By Josh Jeffrey
August 4. JUST before an Olympic year, young swimmers appear, seemingly from out of nowhere, to challenge the established hierarchy of elite level swimmers. In 1996, it was Amanda Beard. In 2000, it was Michael Phelps. In 2004, the name to watch for could be Julia Smit.
Smit, a 15 year-old Long Islander who swims for East Setauket's Three Villages Swim Club, couldn't even be found on her team's record books until last year. This year, she's completely rewritten it. Smit swam to four wins at the Speedo Champions Series Northeastern Sectional meet, breaking three meet and pool records as well.
For her first win, Smit swam to a speedy 4:48.53 in the 400 IM, some ten seconds ahead of second place. The win also signified an almost ten-second time drop from this time last year, when she set the meet record at 4:57.83. After winning the 400 free (4:19.83), she also scorched to a 2:15.80 meet record in the 200 backstroke, relegating the 2001 standard of 2:17.40 by Corey Berg to the dustbin. The fast pace also aided the second and third place swimmers, as both Erica Meissner (2:17.57) and Yeng Lan Beller (2:17.64) also qualified for the Olympic Trials with their swims.
In the 200 IM just a few swims later, another record was in the offing, as Smit waved goodbye to the 2001 standard of 2:20.86 set by Connie Brown, clocking 2:17.84. In all, Smit won four events, set three meet records, and achieved three Olympic Trials standards.
Also under the Olympic Trials time was Curl-Burke's Hiroka Sakamoto (2:19.92). Sakamoto, training with her Japanese national teammate Masami Tanaka, swam to two more standards as well, winning the 200 breaststroke in 2:31.55, a new meet record, narrowly defeating Scarlet Aquatic Club's fast-rising 16-year old Rebecca Soni, also under the Trials cut at 2:31.69.
Soni turned the tables on Sakamoto, stroking to a hot 1:11.22 win in the 100 breaststroke to Hiroko's 1:11.33, dispatching her own meet record of 1:13.42 from 2002 by more than two full seconds, an eternity in a 100-meter event. Soni's best times in 2002 were 1:13.41 in the 100, and 2:36.14 in the 200, so she too has shown marked improvement, and will definitely be one to watch in the upcoming months.
Noelle Bassi, a Pan Am team member, swam to wins in the 100 and 200 flys, both in meet record time. Her 1:03.23 in the 100 fly took care of Tammie Repass' 2002 standard of 1:03.66. As well, both Erica Meissner (1:03.46) and Mallory Dietrich (1:03.64) were under the old mark. Bassi had nothing but clear water in the 200, as she won by nearly four seconds, hitting the pads at 2:15.38, good enough for an Olympic Trials standard in meet record time.
Fifteen year-old Jennifer Illescas won the 100 (57.78) and 200 (2:04.21) freestyles, but the youngest swimmer making waves was 13 year-old Katie Riefenstahl of Trident, who took the 50 freestyle in 26.50, a meet record.
No Olympic Trials standards were to be found on the men's side, which has sadly been the case for many of this summer's Sectional meets across the country, as the women's races have been much faster on the whole.
Agua Swim Team's Sam Wollner took the distance double in winning the 800 (8:19.80) and 1500 (15:59.74).
Fifteen year-old Jon Roberts took the 200 IM (2:08.71) and 100 breast (1:04.81), the latter breaking a meet record set in 2001 by Ryan Cassella (1:05.02).
Full meet results can be found at: http://www.starswimming.org/html/MeetInformation.htm