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By Jason Marsteller
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 26. 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.
Today, the top swimmers will be vying for both individual and relay spots in the men's 200 free. In 1988, it was no different with what turned out to be the closest finish in Trials history in the event. Troy Dalbey clipped legendary Matt Biondi by just .02 seconds, 1:48.35 to 1:48.37, for the Trials title that year in Austin, Texas. That year, Biondi qualified for seven Olympic events, and was the favorite to win the 200 free after throwing down a then-American record of 1:47.72 in prelims. Dalbey wound up second in prelims with a 1:48.89, and was unhappy about that time.
“I went out way too fast this morning and it really hurt me during the last 100,” Dalbey said. “I've never hurt so bad on the last 100.”
Dalbey's coach Jonty Skinner also concurred about Dalbey's morning strategy.
“This morning he swam with Matt too much,” Skinner said. “He just needed to relax and have confidence. The key was the race plan.”
Biondi, feeling strong in the finale, looked to be well on his way to victory, ahead of the world-record pace at the time by the 150-meter mark. He actually led Dalbey by more than a second in the final swim. Biondi, however, burned out during the final 50 with Dalbey closing the distance to get the win at the touch.
“With 50 to go,” Dalbey said, “I started really pressing out the back of my stroke, and the next thing I knew, I was at Matt's shoulder and I said, 'Whoa, maybe I've got a chance.'
“I wouldn't have won if I hadn't jammed my finger as hard as I did,” Dalbey said, holding up a sore middle finger. “I can't hardly bend it now. I don't think I've ever extended that far on a finish in my life.”
Biondi did not seem pleased about the second-place finish, but took it in stride.
“All things considered,” Biondi said, “it might be better that I did get second. If I got first, that would have put a lot more pressure on me. Now everyone's thinking, 'He's fast, but not exceptional.' “