Nall re-enters big-time pool Trig must wait, as nationals beckon for 16-year-old pro

March 31, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

Normal, she's not.

Most 16-year-olds don't have a lawyer, a used Volvo, an endorsement contract, a world record and three Olympic medals.

But Anita Nall always has been comfortable shattering barriers and resetting rules.

Eight months after emerging from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, as one of America's brightest stars and one of its youngest swimming professionals, she is coping with the everyday stresses and struggles of her junior year at Towson Catholic High School.

Out: NBC.

In: trigonometry.

"It's kind of like everything is over now," she said. "No more TV cameras following me around school. It's not an interview place anymore. It's just . . . school. You know what school is like."

Sixteen, and she's already done Barcelona.

But Nall's post-Olympic letdown is about to end.

This week, she returns to the world of big-time swimming meets, competing in the Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships in Nashville, Tenn.

Despite racing only twice since the Olympics and in spite of a recent flu that kept her from a week of training, Nall is favored to win her specialties, the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events.

"I don't know what people are expecting," she said. "I don't know if they're expecting me to break a world record or do really bad. But I don't care. I have my own goals."

You would think that after more than three years of seven-day-a-week workouts, after surviving and at times thriving under the pressure of an Olympics, after taking only a one-week vacation from training, that Nall would be on the verge of burning out and giving up the sport.

You would be wrong.

"There is always a motivation in swimming," she said. "There is always room to go farther, to go faster. There is not a point where you have to stop. It's where you want to stop."

Since the Olympics, Nall has grown a half-inch to 5 feet 6, added 6 pounds of muscle to raise her weight to 132 pounds and let her brown hair flow down to her shoulders.

Not too high

"A lot of people say, and it makes my husband and me laugh, 'Has she come down yet?' " said Nall's mother, Marilyn Nall. "I don't think she was ever up. She kind of keeps herself on an even keel."

Nall's ability to handle gracefully even a small dose of stardom is remarkable.

She has been to Annapolis so often, she might as well be on a first-name basis with the governor.

Nall has made appearances at shopping malls, charity dinners, a symphony, a Baltimore Spirit game and a parade through her grandmother's hometown of Brockton, Pa.

However, she did turn down an invitation to attend the Republican National Convention in Houston with Barbara Bush.

"Anita isn't a Democrat, and she isn't a Republican," said her father, John Nall. "She's a 16-year-old."

And a taxpayer.

She is of the new generation of Olympians who compete for medals and money. Nall is putting together a war chest to pay for things such as college tuition, a 9-year-old Volvo and a dance and techno-pop CD collection that is growing exponentially.

The trade-off: Nall has given up all rights to a college scholarship.

But she won't have to compete in the pool to get four years of college. She can pay her own way and already is making a college wish list, which includes the likes of Johns Hopkins, Goucher and Loyola.

Last year, Nall earned $31,500 in training stipends and another $10,000 in world-record bonuses from United States Swimming.

Another $400-a-month stipend program kicks in this fall. And on the horizon is a $1.4 million bonus pool to be divided among the medal winners at the 1994 World Championships and 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Keeping perspective

For a precious few swimmers, there are endorsement opportunities. Nall has a deal with Speedo, a swimwear manufacturer. Terms and the length of the deal have not been disclosed, but swimming insiders say a competitor of Nall's stature could expect to receive about $20,000 a year.

It's all legal and all part of the brave, new world of the professional Olympics.

"We didn't set our goals real high, and we wanted to keep everything in perspective," John Nall said. "She does go to school. She does have family obligations. She is at an age where she will have the potential of many happy and healthy years ahead of her. We were not interested in making a lot of money."

But swimming isn't a -- for cash. Nall revels in the regimen of training in relative obscurity with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and its coach, Murray Stephens.

The 25-yard indoor pool at Loyola High School remains her home away from home. In the water, far from the classroom, far from Barcelona, she is at her best, head bobbing above the surface, arms pulling methodically, legs kicking, creating a wake, swimming lap after lap, hour after hour.

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