Metzler is eighth and still elated N. Baltimore swimmer laps up joy of just making 400 IM final

Atlanta Olympics

July 21, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- North Baltimore Olympian Whitney Metzler has had a lot to deal with the past few months. She won her place on the U.S. Olympic swimming team on a controversial disqualification and then spent the time between the Olympic trials and the Atlanta Games trying to work through a chronic shoulder problem.

She wasn't really expected to do anything here, so her presence in last night's 400-meter individual medley final was a victory in itself. She didn't get to stand on the medal platform -- finishing eighth in the final -- but she got a standing ovation during the prelims and will go off to college on the heels of a positive Olympic experience.

"So few people go to the Olympics and so few get to a final, I could have gone 10 seconds slower and still have been happy," Metzler said.

Ireland's Michelle Smith ran away with the final and American Allison Wagner took the silver as the United States medaled in three of the first four events of the seven-day swimming competition.

Metzler, who lives in Glen Rock, Pa., and trains at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, finished second in 4: 44.74 in her preliminary heat and shaved more than two seconds off her best time to earn a place in the final.

"She always rises to the occasion," said NBAC coach Murray Stephens, who also is a member of the Olympic coaching staff. "She loves to race and gets very comfortable in a competitive mode. I think she got out in front of some people and her confidence built from there."

She entered the final as the sixth seed, but could not replicate her morning performance, falling back two seconds after burning up too much energy in the earlier heat.

"I think she gave it everything she had in the morning," Stephens said. "I thought she raced pretty good. She still swam the second-best time of her life."

Not bad at all for an 18-year-old who was not expected to qualify for the team. Metzler earned her place in the final at the trials in March, but her Olympic hopes got a tremendous boost when a judge disqualified event favorite Kristine Quance of USC for making an illegal turn.

The disqualification was so controversial that Quance considered challenging the decision, but Metzler held her place and then held her own against some of the world's top swimmers. She swam in the same preliminary heat as Chinese star Yan Chen -- one of the favorites in the event -- and beat her by more than nine seconds.

Metzler admitted after the prelim that she had some reservations about the reception she would get from her fellow Olympians when she joined the team for the final two weeks of preparation in Atlanta and Knoxville, Tenn.

It became less of an issue when Quance made the U.S. team in two other events, though the 400 IM was considered her best medal hope.

"I think the DQ is past history," said head U.S. women's coach Richard Quick. "We're focusing on swimming faster than we did in the trials and Whitney followed that assignment."

The shoulder injury was a bigger concern. Metzler has been struggling to overcome inflammation in her right biceps tendon for months. She said yesterday that doctors have discovered that the shape of her shoulder is abnormal and contributes to the irritation. The problem is controlled with anti-inflammatory medication.

"I didn't know what to expect because my training has been light the last few months because of my shoulder," Metzler said. "I didn't want to be too high or too low. I'm just really happy.

"My goal was to make the finals. "I was seeded eighth after the trials, so I knew I would be on the bubble."

Mission accomplished. Metzler's Olympic dream has yet to be fully realized, but she will head off to the University of Florida this fall recognized as one of the world's top swimmers in her event.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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