Atlanta may be too far Nall '92 champion faces long odds in bid for Olympic swim team

Illnesses have taken toll

Breaststroker says, 'I think I'm optimistic'

March 06, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- The U.S. Olympic swimming trials were once the threshold of a dream for Anita Nall, who won the women's 100- and 200-meter breaststroke in the 1992 trials and went on to three Olympic medals at age 16. This time, the weeklong Olympic selection meet may be her last stand.

"I don't know if it's do or die," Nall said, "but I think it's going to

be my last meet if I don't do well. I've pretty much decided that, but a lot of people say that and then come back and swim again. I'm not really thinking about that right now. I just want to swim well this week."

Nall, from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, will be competing for two of the 52 Olympic berths that will be awarded at the Indiana University Natatorium over the next seven days. She has some history on her side it was in this pool at the '92 trials that she won the 100 breaststroke and then broke the world record in the 200 breaststroke twice in the but the odds are very much against her.

She still holds the American records in the 100 and 200 events, but 20 American women will go into the 100 prelim tomorrow with better qualifying times. Nall will go into the 200 Saturday ranked fifth (2 minutes, 30.60 seconds), but only the top two swimmers in each event will go on to compete in the Olympics in Atlanta this summer.

Californian Amanda Beard, 14, holds the top times in each event, and there are a number of other swimmers in the 100 and 200 who appear more likely to win a spot on the U.S. team. But Nall still is upbeat about her chances.

"I think I'm optimistic," she said. "That's the most important thing to be right now. I'm just going to try the best I can. You can never tell what's going to happen."

Nall has overcome a lot just to get back to the trials. She followed up her gold-silver-bronze performance in the Barcelona Olympics with a strong 1993, but fell victim to chronic respiratory problems that sapped her strength and robbed her of her place among the world's top swimmers.

She went from a No.2 world ranking in the 200 breaststroke in 1993 to No. 13 in '94 and No.15 last year. In the 100, she dropped from fourth in '93 to 26th in '94 and 84th last year. In an effort to get back to the top, she traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., recently and spent 3 1/2 weeks refining her mechanics with Hungarian breaststroke coach Josef Nagy.

That was no reflection on successful NBAC coach Murray Stephens, who decided it would be a good idea to get some outside help.

"That was really important," Nall said. "It helped a lot. And if Murray hadn't suggested it, I never would have done it."

Nall is the best-known swimmer in the large contingent from NBAC, but she probably isn't the top local candidate for an Olympic berth. Whitney Phelps, 15, arrived in Indianapolis with the top time in the 200 butterfly (2: 11.04) and Beth Botsford, 14, is less than a second off the second-ranked time in the 200 backstroke.

Botsford would have figured to be a favorite in the 200 backstroke after winning back-to-back national championships in the event, but an 11th-place finish in her preliminary heat at the Pan Pacific Championships in August has tempered her Olympic expectations.

Phelps had a more encouraging August. She finished second in the 200 butterfly at the Summer Nationals in Pasadena, Calif., and third in the more competitive Pan Pacific meet in Atlanta.

NBAC's Whitney Metzler ranks among the top five swimmers in the women's 400 individual medley and is coming off a first-place finish in that event at the U.S. Open, but her fifth-ranked qualifying time is well behind the two top qualifiers for the event Allison Wagner and Kristine Quance.

If Nall's career is at a cross roads, she is not alone. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans has something to prove this week -- that she has not been replaced by 15-year-old Brooke Bennett. Evans struggled at the Summer Nationals, but still will carry the top qualifying time into Friday's 400-meter freestyle. Bennett is rated first in the 800-meter freestyle.

"It's not like I'm this grandma or anything," said Evans with a laugh at yesterday's pre-meet news conference. "I was 20 at the last Olympics and I wasn't ready to quit. I'm going to go out and have fun and, if I lose a race, more power to the person who beats me. I've accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in this sport. I don't have to validate myself."

Baltimore connection

The members of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club who are competing in the U.S. Olympic swimming trials:

Swimmer .... .... .... .... Event(s) .... .... .... Date(s)

fTC Beth Botsford .... .... ... 100m backstroke .... .. Friday

.... .... .... .... .... .. 200m backstroke .... .. Monday

Kelly McPherson .... ...... 800m freestyle .... ... Sunday

Whitney Metzler .... ...... 400m individual medley .. Today

.... .... .... ..... ...... 200m breaststroke ... .. Saturday

.... .... .... ..... ...... 200m individual medley .. Sunday

Anita Nall .... .... ...... 100m breaststroke .... .. Tomorrow

.... .... .... ..... ...... 200m breaststroke .... .. Saturday

Whitney Phelps ..... ...... 100m butterfly ..... .... Saturday

.... .... ..... .... ...... 200m butterfly ..... .... Tuesday

Brittany White .... ....... 400m individual medley .. Today

.... ..... .... .... ...... 200m individual medley ... Sunday

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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