by Phillip Whitten
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, April 1. Veteran Diana Munz and rising young star Larsen Jensen won the women’s and men’s 800 meter freestyle – the only event contested – on the first day of competition at the ConocoPhillips USA National Swimming Championships, held at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis.
For Munz, 20, the 2000 Olympic silver medalist in this event, it was her twenty-first national title – the most by any active American swimmer. For Jensen, 17, it was his first title. Neither win came easily.
Munz jumped out to the lead, opening up a two-second margin over the field after only 200 meters. Adrienne Binder, of Santa Barbara Swim Club (Calif.), trailed in fifth place, some three seconds off the pace.
Binder, an Auburn-bound high school senior, gradually moved up, passing everyone in the race except Munz. When the two swimmers made the final turn with only 50 meters to go, Munz’s margin had been whittled down to barely half a second.
Binder kept pressing the champion, but Munz had just enough left to hold off her young challenger, winning by 24 hundredths of a second in 8:32.17. “I have to stick to my own strategy, so I was trying not to watch, but then I saw her and I had to go,” Munz said.
Munz’s Lake Erie Silver Dolphins teammate, Alyssa Kiel, was third in 8:36.50. Finishing sixth was 1996 and 2000 Olympic champion, Brooke Bennett, slowing rounding back into top shape after shoulder surgery last year.
Jensen won his first national title more than seven months after setting his first American record. Last summer, as a 16 year-old, Jensen erased a 15 year-old mark in the 800 meter freestyle — the oldest men’s record in the book — when he clocked 7:52.05 while finishing second to Australia’s Grant Hackett at the Pan Pacific Championships.
Today, he came within three seconds of his own standard after shaking off a challenge from 24 year-old Chris Thompson, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist and American record-holder at 1500 meters.
Thompson held a lead of four-hundredths of a second at the halfway mark, but Jensen then motored into high gear, eventually winning by more than eight seconds in 7;54.86.
“There was definitely a lot more pressure on me here than last summer,” Jensen said. “Last summer, I expected myself to do well. Now I feel as though everyone else expects something of me since I’ve broken the American record. I’d better live up to it.”