AUBURN, Alabama, December 3. IT’S not like Nick Brunelli is an unknown commodity. After all, the former Arizona State standout was a member of the United States World Championship Team last summer in Montreal, where he finished sixth in the 50-meter freestyle. But, Brunelli may have enjoyed his finest performance on Saturday night at the U.S. Open.
Competing on the final night of action at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center, Brunelli claimed gold in the 100 freestyle with an impressive effort of 48.98. The victory was made even sweeter as it arrived against a field that included Pieter van den Hoogenband, the world-record holder in the event. Making his return to action following hernia surgery, Hoogie was second in 49.34.
Although unable to win the 100 free, van den Hoogenband delivered a stellar meet, highlighted by a win in the 200 freestyle on Friday night. By swimming 1:46.23, the Dutchman showed that he has recovered from the ailment that forced him to miss the World Championships. Hoogie was followed in third place in the 100 free by South Africa’s Darian Townsend, a standout at the University of Florida who was timed in 49.96.
“I’m still in shock,” Brunelli said. “I saw (van den Hoogenband) coming up on me in the last 15 meters, and I didn’t want him to beat me. It was just instinct to turn it up to the next gear. Going in, I wanted to go a 48. Was I honestly expecting a 48? Not really. But when I looked up and saw (Hoogie) a half stroke behind me, I knew I had to be going fast.”
North Baltimore’s Katie Hoff, the youngster who can seemingly do it all, closed out her meet with a spectacular performance in the 200 butterfly. Proving that her arsenal is expanding, Hoff won the event in 2:09.81, a time that would have been good enough for fourth place at the World Champs. Hoff had earlier won the 200 individual medley, 200 freestyle and 100 freestyle and was the high-point scorer for the women.
“I think I learned to just swim my own race and relax,” Hoff said. “This 200 fly, I was able to put my blinders on, relax and come home strong. Any meet where you get a high point award is really an honor because there are so many strong swimmers at a meet like this and so much competition. I’m very happy with getting that award.”
Auburn’s Hayley Peirsol was first to the wall in the 800 freestyle in a time of 8:34.34 and Amanda Weir completed her sprint-freestyle double with a win in the 100 distance (55.42). Meanwhile, Megan Jendrick reversed the finish of the 100 breast when she won the 200 breast in 2:28.89, a time that bettered the 2:30.17 of Tara Kirk.
In the men’s 200 breast, Alabama’s Vlad Polyakov completed his double with a 2:14.10 mark. That effort was enough to hold off Scott Usher, a 2004 Olympian who touched in 2:15.00. Teenager Daniel Madwed posted a three-plus second win in the 200 butterfly with a splendid swim of 1:58.28 and Mark Randall was strong in the 1,500 free with a victorious time of 15:03.62.