U.S. women swimmers carry the torch Men have way to go in quest for gold

March 08, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- For those eager to begin the countdown to the Summer Olympics, these are the new names you need to remember:

Anita Nall.

Jenny Thompson.

Summer Sanders.

For now, their fame barely extends beyond their hometowns or )) the Indiana University Natatorium. But in July, they are expected to emerge as full-blown international swimming stars at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

The trio dominated the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships, which served as the U.S. team trials. The meet that ended Friday produced a team of stars -- 15 women and 25 men -- and stories -- 27-year-old Angie Wester-Krieg, a part-time accountant striking silver in a fourth Olympic bid and 25-year-old David Berkoff coming back on the final lap to win another spot in the backstroke.

And, in a theme that carried over from last month's Winter Olympics, the American women were the ones breaking records and emerging as likely gold-medal contenders, while the men were struggling to keep their heads above water.

"There is no doubt that we are the target now," said U.S. Olympic women's coach Mark Schubert. "We need to raise the bull's-eyes."

The standards were set by Nall, Thompson and Sanders, who not only won races, but accomplished the difficult task of shoving one-time teen-aged phenom Janet Evans from the spotlight. Evans, a triple gold-medal winner in 1988, quietly qualified in the 400 and 800 freestyle.

She won't even be expected to lead, this time.

Nall, a 15-year-old from Towson, set a world record to win the 200-meter breaststroke, and also won in the 100.

Thompson, of Dover, N.H., set the only other world record in the meet, becoming the first American woman in 61 years to swim the fastest 100- meter freestyle.

Sanders, a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford University, emerged as a multievent star by winning the 200 and 400 individual medleys and the 200 butterfly and by placing second in the 100 butterfly. With two relay races added to her resume, she will go into Barcelona as a threat to win four or more golds.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that Sanders alone, could potentially outperform the men in Barcelona.

With an average age of 22.8, the United States will bring its oldest collection of male swimmers to the Olympics. And the old timer's aren't getting any faster.

"We have our work cut out for us," said Melvin Stewart, the world record holder in the 200 butterfly. "There is no question that this is the greatest women's team ever assembled. It remains to be seen how good the men will be."

For now, the men's team is filled with more questions that viable gold medal contenders.

Can Pedro Morales, a 1984 medalist who failed to make the 1988 team, come even close to breaking his six-year-old world record in the 100 butterfly?

Is Matt Biondi, a six-time Olympic gold medalist turned freestyle specialist, capable of carrying a team at the age of 26?

Will 200 breaststroke world record-holder Mike Barrowman recover after having his four-year winning streak snapped by training partner Roque Santos?

When the U.S. coaches weren't congratulating themselves for helping the women break two "drug enhanced" world records that were held by East Germans, they were zooming into spin-control to defend the men's performances.

But the fact is that the sport has not produced any new men's stars since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Only three college swimmers made the team, and the only young racer who emerged as a potential Olympic medalist was 18-year-old high school senior Joe Hudepohl, a freestyler from Cincinnati.

"These guys have time to do it, whatever it is they have to get done," said U.S. men's coach Eddie Reese. "I was worried about the team after the first night, though. I was offering Mark [Schubert] money so I could coach the women's team. But we have the people who will get better."

Reese said that three training camps, plus another four months of workouts, will help his veteran team gain speed.

"There is nothing like experience and maturity on a team going to the Olympics," he said. "The pressure here on a team is different than the pressure at the Olympics. I was there in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 and I was scared to death, and I didn't even have to swim. Fear can put someone in the stands for the final. Half my swimmers here said they were ready to throw up, and that was during the preliminaries."

Stomachs better settle between now and Barcelona. It could be a wonderful Olympics for the women, and a long, testy ordeal for the men.

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