U.S. medals come in waves as swimming team regroups

July 31, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- It was all-stars day for the U.S. swimming team.

All the big American names were scheduled to compete: Biondi, Stewart, Evans, Nall, Sanders, Jager. And all of them came up big, as the United States won three gold, three silver and two bronze medals at the 1992 Summer Games yesterday.

The day's work salvaged what has been a disappointing showing by the American team this week. The women set a world record in the 400-meter medley relay, and Melvin Stewart's winning time in the 200-meter butterly set an Olympic record and was the fourth-fastest time ever. Janet Evans had the third gold for the Americans in the 800-meter freestyle, becoming the first repeat champion in that event.

"I think Mike Barrowman got a lot of people excited with his performance Wednesday night," Matt Biondi said of Barrowman's world record in the 200-meter breaststroke. "Success rubs off, you know."

Towson's Anita Nall teamed with Lea Loveless, Crissy Ahmann-Leighton and Jenny Thompson to set the world record of 4 minutes, 2.54 seconds in the 400 medley relay. It was Nall's third medal of the Olympics. She has also won a bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke and a silver in the 100-meter breaststroke.

"We knew we had something great inside us and if we pulled together we could break the world record," said Ahmann-Leighton. The East Germans had held the record of 4:03.69, set in 1984.

With just six events left in the final day of competition today, yesterday's eight medals gave the United States a lock on the top spot in the swimming medals chart. It leads with 23 total and nine golds. The Unified Team is second in golds with six and tied with Germany with nine overall.

At the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, the United States won 18 swimming medals, only eight of them gold, and was second to East Germany's 28 total and 11 golds.

"The medals in Seoul were great, but they came a lot easier," said Evans, who won three golds in 1988. A disappointing second in the 400 freestyle Tuesday, she won the 800 in 8:25.52 yesterday -- a margin of almost five seconds -- and became the first American woman swimmer to win four career golds.

"I had to work a lot harder for this one," she said. "Since March, I've rededicated myself, so winning this makes it a little more sweet."

The United States had a sweet day all around. Summer Sanders took the silver in the women's 200 individual medley with an American record time of 2:11.91. Only a stunning performance by Lin Li of China -- who wiped out the oldest world record in swimming -- could beat her. Lin's time of 2:11.65 erased the mark of 2:11.73 set in 1981 by Ute Geweniger of East Germany.

Biondi had the third-best 50 freestyle time of his career and finished second to the young superstar of the Unified Team, Alexandre Popov, who won his second gold. Tom Jager was third for the United States.

The Americans' other silver and bronze went to Jeff Rouse, the world-record holder from Fredericksburg, Va., and Dave Berkoff, respectively, in the 100 backstroke. Canada's Mark Tewksbury won it with an Olympic-record time of 53.98, just .06 of a second ahead of Rouse.

Not even the knowledge that, for the first time since 1960, the Americans failed to win the 50, 100, 200 or 400 freestyles -- all taken by Unified Team swimmers -- could dampen their happiness.

"It's the Olympic Games, it's not a party, it's a celebration," said Stewart, the world-record holder in the 200 butterfly. "It's a celebration of just hard work and who you are and what you want to do in life.

"It's an incredible feeling."

Stewart never trailed in his race, finishing in a time of 1:56.26. It broke the Olympic record of 1:56:94 set by Germany's Michael Gross in '88.

Stewart dominated the field as his next competitor, silver medalist Danyon Joseph Loader of New Zealand, finished 1.67 seconds behind.

Stewart said he was spurred on by a poor showing in the 1988 Games, when he finished fifth.

"I have thought about that every day; it's been in my dreams, my nightmares," Stewart said.

Gold-medal expectations could have been a nightmare for Biondi, who was the gold-medal favorite in the 50 freestyle. By finishing second, he won his 10th Olympic medal, which leaves him one short of the record held by Mark Spitz.

It's likely he won't have another chance to catch Spitz. Biondi will swim in the preliminary heat of today's 400-meter medley relay, but he probably won't be there for the final because he finished behind teammate Jon Olsen in the 100 free. But he didn't care.

"I now have 10 Olympic medals," Biondi said, a big smile on his face. "Not many people even dream of that. I've got it. It's done."

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