Botsford solidifies Olympic chances Baltimore swimmer 2nd in 100 backstroke

March 09, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- Baltimore's 15-year-old Beth Botsford grew up a little yesterday.

Maybe a lot.

Botsford finished a strong second to Texas swimmer Whitney Hedgepeth in the 100-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to position herself for a trip to the '96 Olympic Games.

The second-place finish doesn't guarantee her a spot on the U.S. team, but Botsford -- like North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Whitney Metzler earlier this week -- is expected to be named to the team before the trials end on Tuesday. If all goes well, NBAC could place as many as four swimmers on the team that will compete against the world in Atlanta this summer.

Botsford swam the final in a lifetime best 1 minute, 1.59 seconds, but she needed to overcome some early nerves to win her morning preliminary heat and swim well in the final. That psychological victory may have been as important as her strong showing in the pool.

"I wanted to stay loose and stay calm and that's what I did," Botsford said. "I didn't feel that pressure in the final. The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself, but that has gotten the best of me in the past. Tonight, I didn't get nervous. I didn't feel the pressure of trying to make the team. Before, I couldn't help that, but now I've found I can control whether I get nervous. I didn't know I could do that, and I think that will help me a lot."

NBAC coach Murray Stephens said he feels that Botsford is now ready to compete for an Olympic medal, and she has five months to build on last night's breakthrough performance.

"I think she's ready to be a player -- a medal player," Stephens said. "I think shes ready to have the mental framework that it takes to make that transition. Tonight was a very exciting night."

It was an exciting night all around. The pressure-packed seven-day qualifying meet continues to churn out an interesting story line with almost every new -- and old -- Olympian:

Four-time gold medalist Janet Evans earned her third trip to the Olympic Games with a victory in the women's 400-meter freestyle. Thursday's 200-meter freestyle winner Cristina Teuscher set a strong pace early, but Evans overtook her during the last 50 meters. Brash 15-year-old Brooke Bennett, who is trying to replace Evans as the dominant woman in the 400 and 800-meter events, swam third for most of the race but faded to fourth.

Gold medalist Jon Olson outraced Gary Hall Jr. in the men's 100-meter freestyle, finishing in : 49.46. Bowie native Brad Schumacher of Tiger Aquatics and Josh Davis of Athletes in Action finished in a dead heat for third to earn spots on the Olympic 400-meter freestyle relay team.

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Foschi made a respectable showing in the women's 400-meter freestyle, finishing just a touch behind Bennett. The fifth-place finish didn't get her onto the Olympic team, of course, but she swam her best-ever time in the event and could be a solid contender in the 800-meter freestyle tomorrow and Monday.

The only real upset of the day came in the men's 200-meter butterfly, when University of Michigan 18-year-old Tom Malchow edged Standford's Ray Carey and eliminated favorite Mel Stewart from Olympic consideration in the event.

Forgive Stephens for looking at it from a more local perspective. He knew that he brought enough talent to the Indiana University Natatorium to have an impact on the trials, but he could not have hoped for things to go much better than they have so far.

Metzler took advantage of a big opportunity in the 200-meter when USC's Kristine Quance was disqualified for a turn violation in Tuesday prelim. Gold medalist Anita Nall did not qualify in the ++ 100-meter breaststroke, but she shaved two seconds off her seed time and put herself in position for the 200-meter event. Now Botsford has all but made the team, and teammate Whitney Phelps is a favorite in the 200-meter butterfly.

Stephens was watching Botsford closely as she prepared for last night's final, and noticed something unusual during a pre-race ceremony that featured dozens of former Olympic medalists.

"I saw her put her face in her hands," Stephens said. "I think it struck her at that moment that this was what she wanted to do...I think it was just a question of whether she was too young to do it."

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