Festive Atmosphere Highlights Duel in the Pool

By Deena Al Shatti

IRVINE, Calif., August 3. AFTER it was all over, Michael Klim and Aaron Peirsol swapped jerseys. The gesture was a good demonstration of how the atmosphere at the sold-out Duel in the Pool felt: festive and with a feeling of friendly competition.

The day began with the AquaZone, a place where fans could mingle, shop for swim gear and meet athletes, including Amanda Beard and Janet Evans. At 3 p.m., the teams entered the Woollett Aquatic Center, much to the delight of the fans screaming in the stands. Signs were held up all over the arena, sending out words of encouragement to the athletes, as well as some declarations of love.

Grant Hackett and Jason Lezak opened up the meet, giving the crowd some background to the two countries and the “fierce rivalry” they have had for the past fifty years. Lezak then gave Hackett a “real” football, signaling the beginning of the meet.

As expected, the U.S. men dominated the meet, winning 13 of the 14 events. Backstroker Aaron Peirsol and breaststroker Brendan Hansen, both world record holders in their respective events, won their races easily. Ian Crocker defended his 100 fly title, while Michael Phelps swept both the 200 and 400 I.M. events. Grant Hackett, meanwhile, gave the Australian men their only win in the 400 freestyle.

The announcers encouraged the fans to cheer loudly, especially when a swimmer would get close to breaking a world record. “I couldn’t have asked for a better meet,” said Peirsol, noting that the swimmers can hear the crowds while swimming, which helps give them an extra push.

The U.S. women held their own, but ultimately lost to Australia, 76 to 70. Katie Hoff, one of the USA’s rising stars, swept the 200 and 400 I.M. events. The Australian women set three U.S. Open records in the 100 breast, the 400 free relay and the 400 medley relay. Jessicah Schipper of Australia helped the women win the 400 medley relay, just minutes after she won the 200 butterfly heat. Lisbeth Lenton won the 100 and 200 freestyle events, and helped the Australians win the 400 freestyle relay.

No records were broken yesterday, but several swimmers came close, including Jones in the 100 breast, as she was a hundredth of a second off Jessica Hardy’s world record time, set at the World Championships in Montreal. Jones touched in 1:06.21.

Overall, the event was relaxed for both fans and swimmers alike, even though most of the athletes were exhausted, having just returned from the World Championships. “My body felt extremely tired…. I was crunching to get into second without a clutch. It was a tough day,” said Hackett.

"You get through it by saying that (the Duel in the Pool) is just an extension of the World Championships," said Natalie Coughlin. "Everyone's exhausted — the United States, the Australians, the coaches, everybody."

But exhaustion didn’t deter the athletes from putting on a stellar show. Throughout the meet, the Mutual of Omaha Cheer Squad would race over to the crowds and get it to cheer “U-S-A”. Though the Australians were small in number, they were strong in voice. Each time an Australian would win an event, chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” could be heard.

“You just think about how much fun you’re having,” said Peirsol. “(This is) the kind of stuff that keeps you rejuvenated and keeps you young. You’re exhausted, but you don’t think about it. You just go out and swim.”

The teams also got involved in the cheering: Jessica Hardy, Jeri Moss, Mary DeScenza, Kaitlin Sandeno and Kelsey Ditto of the United States all encouraged the crowd to cheer on the United States, while the Australian team had one of its members covered in body paint with a flag tied around his neck.

“We wanted to give something back to the crowd,” said Phelps. “The home crowd and the excitement that we have helped carry us to victory.”

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