By Phillip Whitten
LONG BEACH, Calif., July 8. KAITLIN Sandeno thought it was ironic. Here she was seeded first in the finals of the 400 meter freestyle at the US Olympic trials. And it wasn’t even one of her best events.
But it was no fluke.
After posting a personal best 4:09.81 in prelims, the 21 year-old University of Southern California junior who had almost quit the sport two years earlier due to injury, came back to dominate the final. In the process, she became the first US swimmer to earn spots in two events in Athens. Yesterday, Sandeno finished second in the 400m IM.
Swimming a perfect, evenly-paced race, Sandeno took the lead right before the halfway mark, and never looked back. Her splits: 2:04.03 – 2:04.04, for a time of 4:08.07, another personal best.
Meanwhile, the real drama was being waged in Sandeno’s wake. In lane 3, Sandeno’s Trojan teammate, Kalyn Keller, gradually began moving up on the field after making the first turn dead last. At 100 meters and again at 150, the 19 year-old freshman had improved to seventh. Halfway through the race she still lagged behind in the seventh spot at 2:05.13.
Then Keller, the younger sister of Klete Keller, who had set an American record in the men’s 400 yesterday, began to make her move in earnest. At 250 meters she was fourth, then at the 300 meter turn she burst into the #2 spot.
Over in lane 8, Diana Munz, who was in the race only by virtue of Lindsay Benko’s withdrawal, made an all-out effort to overtake Keller, but it was to no avail. Keller touched in 4:09.78, a second ahead of Munz (4:10.79).
The Keller siblings – Klete and Kalyn – become the first brother-sister duo to make the US Olympic swim team since Jack and Shirley Babashoff a quarter century ago.
Interestingly all four swimmers who have earned spots on the US team in the 400 free have connections with the University of Southern California: Klete Keller and Larsen Jensen both dropped out to train full time for the Athens Games; Kaitlin Sandeno and Kalyn Keller are both USC students.