SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR, November 29. A quartet of swimmers — including a pair of U.S.-trained current and former collegians — each won a second individual gold medal, highlighting the final evening's swimming competition.
Current Auburn junior Eileen Copparopa, who represents her native Panama and who earlier splashed to a Games record and numero uno in the 100 free (56.57), raced to a pr/NR in the 50 free tonight — winning in a Games record 25.68.
Former Florida Gator distance freestyle specialist Ricardo Monasterio won the 1500 free to go along with his earlier win in the 400 free.
Copparopa's old pr/NR was a 25.70 from last year's U.S. Nationals in Clovis, CA. Her time, which broke her old Games record of 26.12 from Maracaibo four years ago, is also a Central American record and fastest by a Latin woman sprinter. On this year's world list she ranks 29th.
In the 100, which was also her pr/NR, she ranks No. 2 on the all-time Central American list to Olympic gold medalist Claudia Poll of Costa Rica. Poll, who won the Atlanta 200 free title, swam a 55.62 at the U.S. Nationals in Minneapolis four summers ago. Copparopa's time moves her into 25th globally for the year.
A junior at Auburn, which just happens to be defending NCAA Division 1 team champ and also just happens to be the host school for next March's 22nd annual Championship, Copparopa is the Tigers' No. 2 all-time in the 50 yard free, with a pr of 22.30 from last season's NCAAs. Her time is just off the Auburn record of 22.18, and she ranks third-fastest among returnees in this race.
In the 100 yards, her pr is a 48.91, done while leading off the 400 free relay at NCAAs, ranking her third on the Tiger all-time list. The record is 48.79 by teammate Becky Short, who is also a junior this season.
So with this pair plus defending NCAA 200-400 IM champ Maggie Bowen — last year's 200 medley World Champion — plus Commonwealth Games' 200 IM gold medalist Kirsty Coventry and a deep line-up, it's not hard to see why Auburn coach David Marsh is quite confident about defending his title.
The other American collegian to score his second gold was Venezuela's Ricardo Monasterio, a former Florida Gator who won the mile in a Games record 15:38.90. He broke the old record of 15:47.96 by Jaime Lipsztc from the 1993 Games in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Monasterio holds the South American 1500 free record with his 15:06.01 from last summer's USA Grand Prix on Long Island. Additionally, he holds the Venezuelan record in the 800 (8:02.19) from the World Championships a year ago in Fukuoka.
The South American 800 record is 7:59.85 by former Indiana University star Djan Madruga, who represented Brazil in the late '70s and early '80s. Madruga set his mark at the U.S. Nationals in Austin in April of '80 and, at that time, he was No. 1 globally with high hopes of medaling (or even winning) at the Moscow Olympics.
Towards that end he had been training at Mission Viejo under Coach Mark Schubert, current USC women's and men's headman. But Moscow gold and even a medal eluded Madruga, as he got hit by a locomotive, the "Leningrad Locomotive" [aka the then-Soviet Union's Vladimir Salnikov], who won the first of his two Big O 1500s (the other came at Seoul eight years later).
We'll never know if Salnikov would have made it a "hat trick" at LA in '84 as the Soviets boycotted the competition — ostensibly due to "security concerns" — but in reality as a "tit for tat" in response to the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games four years earlier!.
The other men's doubler tonight was Mexico's Diego Urreta, who won the 200 IM in a Games record 2:05.99, breaking his own 2:06.39 standard from the prelims.
Urreta won the 200 back too, a race that saw his countryman, Juan Rodella, a student at Purdue University, take second. Thursday evening Rodella earned his first gold by wining the 100 back title.
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In women's action, Guatemala's Gisela Morales, having enjoyed the "thrill of victory" so much after her 100 back win, made it two-for-two in dorsal competition by clocking a pr/NR 2:20.57 in the 200. Her time was just off the Games record 2:19.32 by Claudia Poll's older sister, Sylvia, from the 1986 competition .
Morales won by nearly five seconds over Mexico's Tatiana Moristant (2:25.20), who was runner-up in the 100 race too. The Guatemalan's victories were not only her country's sole women's championships but also their only swimming medals.
In the other women's final, the 200 fly, Cayman Islander Heather Raffey, who swims for The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, won a close race from Mexico's Paula Espinosa, 2:19.23-2:20.02. Mexico's Silvia Dominguez (2:21.31) was third.
The winner's gold was her country's sole swiming medal, though it should be noted that most of the top Cayman swimmers elected not to compete here.
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Overall, Mexico was the biggest winner, perhaps not too surprisingly as it is the region's largest nation — both in terms of size and population too. In terms of fairness, however, it should be noted that Mexico's most likely rival for the team title, Cuba, did not send a team to El Salvador, citing "inadequate security concerns." Translation: We don't want the embarrassment of our athletes defecting.
(However, famed Australian coach Forbes Carlile delights in continuously noting that his nation, with about 1/15th or so of the US population, consistently shows up Uncle Sam when it comes to international aquatic success. So arguably, "size" isn't necessarily the most important criterion for winning. If it were, China and India would be the world's top two teams)
In any event, Mexico won both the women's and men's medal titles, taking the former with six golds, nine silvers and three bronzes. The men accounted for nine golds (a pair by University of Arizona junior Juan Veloz, a solo by Rodella); four silvers and four bronzes.
Puerto Rico was No. 2 on the men's side with two, two and four. Both golds were won by former University of Tennessee sprinter Ricardo Busquets, who won the 100 (50.25) and tied his Games record in the 50 (22.55).
Venezuela (three, eight and three) was third among the men.
Host El Salvador, with a pair of men's breaststroke golds, was fifth on the men's side with its two medals
— not a bad showing. El Salvador also scored three women's bronzes.
Overall, Mexico wracked up 15 golds, 13 silvers and 7 bronzes to Puerto Rico's 5, 5 and 9 for runner-up.