Pool of tears for Evans, record-setter Thompson Old Olympian loses, newcomer emerges

March 02, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Before the six guys in tuxedos showed up to play Beach Boys music, before the breakfast doughnuts were served, before the television cameramen were in position, a 19-year-old swimmer from that well-known aquatic state of New Hampshire set a world record yesterday.

Jenny Thompson took command of the women's 100-meter freestyle and wept -- even as triple gold-medalist Janet Evans tearfully gave up some of her hold on this sport.

The native of Seacoast, N.H., and freshman at Stanford established the record of 54.48 seconds in the morning heats at the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships, which serve as the Olympic trials. She then came back to win the night final in 54.68, and earn a spot in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

"Making the Olympic team wasn't a surprise," Thompson said. "But getting the world record was a big surprise. I just believed I could do it."

Thompson became the first American woman to hold the 100 freestyle world record since Helen Madison of Seattle in 1931. She bettered the mark of 54.73 set in 1986 by East Germany's five-time gold medalist Kristin Otto.

"I just felt really strong," said Thompson. "But the joy is incredible. I just started bawling."

Hers were just some of the emotions afloat at the Indiana University Natatorium, where the top two swimmers in each event, 13 men and 13 women, will qualify for the U.S. Olympic team:

* Evans of Placentia, Calif., a three-time Olympic gold medalist in 1988, lost and fought back tears.

* Nelson Diebel of Chicago fulfilled his life's ambition by winning the 100 breast stroke, breaking the U.S. record and accepting an embrace from 1984 Olympic gold medalist Steve Lundquist, who was on hand to witness his record fall.

* And Joe Hudepohl, an 18-year-old high school senior from Cincinnati, was dazed and smiling after a victory in the men's 200 freestyle in front of friends and relatives crammed into one section of the stands.

Evans finished third in one of her gold-medal events, the 400 individual medley, behind Olympians-to-be Summer Sanders of Roseville, Calif. (4:40.79), and Erika Hansen of King of Prussia, Pa. (4:41.06).

The 400 IM, a torture test of butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle, extracted too much training and energy from Evans, who is the American record holder.

"The expectations forced me to keep swimming this race," Evans said. "I figured I should just try it. I'm just proud of myself that I didn't scratch. I could have taken the easy way out -- but I wasn't going to give away a spot."

Neither was Sanders, who failed to make the Olympic team in 1988.

"The last 50 freestyle, it looked like I was in slow motion," Sanders said. "I hurt so bad. I was so excited that I finished the race. But you wouldn't know it by looking at me. I was in such pain. I was in such agony."

Evans also was in pain. But she remained straight-faced until she sniffled through a post-race interview. A teary-eyed Evans said it was the last time she will swim the 400 IM in what is probably her final year of competition. Evans will be competing in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle and 200 backstroke, and still is expected to make the team. But with each race there is mounting pressure.

"Of course, I'm disappointed," Evans said. "But I'm looking forward to the freestyle races."

In the men's 100 breast stroke, Diebel, who is taking the year off from Princeton University to train for the Olympics, won in 1:01.40, breaking Lundquist's record of 1:01.65. Taking the second Olympic spot was Hans Dersch, 24, of Atlanta, who finished in 1:02.14.

"I think it was a wonderful swim. Nelson went after it," Lundquist said. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You could see it on his face; he wanted it."

"This is what my whole life is about," Diebel said. "You come here, and you're dead last; you still can make it on this team. You get people coming out of nowhere to make it."

Hudepohl didn't come out of nowhere -- just St. Xavier High School of Cincinnati. With 150 of his friends and relatives in the stands, Hudepohl won the men's 200 freestyle in 1:48.73, the youngest swimmer to break 1:49. He finished ahead of Scott Jaffe of Lexington, Mass. (1:48.89).

"I didn't feel any pressure," Hudepohl said. "Our high school meets are a lot like this."

For Thompson, this meet was a celebration of her roots and her training. Born and raised in New Hampshire, Thompson said geography has nothing to do with results.

"All you need is a pool and a coach, and I had both growing up," she said.

Thompson, the youngest in a family of four children, started racing at age 8, caught the Olympic bug after watching the 1984 Los Angeles Games on television, and got her first international test as a 14-year-old at the 1987 Pan American Games, when she won a gold medal in the 50 freestyle.

But, to get to Barcelona, Thompson had to overcome a field that included American record-holder Angel Myers Martino of Tuscaloosa, Ala., kicked off the '88 Olympic team for testing positive for steroids, and Nicole Haislett of St. Petersburg, Fla., the 1991 world champion and former U.S. record holder in the event.

In the morning heats, Thompson routed all of her rivals with the world record. After the race, she wept. Then, she had to face the night final and the possibility that she still could fail to make the Olympic team.

"It crossed my mind a couple of million times," she said.

After eating a light lunch and taking a nap, Thompson returned for the final and burst past the field in the final 50 meters. Haislett earned the second Olympic berth in 55.15. Martino was a badly beaten sixth.

"I actually felt that I went faster in the last race," Thompson said. "In the last 20 meters, I kept saying, 'This is it. This is it. This is make-or-break time.' "

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