MISSION VIEJO, Calif., June 21. AT 23, Kobe Bryant is just reaching the peak of his career on the basketball court.
At 25, in what used to be the "over the hill" years for women swimmers, former University of Southern California NCAA champ Lindsay Benko is just reaching hers too.
The former Trojan star, who still trains and competes for SC coach Mark Schubert's Trojan Swim Club, won the 100 free at the TYR Meet of Champions here this evening, then came back a few races later to pick up a silver in the 400.
Benko earlier this year won the 200 free at the World sc Championships in Moscow, setting a world record en route to her victory.
Shortly before that she swam at the Longhorn Invitational in Austin and, among other wins, took the 500 yard free in a pr 4:38.42 — which just happened to be some three tenths of a second faster than the fastest collegiate 500 for the 2001-'02 season. The leading NCAA time belongs to Arizona's Emily Mason, who clocked 4:38.69 to win the Pac-10 title.
Benko has also just returned from a successful European tour where she won several 400s during the Mare Nostrum Series, icnluding one over defending
European champ Camelia Potec of Romania.
Benko was the oldest woman competing here but said she doesn't feel "old."
"No, not at all," she laughed. "I think I'm just hitting my peak now and my focus is on doing well this summer, then hopefully I'll be able to continue next year and make the World Championship team and after that…well in two more years there's Athens ['04 Olympics]."
Trailing by neary a half-second at the 50, Benko showed her heels to the field in general and former Stanford Olympian Gabrielle Rose — now training
with NOVA — in particular as she won in 57.02 to the latter's 57.09.
Bfore last summer's World Championships in Fukuoka, Benko suffered a freak asccident,breaking her kneecap while diving in the pool on her first day of arrival in Japan. However, she recovered to win the 200 free a month later in Clovis at the U.S. Nationals, then had a successful run at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane.
"Hurting myself made me realize how much I love to swim," she said tonight. "Then winning at Moscow gave me the impetus to really sty serious about the sport. Of course, he kind of pushed me along too" she added, pointing to Schubert with a grin.
The Trojans made it two for two when British import Joanna Fargus won the 200 back (2:15.00). Fargus is aiming for a medal of a similar color in just about a month when she represents her country at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
AFOX's Mason, runner-up in the 800 free opening night to NOVA's Hayley Peirsol, won the 200 fly (2:13.03) and also took first in the 400 free (4:15.32).
Mission Viejo's own Chad Carvin, a former University of Arizona All-America, former NCAA Champ and former American record-holder, won the men's 400 free (3:57.08). Another Wildcat, Mexican Olympian Juan Veloz, won the 200 fly (2:00.78).
NOVA's Aaron Peirsol, world record-holder in the 200 back, was expected to swim his specialty but opted out as he attened Newport Harbor High's Grad Night the previous evening.
– Bill Bell