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Trials Notebook -- August 15, 2000

By Phil Whitten

INDIANAPOLIS, August 15. Many of the "little" stories, the personal encounters that add so much poignancy to these Trials, are lost in the celebration of the winners. But much more is going on here in indianapolis than ever makes print in Swimming World or USA Today, or ever is broadcast on NBC.

One of the most striking things about these Trials is the level of sportsmanship that is being displayed. Let me give you three example:
In the 400 IM, the co-favorite, Tom Wilkens, was beaten by Tom Dolan and upset by Erik Vendt. What few people know is that last year, when Vendt was struggling with his stroke technique, it was Wilkens who helped him out at a USA Swimming camp.
In the semis of the 200 free, it appeared that Josh Davis deliberately swam near the lane ropes so that his teammate, Jmie Rauch, could draft off him. The tactic helped get Rauch into the finals.
Likewise, in the final of the 200 back, Lenny Krayzelburg and Aaron Peirsol seemed to swim deliberately next to the lane lines for 150 meters. It appeared that Lenny was trying to make sure that Peirsol, his heir-apparent in the 200 back, would be his teammate in Sydney.

While Michael Phelps, at 15, became the youngest US male Olympic swimmer in 68 years, Dr. Ron Karnaugh fell just a bit short in his bid to become, at 34, the oldest US Olympic swimmer in history.

Dr. Ron, who also would have been the first practicing physician to make the US Olympic team, was a 1992 Olympian and a co-favorite in the 200 IM. Tragically, his dad died of a heart attack shortly after watching his son march in during Opening Ceremonies in Barcelona. Four days later, Ron swam his event and, despite his heavy burden, finished sixth.

He retired, but then decided to make a comeback in '96. He finished fourth at Trials at the age of 30.
He retired again in 1997, but then decided to give it one more try after finishing medical school. Last night, Dr. Ron gave it all he had. He led for the first 140 meters, then made the final turn in second place, just a few hundredths back. He held on to that second place spot until 20 meters were left, when he hit the wall. The final 20 meters were agonizing, as first Tom Wilkens, then Kevin Clement edged by him.

Dr. Ron finished fourth. There probably won't be nother comeback in 2004--after all, he'll be 38 then. But Dr. Ron is every bit a champion, every bit a winner.

One of the most heart-breaking stories--one entirely missed by the press--was Bobby Brewer's sixth place finish in the 100 back. Brewer, who has a best 100 back of 55.1, was considered to have a reasonable chance of making the team as the #2 100 backstroker. Now, it's one thing to swim your best and fail to make the team. But fate dealt Brewer a bum hand. Two days before his event, Brewer punctured his ankle, injuring it severely, when he truck a piece of metal protruding from the frame of his bed in his hotel room.

As it turned out, Neil Walker took the second spot in the 100 back with a time of 54.8. Said Dave Salo, Brewer's coach: "There's no question in my mind that Bobby could have dropped three- or four-tenths of a second."