72 win on her third shave of the year. The highly recruited Crippen, 17, has decided to stay in Philadelphia and will attend Villanova in the fall.
Other first-time titlists among the age groupers were 17-year-old Patrick Fowler of Bellevue (Wash.) and 15-year-olds Natalie Coughlin of the Terrapins (Calif.) and Katie Yevak from the Kansas City Blazers. Fowler, who earlier this year bettered Nelson Diebel's independent high school record in the 100 yard breast, dropped three seconds in the 200 breast to win in 2:16.16. Coughlin, a qualifier for the championships in every event, took the 200 back in 2:14.16. Yevak recovered after losing the lead to nip Jenna Street, the World Championship bronze medallist, in 2:31.12.
Lauren Stinnett, 17, of Curl-Burke captured her second national title easily in the 200 fly in 2:12.99.
While swimmers from the women's NCAAs two weeks previous skipped the meet en masse (not a single champion showed up), the small contingent of competitors from the previous week's men's college championships made a significant mark with six victories.
Stanford freshman Steve Brown, the NCAA runnerup in the 400 IM and 200 fly, thrived on his second shave. His personal best of 1:58.92 took the 200 fly and elevated him to ninth on the all-time U.S. list.
"I usually try to come from behind," said Brown, who led the race throughout. "Maybe the long taper gave me more speed."
Olympic silver medallist Jeremy Linn, coming off his third NCAA title in the 100 breast, withstood fast-closing Fowler in a tight finish, 1:01.87 to 1:01.96.
"I know Fowler is a good finisher and I had to hold him off," said Linn, 22. "I swam bad at the Worlds (didn't make finals), so I feel good to do that (time)."
Michigan freshman Chris Thompson, the NCAA 1650 runnerup, felt he must get out fast with some negative splitters in the field. He was ahead the entire way for his second national title in the 1500. His time of 15:26.17 surprised Thompson, considering it was his third taper in the past month.
"I was hoping for 15:40," he said. "It's got to be the Michigan program. Jon Urbanchek and Eric Namesnik. They are incredible coaches. The Michigan program has worked perfect for me."
Georgia's Robert Brewer, who is finally near 100 percent following back surgery in 1995, wanted to make up for a bad outing at the NCAAs. He did with a personal-best 55.54 triumph.
"I felt my taper was off at the NCAAs," said Brewer, ninth at the college meet. "It just took an extra week. I'm a senior and came here to give it one more shot."
Croatian Gordon Kozulj made his first appearance at a U.S. nationals a good one, beating Olympic gold medallist Brad Bridgewater in the 200 back. Kozulj, third at the NCAAs, won in 2:00.50.
With the meet at their pool, the University of Minnesota showed up 33 strong. The men's squad won the team title with 238 points, including a victory in the 100 fly by junior Martin Zielinski in 54.17.
Bolles School parlayed a win in the women's 800 relay and a lot of depth to capture both the overall team championship (410 points) and the women's (296). The age group powerhouse Terrapins from Concord, California, placed second in each category.