U.S. swimmers unfazed by tough competition World records were safe at lackluster trials

July 20, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The U.S. Olympic swimming trials did not produce a world record last March, which was reason enough at the time to wonder if the United States' historic prominence in the pool would soon be an Olympic memory.

The Chinese have emerged as swimming's new world power and there will be stiff competition from several other directions, but Olympic coach Richard Quick isn't ready to concede that the competitive tide has turned against the U.S. team.

"Ironically, the rest of the world is in the same situation," said Quick. "The Australians had kind of an average trials and the Chinese were kind of average, too, so I guess that the whole world is waiting for this meet."

The whole world won't have long to wait. The swimming competition begins today at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, and some of America's best hopes for hardware will hit the water this weekend.

Colorado's Amy Van Dyken and 29-year-old Angel Martino, who each qualified for four events, will be the first U.S. swimmers in the pool, competing in the preliminary heats of the women's 100-meter freestyle. Top men's medal hopeful Tom Dolan of Arlington, Va., swims in his first event -- the 400 individual medley -- tomorrow.

The first day of competition will feature one of the two North Baltimore Aquatic Club entries. Whitney Metzler will swim in the preliminaries of the women's 400 individual medley. Backstroker Beth Botsford does not compete in her first event until Monday.

The U.S. team also includes 14-year-old prodigy Amanda Beard and three-time Olympian Janet Evans, each of whom could make headlines in the next several days.

Dolan was the dominant figure at the trials in Indianapolis -- and should emerge as a major Olympic star -- but the lack of electricity in March did create a credibility gap that the rest of the U.S. team may find hard to fill.

Dolan was coming off a severe case of fatigue when he arrived at the trials, which may explain why he didn't spend that meet tearing pages out of the record book, but he has had more than four months to build toward his week in the Olympic spotlight.

"I know what I need to do," Dolan said. "Before the trials, everyone was stressed out about what I was going through, but I knew I was OK. I know I can do better here."

Nevertheless, at least one prominent teammate believes the media hype that has surrounded Dolan -- and his inspirational victory over chronic respiratory problems -- could end up with a double edge.

"He's being set up to fail," said Florida backstroker Tripp Schwenk. "If he doesn't win a couple of golds, it's not going to be good enough in the eyes of a lot of people."

The level of expectation is not nearly so high for the team as a whole, but assistant women's coach Murray Stephens doesn't think that the lack of record times at the trials necessarily means the U.S. team is weaker than the one that competed in Barcelona, Spain, in the 1992 Olympics.

"I think they basically went from the point of view of world records," said Stephens, who along with Metzler and Botsford will represent the North Baltimore Aquatic Club as well as his country. "The depth of times was not that different from 1992.

"If you look at the seeding, we're in the top four or five in every event with somebody, and in most cases the top three. Who knows whether everyone else deserves so much more credit than we do?"

The team got acclimated to the Georgia Tech facility last week, then traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., for a final week of preparation. There have been some speed bumps along the way -- like the slight shoulder injury suffered by Botsford on a plane flight last week -- but the coaching staff appears confident that the United States will be well-represented in the men's and women's competitions.

"I think the working atmosphere of this team has been excellent," Stephens said. "They aren't expecting a walkover, but they aren't expecting to get walked over either."

Botsford missed a couple of days of workouts with the sore shoulder, but apparently is healthy enough to be considered a medal contender in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke events, as well as the medley relay. The 200 is her better event, but her chances in the 100 may be improved with the absence of world record-holder Cihong He of China and defending Olympic champion Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary from the field in that event.

Metzler also has had shoulder problems, but is ready to compete in the 400 individual medley early today. She qualified behind Allison Wagner and is ranked 14th in the world in her event, so she is not considered a strong medal candidate.

"They are back in reasonably good shape and in good spirits," Stephens said. "They are looking forward to swimming."

Marylanders' swimming schedule

L Today: Women's 400 individual medley (Whitney Metzler, NBAC)

Tomorrow: Men's 800 freestyle relay (Brad Schumacher, Bowie)

Monday: Women's 100 backstroke (Beth Botsford, NBAC)

Tuesday: Men's 400 freestyle relay (Schumacher)

Wednesday: Men's 100 butterfly (Mark Henderson, Fort Washington)

Thursday: Women's 200 back (Botsford)

Pub Date: 7/20/96

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