Hargis springs 100M butterfly upset Md.'s Henderson joins him on team

March 11, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was the shortest race of the evening, but last night's men's 100-meter butterfly was longer on human interest and competitive drama than any other final in the first five days of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

In lane four, 26-year-old Byron Davis was bidding to become the first black swimmer to make the U.S. Olympic team.

In lane six, Fort Washington, Md.'s Mark Henderson was trying to cap a distinguished 10-year competitive swimming career with his first trip to the Olympic Games.

In lane eight, gold medalist and aquatic teen idol Mel Stewart was trying to get back to the Olympics before embarking on an acting career.

Arrayed across the pool was the fastest eight-deep field in the history of the event, and the buzzing sellout crowd at the Indiana University Natatorium was expecting something special.

The race lived up to the hype, but it didn't turn out the way most people expected. Relatively unknown 20-year-old John Hargis of Clinton, Ark., came from behind in the second 50 meters to win in a personal best 53.42 and become a surprise addition to the U.S. team. Henderson finished second in 53.51 to join him on the Olympic team and Indiana crowd favorite Jason Lancaster finished third in 53.73.

Local fans also had adopted Davis, who captured their attention earlier in the day when he sprinted to the best qualifying time in the preliminary heats. He historically has swum better at night, and he led for most of the race, but faded at the end and finished a disappointing fourth.

It would have been a terrific story. Davis would have been the first American black to qualify for the Olympics as a swimmer, and he is coached by Jonty Skinner, a former world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle who was barred from the 1976 Olympics because he was from South Africa. Skinner also coaches Henderson, which left him with decidedly mixed feelings after the race.

"I knew tonight was going to be the toughest night," Skinner said. "Two people I love were in the same race. The biggest fear I had was that one would make it and one would not. It was hard. I was trying to congratulate Mark and my eyes were filled with tears for Byron. I was hoping for one of those happy endings like you get in American movies."

Stewart probably can identify with that. He had worked hard for a chance to add to his collection of Olympic medals (two gold, one bronze), but finished fifth and instead will begin filming a movie later this month.

"I looked up at the scoreboard and then I looked at the pool and thought, 'Why?' " Stewart said. "My strategy was to get out fast. It was a tight race, and I just wish I could have been out there."

Instead, it was Davis who set the fast early pace and looked as if he was going to hold one of the top two places until the final 10 meters. He hit the turn in the prelim in world-record time, and won his heat in an impressive 53.57, but did not have enough left for the final. "I had to think that I was going to hold them off coming home the last five meters," Davis said. "Basically, coming into the wall the last five meters, I just tried to stay relaxed and it just wasn't there." Davis will get one more chance to make the U.S. team today in the 50-meter freestyle, but the 100-meter butterfly was considered his best event. He enters today's preliminary with the 23rd-ranked qualifying time, so just a berth in the final would be a mild upset.

Hargis came into last night's race seeded fourth after the preliminaries, but he obviously did not let Davis' strong performance in the morning intimidate him.

"I saw what he did this morning," Hargis said. "It was in the back of my mind, but I didn't say to myself that I had to get out ahead of him. I just wanted to stay somewhere close to him."

Earlier in the evening, Stanford's Kurt Grote and Eric Wunderlich finished 1-2 in the men's 200-meter breaststroke and University of Florida's Allison Wagner finished ahead of double-qualifier Kristine Quance in the 200-meter individual medley.

Wunderlich was threatening to become the hard-luck story of the last two Olympic trials. He finished third in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke at the '92 trials and had finished a close third in the 100-meter event earlier in this meet.

"It's incredible," Wunderlich said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet." Three Baltimore swimmers competed in yesterday's events. New Olympian Whitney Metzler reached the final of the 200-meter individual medley, but finished eighth in a time of 2: 19.42. Brittany White also competed in the event, ranking 24th with a prelim clocking of 2: 20.83. Kelly McPherson swam in the 800-meter freestyle prelim and also finished in the 24th spot at 8: 58.75.

Fifteen-year-old Brooke Bennett led all qualifiers in the 800 freestyle with a time of 8: 35.80 and will face a strong field in today's final. Nineteen-year-old Trina Jackson swam the second-fastest time (8: 37.65), and four-time gold medalist Janet Evans was third.

MEN 100 butterfly

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