By Jason Marsteller
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 24. THROUGHOUT the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take a look back at some of the best races in Trials history. Similar to our jam-packed NCAA research notes, we've done some intense research into U.S. Trials back to the 20s — including our Margins of Victory notes.
With the primary note heading into the eve before Trials is the mystery on whether Michael Phelps will swim the men's 400 IM or not, we were curious about some of the best distance medley battles of the past at Trials. Phelps owns the biggest title victory from 2004 when he beat Trojan's Erik Vendt by more than five seconds for the triumph. The closest race, however, belongs to Jeff Kostoff and Jesse Vassallo back in 1984.
Kostoff, representing Industry Hills, overtook Vassallo with an intense backhalf en route to a .11 victory, 4:21.37 to 4:21.48. Kostoff had to put together an amazing final 200 meters after opening up eighth at the 100 and seventh at the 200.
“Not really,” said a relieved Jeff Kostoff after being asked if he was worried by Swimming World in 1984. “I knew the back half of my race is always my best and I figured I'd be behind going into the breaststroke. I usually am.”
After initially being known as the premier distance freestyler in the country, Kostoff added to his versatility to become the premier medley swimmer the previous two years. Kostoff, who swam for Stanford and was a sophomore at the Trials, also trained under Ed Spencer at Industry Hills.
“I just didn't feel right,” Kostoff told Swimming World of his race at the meet. “Maybe I became too analytical but I couldn't help but think about Jesse (Vassallo) and (Jeff) Float.” While Vassallo took second, Float wound up third in the initial meet that only took the top two swimmers.
After opening with a 1:01.03 fly leg, Kostoff moved to 2:08.68 after the backstroke. He moved to second in the race after breaststroke behind Multnomah's Matt Rankin after 300 meters (3:22.81 to 3:22.97), before his final charge gave him the win over Vassallo, who was a former world and American-record holder in his own right.
Kostoff's Trials success never turned into hardware at the Olympics as he took seventh in 1984 behind Canada's Alex Baumann's victorious 4:17.41. He also returned in 1988 to earn a spot on the Olympic roster in the 400 IM with a second-place 4:20.23 behind David Wharton's 4:16.32 before taking ninth at the Olympics with Hungary's Tamas Darnyi eventually winning in 4:14.75.
Kostoff's speed in his youth has also stood the test of time. He still owns the longest standing high school record on the books with a 4:16.39 500-yard freestyle performance while swimming for Upland High in California in 1983.