Phoenix, AZ – Recent press releases and media stories that U.S. Olympic sprinter Gary Hall, Jr., was ducking a head-to-head confrontation with Russian Olympic gold medalist at the Santa Clara International Swim Meet are “completely false,” Hall told Swimming World today.
“I never entered the Santa Clara meet and I never intended to enter the meet,” said Hall, 22. “I was in heavy training when that meet took place. Alex and I will meet when it counts–at the Pan Pacific meet and the World Championships–and I am looking forward to that meeting with great anticipation.”
The rivalry between Popov and Hall was one of the major stories of the Atlanta Olympic Games, with the Russian barely edging his young American rival in both the 50 and 100 meter freestyle events. Hall gained a measure of revenge by anchoring the US 400 meter freestyle and medley relays to victory, as he clocked the fastest 100 meter time ever (47.45) on the freestyle relay.
The rivalry took a bitter turn last February when the Russian called Hall “a loser from a family of losers” while receiving an award in France as the outstanding European athlete of 1996. The reference to Hall’s family was to his father, three time US Olympian, Gary Hall, Sr. Hall responded by saying that Popov “had better start learning the words to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’” because he would be hearing it often when the two clash in Sydney in 2000.
Hall’s coaches supported his assertion that the popular American was not ducking his Russian rival. Phoenix Swim Club head coach, Roric Fink, told Swimming World: “Back in January I told (Dick) Jochums (head coach at Santa Clara) that we might send a team to the Santa Clara meet. But as it turned out, the Janet Evans Invitational, a week later, fit in better with our plans. We had an exchange with the Trojan Swim Team: they sent a team to the Nissan Invitational here in Phoenix, and we sent a large squad to the Janet Evans meet in L.A.”
However Hall and fellow Olympic sprinter, Jon Olson, did not swim at either the Evans nor the Santa Clara meet. “When I first arrived in Phoenix,” said Phoenix Swim Club’s sprint coach, Mike Bottom, “I sat down with Gary (Hall) and Jon (Olson) and we looked at the summer schedule. We decided then that the only meet we’d attend before Nationals was the Nissan Grand Prix meet in Phoenix, and that’s what we’ve done.” Added Bottom: I felt it was more important for Gary and Jon to train hard than to try and compete while they were tired. When the time comes for them to swim fast–at Nationals–they will be ready. And Gary will be ready to meet Alex at the Pan Pacific (in Fukuoka, Japan) meet in August and the World Championships (in Perth, Australia) next January.”