Barcelona bound Nall gains Olympic dream in world-record fashion

March 03, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- One world record isn't good enough for the kid. She has to get two.

She can't drive to school yet. She can't even go to a slasher film without her parents' permission. But a 15-year-old who carries around a Troll doll for good luck, listens to a group named Erasure to clear her mind and still can recall vividly going to the hospital to have her tonsils removed is now a swimming superstar.

Anita Nall of Towson gave two performances for the ages yesterday and qualified for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. She also earned $10,000 in world-record stipends in this new age of the professional Olympian.

Nall won the 200-meter women's breast-stroke title at the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships, which serve as the U.S. Olympic trials. She got her first world record in the morning, qualifying with a time of 2 minutes, 25.92 seconds, eclipsing the mark of 2:26.71, set by East Germany's Silke Hoerner in the 1988 Olympics.

Nall came back for last night's final at the Indiana University Natatorium and lowered the record again, to 2:25.35.

"My dream was to go to the Olympics and make the Olympic team, but I had no concept of what it would take," said Nall, a sophomore at Towson Catholic High School.

Finishing second and also gaining a berth on the Olympic team was Jill Johnson, 22, a 1986 Dulaney High School graduate who trains at Harvard University.

"Two swimmers from the Baltimore area making the Olympic team in one event is unbelievable," Johnson said.

Nall's rise to stardom was not unexpected. Raised in Harrisburg, Pa., her family moved to Towson in August, 1989. She began training at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the same team that nurtured Johnson.

Under coach Murray Stephens, Nall's national ranking improved from No. 39 to No. 1. She also accepted a $21,000 athlete's assistance grant from U.S. Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee, giving up her eligibility to compete in college.

She's after gold medals, not college titles.

Nall was the American record holder in the 200 breast stroke and was the favorite to win the trials final. Not even a tonsilectomy last November could slow her. Still, two records -- plus the $10,000 stipend -- in one day was extraordinary.

"We've taken a quantum leap in this event," said Mark Schubert, the U.S. Olympic women's coach. "Anita recognizes the records are great, but the important thing is winning races. She has perhaps the best technique in history."

But Nall is still, after all, a kid.

She couldn't stop smiling after her races. She signed autographs for fans nearly twice her age. She was interviewed pool-side by a network sportscaster.

"I'm kind of young," she said. "Everyone kind of treats me that way. But when you're in the water, it doesn't matter how old you are."

In a pool, Nall may now be unbeatable. Bobbing to the surface like a jack-in-the-box, Nall possesses a superior kick that launches her past all rivals.

"Anita is unbelievable," said Mike Barrowman of Potomac, the men's world-record holder in the 200 breast stroke. "Her kick is so powerful, and her upper body hasn't quite caught up yet. When she gets her hands down there where her legs are, she'll really be something. Though a world record is already something."

In both of her races, Nall swam alone for nearly 150 meters, urged on only by the sound of the crowd roaring, "Go, Go, Go." Each time she hit the finish wall, she sank in the water in relief, only to turn, look at the clock and smile.

"The crowd helped me a lot," Nall said. "That is one of the best things about swimming, when you're going fast and the crowd is yelling."

Nall said she remained calm throughout the day. Between races, she ate a chicken sandwich, slept and tried to forget the pressure of trying to make the Olympic team. She also listened to Erasure tapes.

"I wanted to try to make the team and I was trying to do everything right," she said. "I think I did OK."

Nall received a fevered send-off to the trials. A friend gave her a Troll doll with the words "All American" printed on the front.

"The best part of swimming is the support from family and friends," she said. "What do I like least? I don't not like anything. I love it."

Nall said she would celebrate her records and her Olympic status by having dinner with her parents.

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