By Phillip Whitten
LONG BEACH, Calif., July 8. LESS than an hour after she qualified second in the 400 meter freestyle, Trojan Swim Club's Lindsay Benko withdrew from tonight's final.
The move, which took coaches and officials by surprise, was "all about the 200," said her coach Mark Schubert. Benko, who ranked first in the world last year in the 200 meters with an American record 1:57.41, decided her best bet is to conserve her energy for the shorter race. A first or second place finish in the 200 also assures Benko a spot on the USA's 4x200m free relay team, a potential gold medal-winning squad.
Benko's decision delighted Diana Munz, a 2000 Olympian who had just missed making the final in the 400 meters this morning by two-hundredths of a second. "I'm going to buy her an expensive dinner," said a beaming Munz, who only minutes before had been dejected at her prelim performance.
Earlier this year, Aussie Craig Stevens withdrew from the 400 free to make way for defending Olympic champion and world record-holder Ian Thorpe, who had been disqualified after a false start in the prelims of his event at the Australian Trials. But few suspected that Benko would "pull a Stevo," opening the door for Munz.
At the 1994 World Championships, Germany's Franziska van Almsick finished ninth in the prelims of the 200 free. A teammate, who had qualified eighth, was persuaded to "voluntarily" give up her spot to Franzi. In the finals, swimming in lane 8, van Almsick set a world record that lasted until 2002, when she lowered it again.