Shootout At The Alamo -- December 5, 1999
by Phillip Whitten
San Antonio, TX - There were several upsets, four meet records and some very fast swimming on the final day of the three-day U.S. Open Swimming Championships, held at Palo Alto College in San Antonio.
The very first event of the evening saw the meet's biggest upset when Japan's Sachiko Yamada, a virtual unknown, upset the defending world and Olympic champion, Brooke Bennett in a fast 8:32.83. The two women battled stroke for stroke for the entire 16 lengths of the 50 meter pool at the Palo Alto College Natatorium, but it was the Japanese youngster who touched out the American veteran by eight-hundredths of a second. Jamaica's Janelle Atkinson was third in 8:35.60. Fourth place went to Diana Munz, back in competition after being sidelined for several months from injuries she suffered in an auto accident. Costa Rica's Claudia Poll, swimming well after finally recovering from an accident suffered last April, was fifth.
In 1987, Dara Torres set the U.S. Open meet record in the 100 free with a time of 55.72. Two Olympiads and seven years of retirement later, she was back shooting at her own mark. It still stood.
Only 18 weeks into training, Torres, 32, was going head-to-head with her training partner, Jenny Thompson, the world's top ranked woman in the event this year. Torres took the lead at the start and flipped first at the wall. But gradually, Thompson's strength and endurance took their toll. Thompson passed her teammate at 75 meters and went on to win in 55.02, setting a new meet record. Torres was right behind in 55.54, also well under her old mark. Third went to Slovakia's Martina Moravcova. Another 32-year-old attempting a comeback, Angel Martino, was sixth in a creditable 56.74.
The 200 meter breaststroke went to Australia's Rebecca Brown, 22, who led from start to finish. Brown, who set the world record in this event early in 1994, then never approached it again, finally retired from the sport this year in frustration. A few months later she was back in the water with a new attitude and newly regained speed. Brown's 2:30.13 was more than two seconds faster than American Megan Quann (2:32.36), who set an American record in the 100 meter breaststroke a day earlier. Katie McClelland was third at 2:32.65. Australia's Samantha Riley, trying to recapture the form that made her world champion in both breaststroke events, won the consols in 2:32.56, a time that would have placed her third in the finals.
The 200 meter butterfly provided ample evidence why Australia's Susie O'Neill is far and away the world's fastest woman in this event. O'Neill swam away from the field to win in 2:07.20, a time only she has bettered this year. Canada's Jessica Deglau finished four seconds back, while Japan's Maki Mita was another two seconds back.
The men's 100 meter freestyle saw a second match-up between Holland's Flying Dutchman, Pieter van den Hoogenband, and Australia's best, in this case, Michael Klim, a silver medalist at last year's World Championships. The first round, in the 200 free, went to the lanky Dutchman.
In the prelims, "Hoogie" posted a time of 49.17 seconds, well under the meet record of 50.01 set by Australia's Chris Fydler in 1991. In the finals, Hoogie won Round 2, although it was very close, as his 49.18 just edged Klim at 49.32 and American national champion, Jason Lezak, in 49.58. Fydler won the consols in 50.23
It was American Sabir Muhammad who flipped first at the 50. Though he wound up fourth, his 49.75 was a lifetime best, making the Open a very successful meet for the Stanford grad who earlier won the 50 free.
The 200 meter breaststroke saw three men in a battle to hit the touch pads first. Canada's Morgan Knabe, winner of the 100 meter yesterday, emerged triumphant in 2:16.11, a hair ahead of Holland's Marcel Wouda (2:16.17) with Malaysia's fast-closing Elvin Chia third (2:16.49).
The 200 meter butterfly pitted the world's two fastest swimmers in 1999 in adjacent lanes. Tom Malchow, who set an American record in winning the event at the Pan Pacific Championships with the second fastest time in history (1:55.41) and Japan's Takashi Yamamoto went at it with everything they had. Yamamoto touched first at the 50; Malchow reclaimed the lead at the halfway mark. The Japanese national champion retook the lead at the final turn, but it was Malchow who pulled ahead on the last lap, touching in 1:57.16 to Yamamoto's 1:57.59. Third went to Mexican teenager Juan Veloz in 1:59.91, one-hundredth of a second ahead of Australia's Justin Norris.
Malchow's time slashed a second and a half off the meet record of 1:58.69 set by Canada's Tom Ponting 14 years ago. Australia's Scott Miller, making a comeback, won the consolation finals in 1:59.77, only to be disqualified.
The meet's final event, the 1500 meter freestyle, provided some excitement for an American crowd not used to fast swimming in this, the longest event, on the Olympic program. Australia's Grant Hackett, 19, the heir-apparent to countrymn Kieren Perkins' throne, won as expected. But he was pushed all the way by none other than Perkins, in what easily was his best performance since he began his comeback. Hackett won in 15:02.83, with Perkins a strong second in 15:07.10. Third went to America's Eric Vendt in 15:24.22.
To put these times in perspective: This was the first time in two years that Hackett hadn't broken 15 minutes, though since he was unshaved and unrested, he said he wasn't concerned. In contrast, no American has even approached Hackett's time in over 15 years. The American record stands at 15:01.51 set by george DiCarlo in 1984.