FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Anita Nall said she felt really good when she jumped in the water the first day of the U.S. Swimming Spring National Championships.
Yesterday, Nall, a 14-year-old ninth grader from Towson, Md., was named performer of the meet.
Nall didn't make quite the splash yesterday she had her first two events. Nall, who swims for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, established herself earlier in the meet as the premier women's breast-stroker in the United States, winning the 100- and 200-meter events.
Yesterday, she finished fifth in the consolation final of the 20 individual medley with a time of 2 minutes, 20.95 seconds. That was nearly six seconds better than her previous best in the event.
"We haven't put a lot of emphasis on it, but this could be a real good event for her," her coach, Murray Stevens, said. "Earlier, we saw Michael Barrowman blow some people away with a third-place finish in the 400 IM, in part because of his unbelievable breast-stroke time. Anita could be very similar. And the rest of her strokes are certainly developable. Maybe she doesn't look quite as impressive as she does in the breast stroke, but that's still a very good time for a 14-year-old."
Nall may soon be among the best individual-medley swimmers in the United States. In the breast stroke, she's already there.
Thursday, Nall covered 200 meters in her specialty in 2:27.08, a U.S. record and 37/100 of a second behind the world record held by retired German swimmer Silke Hoerner. Saturday, Nall swam to her second victory, 1:09.83 in the 100. That time is the fourth-best American time, less than a second off the record held by Tracey McFarlane.
"I actually did better here than I expected," said Nall, who qualified to represent the United States at the Pan Pacific Games on Aug. 22-26 in Edmonton, Alberta. "I'm always a little nervous, but after going through this a couple of times [this is her third national championship meet], I guess I was a little less nervous. I just felt at my best. I had done a lot of hard training coming into this meet."
Stevens said he was not surprised by Nall's success.
"She's starting to settle in, becoming more confident, more focused," he said. "She managed to put it together here. She proved she's going to be a major force in swimming. And possibly a major celebrity, due to her personality, her intelligence and her enthusiasm."
She knows she is the best female breast-stroker in the United States and the country's best hope to do well internationally in an event in which American swimmers have not excelled for more than 20 years.
"It's a little scary, really," she said. "I know I have to do well. But I'm going to keep working for it. I'm going to keep working hard and try to do better."
No American swimmer has held the world record in the 200 breast stroke since 1968. Nall has the best time in the world among active swimmers.
"There aren't too many events the Americans have been so backwards in," Stevens said. "Anita is on the cutting edge of this event. The United States has gone from being hopeless to having the No. 1 breast-stroke swimmer in the world."