Irvine’s Icelandic Standout Makes Waves at Daktronics/UCI Invirational

IRVINE, CA., January 4. REYKJAVIK was NEVER like this.

On a typically sunny, warm and smog-free January day at U Cal Irvine's outdoor Anteater Aquatics Complex during the 23rd annual Daktronics/UCI Invitational, Irvine's Icelandic import, freshman Lara Bjargardottir, won three races and finished runner-up in a fourth to help lead her team to victory in the distance portion of the competition.

Nevada-Reno, led by Alyssa Chen's four golds in the 100-200 backstrokes, 100 free and 200 IM — not to mention her runner-up finish to Bjargardottir in the 200 free — was an easy winner in the women's sprint competition.

On the men's side, Irvine also won the distance portion of the competition while Texas Christian took the sprint title.

The meet continues today with the relay portion of the competition.

Although she was almost twice the age of most of her competitors, Masters swimmer Karlyn Pipes-Neilson, slightly to the northern side of the Big 4-0, showed her heels to the field in a pair of races — the 50 free (24.25) and the 200 fly (2:04.91) — winning the latter by more than five seconds.

KPN's 50 time is a Masters 40-44 national record, breaking the old standard of 24.29 by Sandy Neilson-Bell (Munich 100 free Olympic gold-medalist) from 1996. Her fly time is about a second off her 40-44 national record from last spring's Masters Nationals.

Don't be surprised if KPN not only breaks that standard this season but also the fastest Masters' 200 fly time overall. That mark is a 1:57.04 by former Chinese Olympian Limin Liu — 1999 NCAA Division 1 champ — done two years ago when Liu was competing in the 25-29 age group.

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Not many Icelandic swimmers have made their presence felt in American collegiate competition. Probably the most successful was a woman breaststroker at Alabama a decade ago, Ragga Runolfsdottir, who became an NCAA finalist and All-America for the Crimson Tide.

UCI coach Brian Pajer will be more than delighted if Bjargardottir emulates or exceeds that high level of success. Based on her showing here — plus her performance in last month's Speedo/UCI Invitational at Belmont Plaza, where she collected multiple golds — she's on track to make a major impact on the Anteater program and at the Big West Championships next month too.

Her winning times, all done off a heavy Christmas training period, included a 1:53.19 200 to Chen's 1:53.53; a 4:28.06 400 IM (with Illinois' Trish Lakotos next at 4:35.59); and her 17:04.67 for the mile, with teammate Sernah Zavareh second.

Her only loss was in the 200 breast where Illinois' Turkish Olympian, Ilkay Dikman, a Big 10 finalist, won in 2:20.17 to the Irvine ace's 2:23.27. Dikman also won the 100 breast (1:05.27).

Nevada's Chen was sensational in her own right, splashing to those four golds with solid times of 2:07.52 for the 200 IM, 52.88 in the 100 free, 58.34 for the 100 back and 2:05.42 for the 200. Her teammate, Leticia Cunha, was third in the 200 free (1:54.35) and took runner-up honors in the IM (2:08.81) and third in the 200 breast (2:21.48).

Former Marysville High prep All-America Sarabeth Schweitzer, now at Nevada, was second in the 100 back (59.07) and third in the 200 (2:08.38). Her 100 pr is 54.97 from the CIF-Sac Joaquin Championships several seasons ago The other sprint winner was Pepperdine's Nicole Okuna in the 100 fly (58.26),

In the distance races, besides Bjargardottir's 400 IM-1650 double, San Diego State's Aztecs scored a win when Hannah Ryan won the 1000 free (10:31.48) with the Illini's Britta Jansson (10:32.55) next. In the 500, Cal State Northridge's Lindsay Love was fastest (5:06.16) and Irvine's Megan Storey (5:09.92) was a solid second with Ryan's 5:12.25 taking the sshow spot.

The mile saw a one-two-three Anteater sweep, Bjargardottir taking numero uno with her 17:04, followed by Zavareh and Alexis Sheridan.

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In the men's sprint competition, Cal Baptist's Felix Sutanto, an Indonesian Olympian and former Cal. state community college backstroke champoion at Golden West several seasons ago, raced to four victories: the 100-200 backstrokes, 200-400 IM plus he won a bronze in the 50 free.

Sutanto was also a multi-gold medalist at last month's Speedo/UCI invitational in Belmont Plaza and is a very talented swimmer.

His winning times were 50.92 in the 100 back to TCU's Craig Chapman's 51.66; 1:51.27 in the 200 with Chapman again second (1:53.54); and 1:54.17-4:05.75 for the medleys.

If Cal Baptist opts to compete in this year's NCAA Division II Championships, Sutanto could make a major impact, come home with several golds and — quite possibly — DII records too.

The meet's closest finish and perhaps its most exciting race — at least on the men's side — was in the 1000 free. Here Cal. State Bakersfield's Vlasta Burda, defending NCAA DII champ in the 500-1000-1650 frees and a mainstay on Coach Bob Steele's double-defending team champ Roadrunners' program — won in 9:46.76 to teammate's Manny Colemares' 9:46.77.

The latter got his gold a bit later when he won the 200 free (1:44.09).

Other sprint winners included UCI's Phil Garcia in the 50-100 frees (21.45-46.19); Bakersfield's Kyle Simms in the 500 free (4:48.19); C-P's Ben Palmer in the 100 breast (58.26) with Irvine's Brian Kim gold-medalist in the 200 breast (2:08.94). Teammate Bomb Pattanasinh won the 200 fly (1:55.54).

Similar to the women's 1650 finish, the men's mile saw Irvine take the first two places, with Robert Noh (16:26.30) winning over teammate Kareem Adnan (16:28.14).

UCI first-year coach Pajer, himself a foremr Anteater All-America breaststroker in the mid-'80s under former coach Charlie Schober, now UCI director of aquatics, has infused a new spirit of enthusiasm and optimism on his team this season.

Look for Irvine to begin putting the heat on perennial Big West powers Santa Barbara and Pacific — and perhaps even make a run for the championships — before too long.

(Complete results are available at: www.uci/edu.athletics/swimming)

— Bill Bell

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