There are 43 of them, all in their teens or early 20s, representing more than a dozen colleges, eight high schools and 21 states. Not surprisingly, seven hail from California. Surprisingly, five are from Maryland.
These are the swimmers who will represent the United States in the sixth World Championships that began a seven-day run today in Perth, Australia. This is the most important swimming competition anywhere before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
The Maryland group is headed by world 200-meter breaststroke record-holder Mike Barrowman of Potomac and includes Julie Gorman of Towson, Jill Johnson of Lutherville, Julie Kole of Fallston and Mark Henderson of Fort Washington.
The decline in Californians (from 18 in 1984 to 13 in 1988 to seven this time) on the team is no more surprising than the fact that five Marylanders made it. The state has been fortunate to be represented at all in the past.
The North Baltimore Aquatic Club, based at Loyola High School and directed by Murray Stephens, and the Curl-Burke Swim Club, which has seven training sites in the metropolitan Washington area, deserve part of the credit.
"We have excellent age-group programs in this state," said Rick Curl, head coach of the club bearing his name. "Murray is great; he has a solid program that allows kids to develop to their full potential."
The clubs of Curl and Stephens epitomize continuity, stability and commitment. Most of their top swimmers earn college scholarships -- "paybacks for hard work," as Stephens calls them. Barrowman and Henderson came up through Curl-Burke; Johnson, Gorman and Kole have trained with NBAC at one time or another.
"I don't think any of the coaches of the age-group programs in California that produced top swimmers in the 1970s and 1980s are still there," Stephens said. "If anything, they're coaching in college. In Maryland and D.C., there are real experienced people running age-group teams."
The format for the World Championships is identical to that of the Olympics in that each country has two swimmers per event. The U.S. men have never lost the worlds; the women haven't won since 1978.
A rundown on Maryland's five representatives:
* JULIE GORMAN: Graduate of Towson High and University of Florida . . . Ranked No. 8 in the world in 100-meter butterfly, which she'll swim Friday . . . Qualified for the team by finishing second in last summer's Long Course Nationals . . . Won the 100 fly at U.S. Open in Indianapolis last month in which 6/10ths of a second separated first place from fourth . . . Won four NCAA titles.
Gorman and No. 3 Crissy Ahmann-Leighton are the U.S. entrants in a race historically dominated by Americans. But the Chinese duo of No. 1 Xiaohong Wang and No. 2 Hong Qian, only 2/100ths of a second apart, are the favorites.
"The irony is Julie would prefer to be in the 200 fly because she's more competitive in that internationally, but she didn't qualify," Stephens said. "The academic pressure is off because she graduated just before Christmas. She's looking good; she should be competing for a medal."
* JULIE KOLE: Her home is here, but she trains now with the Foxcatcher Swim Club of Philadelphia and is a senior at Germantown Academy . . . Ranked No. 11 in world in 800-meter freestyle, which she'll swim Friday (preliminaries) and possibly Saturday (finals) . . . Janet Evans is No. 1 in the event and is braced for a matchup with No. 2 Julie McDonald of Australia . . . Kole, who was named to the team when Erika Hansen dropped off because of a persistent virus, opened the world meet yesterday combining with Katy Arris, Trina Radke and Whitney Hedgepeth for a best time of 8:07.60 in the women's 800 freestyle relay.
"Julie has been one of the top two or three distance swimmers in the country the last couple of years," Stephens said. "She was in a car accident last fall, suffering a concussion and injuring a finger, but she has snapped back well."
* JILL JOHNSON: Graduate of Dulaney High and Stanford . . . Won her only NCAA title (200-yard breaststroke) in her final college competition last spring . . . Qualified for the worlds with a second in the 200 breaststroke in the Long Course Nationals last August . . . Johnson (No. 18) and Mary Ellen Blanchard (No. 14) are the U.S. entries in the only event (to be swum tomorrow) that doesn't have an American ranked in the top eight.
"Stay with it long enough and the commitment and dedication pay off -- that's Jill," said Stephens, who coached 1984 Olympic champion Theresa Andrews. "When Jill and Julie Gorman went to the 1984 Olympic Trials, where they wound up around 40th, and saw Theresa do so well when she was almost through college, they said, 'Gee, there's hope even if you're not a world record-holder at 16.' "