By Phillip Whitten
AUSTIN, Texas, March 29. THE final morning. Prelude to the Coronation.
Though Auburn has the team title virtually sewed up, no one was lying down waiting to be run over by the Tiger steamroller. Four individual events were swum this morning, with Texas qualifying first in two, and Auburn and Virginia one apiece.
Among the four top teams, Auburn, Texas and Stanford each placed five swimmers in the A final, while Cal had three qualifiers.
200 yard backstroke
The very first event saw a new American/NCAA record – and a perfect set-up for tonight’s swim. A month ago I asked Texas coach Eddie Reese if freshman Aaron Peirsol was going to crack the 1:40 barrier for the 200 back at NCAAs. His reply: “easily.”
Just to be sure, I asked the exact same question again yesterday. The reply was identical.
This morning, Peirsol didn’t break 1:40, but he came as close as it’s possible to come, and erased Brian Retterer’s American/NCAA mark of 1:40.06, set in 1995, along the way.
In command, and swimming with deceptive ease, the 200 meter world record-holder split 23.73 at the 50, and 49.35 at the 100. For the old-timers among my readers, that split equals John Naber’s long-lasting 100 yard mark. And Peirsol did it as a split. On the foot touch. In prelims.
After his swim, a smiling Peirsol, barely breathing hard, commented: “It was easy.”
Said Coach Reese; “He’ll go 1:38 tonight.”
The whole field was fast, with 1:43.46 needed to make the A final, 1:45.34 for the B.
Stanford qualified three men in the A final : Markus Rogan, fourth in 1:41.77; Dan Westcott, sixth in 1:42.83; and 100 yard champion Peter Marshall, eighth in 1:43.46.
Auburn’s Bryce Hunt was third in 1:41.48. Florida’s Chris Kellam qualified second in 1:41.29.
Tonight we should see history’s first sub 1:40 swim.
100 yard freestyle
The 100 free prelims were fast and tight, with 43.40 needed to make A final and 43.73 to make B.
Auburn qualified 1-3, with sophomore Ryan Wochomurka first in 42.85 and teammate Fred Bousquet, winner of the 50, third in 42.93. Sandwiched between them at 42.86 is Arizona's Eric LaFleur, a junior from Sweden.
Last year Cal's Anthony Ervin and Duje Draganja took first and second with Ervin setting the American record (41.62). This morning, Draganja qualified fourth (43.09) and Ervin fifth (43.11). texas has Chris Kemp (sixth, 43.22), Stanford has Randall Bal (eighth at 43.40). ASU's Nick Brunelli, having a great year, made his first Big Final (seventh at 43.34).
200 yard breaststroke
Last night Texas junior Brendan Hansen won his third straight 100 breast crown. Tonight he seeks his third in-a-row in the 200 breast, and he's seeded first off his 1:54.25 prelim swim.
The surprise second qualifier is Alabama freshman Vlad Polyakov, winner of the consols in the 100 last night (53.73). This morning Polyakov swam a PR 1:55.39.Another frosh, Minnesota's Mike Brown, was third, just ahead of Jeff Hackler.
Auburn's Justin Caron was fifth (1:56.44). In a refreshing change, a swimmer from Wyoming (Scott Usher) and Hawaii (Cheyne Bloch) qaualified for the A final.
It took 1:56.64 to make the A final, 1:57.62 to make B, as 27 swimmers cracked two minutes.
200 yard butterfly
Virginia's Michael Raab had a breakthrough swim this morning to qualify first in the 200 fly. The sophomore, who has been improving steadily in his rise to the top these last few years, clocked a swift 1:42.89.
Arizona's Juan Veloz was second at 1:43.21 and Alabama's Stefan Gherghel — the defending champion — was third, courtesy of his patented awesome final 50, in 1:43.43. Gherghel's last 50 was 25.98 seconds. The only other swimmer able to get under 27 was Veloz at 26.86.
400 yard freestyle relay
The four top teams qualified in the first four spots in the 400 free relay.
Cal, boosted by anchor Anthony Ervin's 42.04, was first in 2:54.54. Auburn followed in 2:53.74, with Texas 7 -hundredths back in third and Stanford fourth in 2:54.50.
Minnesota was the eighth qualifier at 2:55.69. Squeaking into the final spot in the B final was Georgia at 2:59.34, as a neat 16 teams broke three minutes.
Texas' Chris Kemp had the fastest leadoff, 43.25, followed by ASU's Nick Brunelli, 43.36.
Three swimmers clocked 42s for their relay splits: Ervin, Texas A&M's Matt Rose (42.63) and Stanford's Bobby O'Bryan (42.81).