Towson High's Anita Nall, just 14 years old and all arms, legs and giggles, smashed the American record in the 200-meter breast stroke yesterday at the U.S. Spring Nationals in Federal Way, Wash., taking 2 1/2 seconds off the mark and missing the world record by just three-tenths of a second.
"I'm very happy," said Nall, giggling her way through questions from a room full of reporters at the King County Aquatic Center, site of the 1990 Goodwill Games.
"I was kind of surprised, but not really. It's a neat feeling."
Nall, a member of the North Baltimore Aquatics Club and coached by Murray Stephens, won her preliminary yesterday with a time of 2 minutes, 27.89 seconds, breaking the American record of 2:29.58 set by Amy Shaw in 1987.
She came back just six hours later to trim an additional eight-tenths of a second off the record with a victory in the final in 2:27.08.
The crowd of 3,500 was aware of her world-record potential and cheered every time her head bobbed out of the water in what Stephens calls a perfect stroke.
"I'm very happy with the race," said Nall, laughing and barely able to contain her adolescent good humor.
"I wasn't really thinking about the world record that much. I was just going out, trying to swim my best," she said.
"I felt a little tight at first, but I got looser as I went on."
Nall, who is 5 feet 5 1/2 and 123 pounds, has grown 4 inches in the past year and feels her best is yet to come.
She will represent the United States in the Pan Pacific Games in Edmonton, Alberta, in August and could get the world record there.
"I'm only 14," she said. "I have a lot of time."
In just six hours, Nall moved from the sixth-fastest clocking by a female swimmer in the event to second fastest ever -- and the fastest active swimmer since Silke Hoener of East Germany, who set the world record of 2:26:71 in 1988, has retired.
In doing so, she has polished considerable tarnish off the reputation of American women in the event.
At the World Championships in Perth, Australia, in January, for which Nall was not qualified, U.S. women did not have a swimmer reach the final eight in the women's 200 breast stroke -- the only event at the championships in which the U.S. failed to get a swimmer into the finals.
"The American breast stroke is back," said Mike Barrowman of Potomac, Md., who holds the world record in the men's 200 breast stroke. "It's wonderful."
For her part, Nall could not wait to escape the reporters and the cameras of TBS, which broadcast the event.
"I can't wait to call home," she said. "My family was so nervous. They are going to be, like, on the floor."
Nall's U.S. records highlighted the second day of the five-day competition.
Barrowman won the men's 200 breast stroke handily but failed to better his world mark of 2:11.33. He was clocked in 2:12.61.
And Jill Johnson of Lutherville, Md., finished third in the 200 breast stroke, Nall's event, in 2:32.47, while Nall's North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammates Brandy Wood (2:37.20) and Amanda White (2:37.43) finished 11th and 13th, respectively.
World record holder Melvin Stewart failed in his bid to win $100,000 being offered by Las Vegas, Nev., hotel and casino owner Bob Stupak to any member of the Las Vegas Gold Swim Team to set a world record.
Stewart, 22, a University of Tennessee junior who plans to pass up his final year of college eligibility to prepare for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, was clocked in 1:56.83 in the men's 200 butterfly. He set his world record of 1:55.69 at the World Championships.
Angel Myers Martino, just off a 16-month suspension for testing positive for steroids at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials, returned to major competition and finished fifth in the women's 100 freestyle in 56.54 seconds. Nicole Haislett, of St. Petersburg, Fla., won in 55.42.
Martino, 23, a graduate student at University of Alabama, was the first U.S. swimmer in history to be disqualified for a positive steroids test. She has denied taking steroids and said the test results were false.