No longer upstarts, Nall, Dawes again eye Olympic glory GOLDEN GOALS, PART II OLYMPIC COUNTDOWN: 1 YEAR/Atlanta 1996

July 19, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

One broke a world record in swimming before her 16th birthday, the other became a national champion in gymnastics before she turned 18. Now, Anita Nall and Dominique Dawes find themselves in different struggles with the same goal: winning an individual gold medal in next summer's Olympic Games.

With the 1996 Summer Games scheduled to begin in Atlanta one year from today, Nall and Dawes are training for a second try, after their medal-winning performances in Barcelona, Spain, three years ago. As both chase their dreams, they are being asked the same, nagging question:

Will they be too old for gold?

Should Nall and Dawes make the U.S. Olympic team, their roles will be reversed from 1992. Nall, who has spent the past two years fighting illness and doubt, likely will be considered a long shot in the 200-meter breaststroke. Dawes, who last summer became the first woman gymnast in 25 years to win each of the five events in a single U.S. championship, likely will be among the favorites in Atlanta.

"Maybe people look at me more as a has-been or an underdog in the women's breaststroke," said Nall, who will celebrate her 19th birthday Friday. "There are lots of younger girls doing well. I haven't performed great in a while. But I think the time is coming when I will. I like being the underdog. Nobody is coming after me."

Said Dawes, who will turn 19 in November: "I take everything one day at a time. I just try to get ready for my next meet. I was proud to have made the Olympic team and help the team get a [bronze] medal. Right now, I have to qualify for other competitions. I'm not focusing on [the 1996 Olympics]."

*

It has been a long and sometimes unyielding road for Anita Nall since she broke the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke twice in one day at the 1992 Olympic trials in Indianapolis. As a result, the relative unknown from Towson Catholic High became a big-time star going into Barcelona.

Though most would consider her first Olympics a resounding success -- with a bronze in the 200 breaststroke, a silver in the 100 breaststroke and a gold in the 400 medley relay -- Nall came home a bit disappointed. And highly motivated for Atlanta.

"When you go to a meet that's said to be the biggest in the world, the Olympics, and you don't do your best time, it leaves an opening," Nall said after a recent workout at the Meadowbrook Swim Club, the Mount Washington facility where she trains under Murray Stephens. "I won a gold medal, but I didn't win an individual gold. That's what's pushing me right now."

That and Stephens, the hard-driving coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club team. Nall left Stephens last year and returned to her former coach, Ed Fraser, in her hometown of Harrisburg, Pa., for a little under eight months. She returned to Stephens in March.

Nall's departure came at a time when she was fighting constant colds and fatigue. After 10 visits to different doctors, Nall was found to have an iron deficiency. Her world ranking in the 200 breaststroke took a nose-dive. She went from second in 1993 to 13th in 1994 to 22nd currently. Once ranked as high as fourth in the 100s as well, she is no longer in the top 25.

"I went through a period where I didn't think I needed a rough coaching situation," said Nall. "I felt like I needed someone who was going to pat me on the back. It took for me to leave Murray to see what I was missing and what I needed for me to come back."

Asked if he thought Nall's departure last year was going to mean the end of their four-year relationship, Stephens said: "I thought we had to consider it. But in the back of my mind, I felt that if she wanted to be competitive again, she would be back here."

Because of her illness, which returned so often that she once said, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired," Nall wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do. She tried going back to school, but wound up dropping three of the four courses at Lebanon Valley (( College outside Harrisburg.

"I don't like doing things halfway," she said. "That's why I'm not in school right now. I want to push myself as hard as I can."

Comeback is incomplete

With the help of a diet that now includes some red meat, Nall

seems to have her health problems under control. Because it still affects her stamina every so often, Nall can't push herself as hard as she -- or Stephens -- would like.

But she can feel things slowly coming back -- with the emphasis on slowly. Her time of 2 minutes, 32 seconds at the Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in March earned her a bronze medal, but it was nearly seven seconds off her former world record (which has been broken since by Australia's Rebecca Brown). It was a sign that Nall's comeback is still a work in progress.

"The second time back, you know a lot more," she said. "You know a lot of things that can help you, but you also know a lot of things that can hurt you. When I was 15, I didn't have a mind. I

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