U.S. not force it once was Swimmers face work before Games

March 13, 1996|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - The U.S. Olympic swim trials are over, but the real work has just begun. The United States used to dominate this sport, but the U.S. team will have to get a lot better over the next 4 1/2 months to be a major force at the centennial Olympiad in Atlanta.

Through seven days of competition at the Indiana University Natatorium, not one American record was broken the first such shutout since 1920 and another troubling reminder that the center lanes are no longer strictly U.S. territory.

"We can't be favored in any event," said U.S. women's coach Richard Quick. "I don't know of any way we can structure things so we could be favored."

The U.S. team features only one dominant swimmer, Arlington, Va.'s Tom Dolan, who is expected to contend for medals in three events. The women's team has some promising new faces particularly 14-year-olds Amanda Beard and Beth Botsford but will have to make great strides to compete with strong teams from Germany and China.

"I will say that in 1992 and 1988 we had fantastic Olympic trials and I can't say we had great Olympics," Quick said. "We do have room to improve. [Baltimore's] Beth Botsford is a good example of a 14-year-old who can improve dramatically over the next five months, but all of us have to do that."

There is time. Most of the other Olympic team trials will take place early this summer, but the swim trials were held earlier to allow for a full summer training cycle leading into the Olympics. That should give the American team an opportunity to rebound from the disappointing overall performance here.

Dolan tried to light up the trials all by himself with pool records in the 200-meter individual medley, the 400-meter individual medley and 400-meter freestyle, but failed to qualify in last night's 200-meter backstroke. He threatened the American record in the 200-meter IM and challenged his own world mark in the 400-meter IM, but that was as close as anyone came to rewriting the record books. By contrast, four American and two world records fell during the 1992 trials.

"I've got to believe, based on what happened here, if we put our minds to it, we can have improvement," said U.S. resident team coach Jonty Skinner. "We have no choice. We can't expect the rest of the world to come in and lay down for us. We've got to improve."

Still, there's room to question whether it's fair to expect the U.S. Olympic swim team to live up to the standards set by earlier American teams. The rest of the world has closed the talent gap, at least partly because the United States ceded a third berth in each event in the early 1980s.

"We have taken away kids' dreams," said men's coach Skip Kenney. "There used to be three spots. Now, if you're in Tom Dolan's event, what chance do you have? You've got one more spot for the whole country. I think [U.S.] swimming would be good shape if we had three in each event."

Kenney was critical of the decision to hold the trials in the dead of winter, and at a news conference on the final day of the meet, he expressed frustration with the overall state of the sport.

"We have some questions to answer in our sport," he said. "Why do we have some events with only two heats? Where is the depth in some events? I don't know the answers yet."

Nevertheless, he maintains that the outlook for the '96 team is not as dismal as the slow times might lead apprehensive American swim fans to believe. "I think this team will surprise you," Kenney said. "I know there aren't a lot of household names, but I think you'll have heard of a lot of them after the games. But we're not favorites. I don't think anybody's trying to fool you on that."

Kristine Quance, who was disqualified in a preliminary heat of the 400-meter individual medley, made the team in the 100-meter breaststroke and 200-meter individual medley, but will not swim in what is considered her best event. That may be considered a setback for the U.S. team, but it opened a spot for North Baltimore's Whitney Metzler and was the beginning of a very solid week for Murray Stephens' NBAC contingent.

Botsford emerged in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke as one of America's best hopes for a swimming medal, and her strong 200 on Monday night had several coaches buzzing. "This meet is very much like an NBA final or a Super Bowl or a big national championship game," Quick said. "Many times, the stress of that kind of buildup causes diminishing performance. I think you've seen that here. Hopefully, it's something we will learn from and grow on."

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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