SAN LUIS OBISPO, California, September 20. TWO freshmen on the California Golden Bears’ women’s team battled to the end for the right to call themselves Queen of the Pool, and it was individual medley specialist Celina Li who took the title a fingernail ahead of Olympic and world champion Missy Franklin.
All eyes were on Franklin as she made her collegiate competition debut today, but it was also Li’s first time in a college meet, and she didn’t disappoint. The Queen of the Pool event featured races in 100 yards of butterfly, backstroke breaststroke and freestyle, as well as the 100 individual medley. The swimmer with the fastest cumulative time won the title.
Li posted a total time of 4:43.10 to Franklin’s 4:43.22. Both freshmen were well ahead of third-place finisher and sophomore Elizabeth Pelton, who posted a time of 4:48.28. Rachel Bootsma, who was looking to defend the title she won last year as a freshman, slipped to fourth with a time of 4:53.32.
Li, a national finalist in the 200 butterfly, struck first in the 100 fly with a top time of 54.89 to Franklin’s 55.14. Cindy Tran (55.57), Pelton (55.59) and Bootsma (55.67) also dipped under 56 seconds in the meet’s opening event.
Franklin held on to a slim lead over Pelton after the 100 backstroke. Pelton won the event with a 54.60 to Franklin’s 54.79, a close finish that is likely to continue throughout the season. Li stayed within striking distance of the backstroke aces with a 56.16 for a one-second deficit to Franklin. Bootsma, the reigning NCAA champion in the 100 back, could only muster a 56.40 today, putting her seemingly out of the race to defend her Queen of the Pool title.
The 100 breast got Li back on top of the leaderboard with a 1:03.70, the fastest swim of the day. Fellow freshman Marina Garcia Urzaimqui of Spain, a world championship finalist in the sprint breaststroke, was second overall with a 1:03.88 but had not posted fast times in the butterfly and backstroke races and was therefore out of contention for the overall title. Franklin’s 1:06.01 kept her 1.2 seconds behind Li, with the 100 free next on the program.
Franklin, a world and Olympic finalist in the 100 free, was unrivaled with her 49.43 to win the race and get a lead of eight tenths of a second over Li, who posted a 51.44. Rachael Acker was the only other swimmer under 51 seconds in the race, posting a 50.89.
Li, an Olympic Trials finalist in the 200 IM, used her talents in the IM to grab the crown. Her winning time of 56.91 was enough to win Queen of the pool by 12 hundredths of a second over Franklin, who posted a 57.85 in the 100 IM, the third-fastest time of the day behind Pelton’s 57.34. Pelton’s 100 free also helped her secure her third-place finish in the overall standings.