By Bill Bell
LOS ANGELES, March 6. WHEN Swiss miss Flavia Rigamonti finished fourth in the Olympic 800 meter freestyle at Sydney a couple of years ago in a pr- and
national-record 8:25.91, no one took much notice.
Similarly, when she finished runner-up to Germany's Hanna Stockbauer in the inaugural women's 1500 meter free at last summer's World Championships in Fukuoka (16:01.02-16:05.99), heads didn't turn.
At least not many — save perhaps Southern Methodist University women's coach Steve Collins, who had had his eye on Ms. Rigamonti for some time.
He convinced her that college life in Dallas was preferable to training in Zurich, and come January of this year Rigamonti was a Mustang froshwoman.
She didn't make much of an impact on the collegiate scene until last weekend at the Western Athletic Conference Championships in San Antonio, where on
opening day she finished second in the 500 free to teammate Georgina Lee — herself a British Olympian — with a 4:41+ and an NCAA automatic qualifying time.
Nice swim, but nothing to sound the campus bells over.
Well, they were ringing loud and clear on Saturday evening in ol' San Antone as Rigamonti clocked an amazing — there's really no other word for it —
15:45.93 1650-yard freestyle, history's third-fastest performance (second performer). Second — a full minute back — was Rice freshman Adi Bichman in 16:45.95, an NCAA consideration cut.
Imagine what Rigamonti would have, could have done had she been chased by Steve Holland's proverbial shark?
Only Janet Evans' American/NCAA record 15:39.15 from the '90 NCAAs at Austin, coincidentally site of this year's women's meet, is faster. Evans also has history's second-best performance, a 15:44.98 from a meet at Belmont Plaza in January of '88, five months after she won three golds and set a pair of world records (400-800 frees) at the Seoul Olympics.
(Evans also swam a 15:45.98 to win the '91 NCAAs in what would turn out to be her final collegiate swim. She left Stanford shortly thereafter to train with Mark Schubert for the Barcelona Olympics.)
Only two other active swimmers have ever been under 15:50 for the 1650. USC freshman Kaitlin Sandeno went 15:49.27 at last March's Speedo Challenge, also at Belmont. And, USA Swimming's Mary Wagner reports, just last week, Santa Barbara Swim Club's Adrienne Binder swam 15:48.00 at the Speedo Champions Series meet in Las Vegas.
Rigamonti is ranked No. 1 nationally and would appear to be in an excellent position to threaten Evans' dozen-year-old record. But then so perhaps is Virginia's Cara Lane, who was 16:11 at ACCs a
couple of weeks ago but won last year's NCAAs in 15:53.86. Stanford's Jessica Foschi, who won at Pac-10s Saturday (16:04+) is anoter who could give Rigamonti a good race, and Florida's Janelle Atkinson was third at NCAAs in '01 in a pr 16:04.42.
Collins' Lady Mustangs handily won the conference title (820-757 over Nevada) with Rice (541) third and Fresno State (515) fourth. Lee was a triple-winner with victories in the 500 and 100-200 flys (53.21-1:54.58) with all three swims establishing WAC records.
Another international member of the Mustang squad was individual medleyist-backstroker Alenka Kejzar from Slovenia, who had a superb meet too.
She won the 200 IM opening night in 1:56.68, third-fastest nationally behind NCAA defending champ Maggie Bowen of Auburn (1:56.51) and Stanford's Shelly
Ripple, last season's national-collegiate runner-up, who set a Pac-10 record with her 1:56.64.
The next evening Kejzar dropped a cool seven seconds off her old pr in the 400 im with a nation-leading 4:07+ clocking, and in the 200 back won in a pr, SMU and WAC-record 1:54.28 — third nationally.
Rice's Owls got a great performance from junior sprinter Mandy Mularz, who set conference records en rotue to wins in the 50-100 frees (22.51-49.35) —
both NCAA "A" cuts.
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SMU's men's team, coached by Eddie Sinnot, who helped guide butterflyer Lars Frolander to the gold at the Olympics and the last World Championships, won the National Independent Conference title for the second-consecutive year with with a 923-527 romp over run-
On the women's side, Coach Pete Hovland's Oakland (Mi.) ladies won a tight battle with Northern Arizona, 746-715.
SMU was led by Danish Olympian Jakob Anderson, who won golds in the 200 IM, 100-200 back (the latter in an NCAA auto cut of 1:44.57. He also swam on the Ponies' winning 200-400 medley relays.
Teammate Matt Weghorst led a 1-2-3 of the 100 free with his meet- and pool-record 44.05.
Hawaii soph Cheyne Block won both breaststroke races and in the 200, his pr of 1:58.94 was a meet-record and NCAA auto qualifier.
Western Kentucky's Brandi Carey won a pair of races and set a pair of meet records too, taking the 200 IM (2:00.01) and the 100 free (50 flat), both NCAA "B" cuts.
Among other wins, Oakland collected golds on the final day from Tara Berringer (200 back, 2:03.22); Shelley Aurit (200 breast, 2:17.47, NCAA "B"); and flyer Tanya Korniyenko (200, 2:02.20, NCAA "B").
Hovland's Pioneer ladies also set a meet-record in winning the 400 free relay (3:24.19, NCAA "B"). Fifty free champ Oksana Strelets led off in 50.65.
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At Oklahoma City, site of the Mountain West Championships, Brigham Young University three-peated as both women's and men's winner.
The men ended up wtih a conference-record 931.5 points with Las Vegas (751) and Air Force (618.5) second and third. On the ladies' side, the Cougars won by a 601-575 margin over Vegas.
BYU took the lead for good on the final day with a 1-2-3-4 sweep of the women's 200 breast, Cougar Tamber Covington winning in an NCAA provisional 2:17.09.
Swimmer of the Meet honors went to UNLV's Lorena Diaconescu, who three-peated in the 200 free and swam an NCAA auto cut to win; and also won the 100 free in a provisional 50.30 in addition to anchoring the Rebels' meet record-setting 400 free relay.
On the men's side, Swimmer of the Year honors went to UNLV's Jacint Simon.
BU's Justin Wilcock, conference Diver of the Year, made it a hat-trick via victories on the 1- and 3-meter boards plus the platform. Air Force's Sarah
Law was the women's Diver of the Year.
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At Ypsilanti, Mi., home of Eastern Michigan University and site of the Mid-America Conference women's championships, a relay disqualification resulted in double-defending champ Ohio University losing any chance it had for a three-peat.
The OU Bobcats led intra-state rival Miami by just five points, 688-683, going into the meet's final event, the 400 free relay. As long as OU finished ahead of Miami, they'd win the meet.
And the Bobcats proceeded to win by more than two seconds in a MAC-record 3:24+, thus seemingly wrapping up their third-consecutive title for Coach Greg Werner.
Not so fast.
Ohio was subsequently disqualified for having one of its swimemrs jump into the pool (irrational exuberance?) in joyous celebration but before all the
other teams had finished swimming.
Subsequently, OU was disqualified, but Werner then filed a protest.
However, prior to a decision being rendered by the MAC Championship Committee Werner withdrew his protest and Miami won the title, 723-688.
It was the seond time in a week that a former SMU assistant lost a conference championhip as a result of a relay dq. A week ago at the Big 10 meet, Indiana coach Dorsey Tierney's 400 relay team wad dq'ed, giving Penn State its first conference title in women's swimming. Tierney too had been an SMU assistant earlier in her career.
Ohio had been down by 22 points after the 1650 free, but stormed back as Shannon Kelly won the 200 back (pr 2:01.97) with teammatees Melissa Dunn and Beth Frisk taking fourth and eighth;
They picked up a few more poitns via a fifth, sixth and eighth in the 100 free, but Miami earned a second and fourth so it was a standoff.
In the 200 breast Miami's Emily Hayes took the top spot with Bobcat Trisha Kessler a close second.
In the 200 fly Miami's Michelle Reynolds was the winner with Ohio swimemres only getting a seventh and an eighth.
Yet going into that fateful final relay it was the double-defending champs on top by five points and as long as they finished ahead of Miami, let alone win the race, the title was theirs.
The 'Cats did everything right. They won the race, they didn't leave the blocks early and they set a meet-record…what more could you ask?
The two remaining NCAA Division 1 conference championshships are the Pac-10s starting Thursday at Belmont Plaza, and the men's WAC, beginning the same
swiminfo.com's reporters will be on the scene to bring lap-by-lap, event-by-event coverage.