Days 1 & 2: Phillips 66 National Championships

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Thursday was a day of both redemptions and surprises at the US National Swimming Championships. The first full day of competition, it featured blazing 100m freestyle wins by veterans Ashley Tappin and Gary Hall Jr., two stars who both felt they had something to prove. Hall, representing Phoenix Swim Club, took the event in 49.60 and Tappin, swimming for Hillenbrand of Tucson, beat the field by more than a second with a 55.28.

“I felt pressure to do well here,” said Hall, 23, of Phoenix Swim Club, who was disappointed in his failure to qualify for the individual 100 free World Championship event at nationals in Nashville last summer. “It was really painful for me to sit in the stands during the 100 at Worlds. I had a lot to overcome at this meet.”

Tappin felt she had an even longer string of disappointments to overcome. “This was a huge redemption for my lack of success in college,” said Tappin, who sported a “cheesy fake tattoo” of a seahorse on her cheek, given to her by a friend for luck. “It was my best time since the ’92 Trials.” She thought she was retired last summer after what she sees as a lackluster college career, and had turned her attention to triathlons. But in September she was lured back into the water by the promise of a $6,000 first place prize for the 50 free at the Kerr McGee meet in December. She trained like crazy, won that prize and just kept going. Now, having signed a three-year sponsorship contract with TYR, she is in it until 2000.

“My training has been 10 times harder than it’s ever been before,” she said. “I really stepped up my weights, which had been just rehab for a while because I had shoulder surgery and the whole nine yards. I lifted till I thought my arms would fall off, and I was running five or six miles almost every day. I just went berserk in practice everyday and treated everything as a sprint.”

For 15-year-old Katie Yevak from the Kansas City Blazers, it was a different story. Having never swum in a Nationals championship final before, Yevak was shocked to qualify first in the 200m breast and then go on to win the event by just .06 of a second over World Championship bronze medalist Jenna Street of the Bolles School.

“It was really overwhelming going in seeded first,” said Yevak, who is a member of the National Junior Team. “It was completely unexpected to finish that way. Winning wasn’t even one of my goals.” The women’s 200m back also brought an impressive surprise swim by Natalie Coughlin, 15, of the Terrapins. An amazingly versatile swimmer, Coughlin has met the nationals qualifying times in every single event and was foregoing her best events, the 200m IM and 200m free, to swim “off” events like the 200m back here. Nevertheless, the Vallejo, Calif. resident dropped five seconds in that event to win in 2:14.16. “I’m using this meet to see how I do in other events I never really swim” she said. “I train mainly IM and distance free and just do back once in a while.”

The team for the fourth Goodwill Games in New York this summer will be chosen off the combined results of Nationals and last January’s World Championships. A number of swimmers have committed to compete in the Goodwill Games based on their Worlds results. Some swimmers, including Stinnet and Brown, say they might opt not to compete in the Goodwill Games since it is the week before the World Championship Trials.

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