By John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, August 10. IT'S been nearly a week since the United States National Championships wrapped up at the famed Indiana University Natatorium. Although the event didn't serve as a major-selection competition, it certainly offered up its share of top-flight performances. And, as is typically the case with Nationals, a handful of breakthrough efforts were produced. Here's a look, in no particular order, at some of the athletes who enjoyed breakout showings.
David Cromwell: The Harvard University product, now training with Longhorn Aquatics, was spectacular in the 100 and 200 backstroke events. However, Cromwell's performances may not have received the appreciation they deserved, due to a certain swimmer from Club Wolverine scaring the world record in both disciplines. Of course, we're referring to Michael Phelps.
Heading into Nationals, Cromwell had packaged a strong summer, but his efforts in Indianapolis vaulted him up a level. Not only did the 23-year-old become the sixth-fastest American in the history of the 100 backstroke (53.82), Cromwell turned in a mark of 1:57.43 in the 200 back, also good for the sixth-quickest time by an American.
Rebecca Soni: Representing the Trojan Swim Club, Soni has been a known commodity on the national scene, thanks to a pair of NCAA championships in the 200 breaststroke. But, what she did in the 200-meter breast at Nationals sent a statement around the world. Her time of 2:23.62 made her the fourth-fastest performer of all-time and a contender for an Olympic medal.
Soni has established herself as a premier breaststroker over the 200 distance, but she cannot be overlooked in the 100 breast. Facing a loaded field at Nationals, Soni came out on top in the two-lap event by charging into the wall for a time of 1:07.06. That effort ranks Soni, a University of Southern California standout, as the fourth-swiftest American in history.
Chris DeJong: The Club Wolverine member returned his name to international recognition in the 200 backstroke and with a splendid effort as the anchor of his club's 800 freestyle relay. DeJong popped a personal best of 1:56.75 in the 200 back, making him the fifth-fastest American in the event. As impressive, he dropped a 200-meter free split of 1:46.02 as Wolverine claimed silver in the 800 free relay.
Caitlin Leverenz: Coming off a gold-medal swim in the 200 breaststroke at the Pan American Games, Leverenz had every right to be exhausted and off the mark in Indy. Instead, she won the 400 individual medley in 4:40.81, the 12th-quickest time by an American. Leverenz was also second in the 200 breast, finishing behind Soni.
David Walters: When Nationals started, the Longhorn Aquatics athlete was more recognized as a 200 and 400 freestyler. These days, Walters is known as the national champ in the 100 free, behind a winning time of 48.96. That swim immediately made Walters a contender for an Olympic relay slot, as did his clocking of 1:47.93 in the 200 free.
Dara Torres: Four-time Olympians don't normally turn in breakthrough performances, but when you're 40 years old and in the midst of another comeback, it's possible. Fifteen months after embracing motherhood, Torres won the 50 free (24.53) and 100 free (54.45), the one-lap sprint arriving in American-record time. If there was any doubt as to Torres' ability to qualify for a fifth Olympics, that uncertainty is gone. She is fluid in the water and swimming at the top of her game, proving that age really is just a number.
Peter Vanderkaay: You might be wondering why an Olympic relay medalist and two-time World Championships participant is on this list. The answer is simple: The University of Michigan product dropped the hammer in Indianapolis and walked away from the competition as a legitimate medal contender at the Beijing Olympics.
Not only did Vanderkaay win the 400 freestyle in 3:45.55, holding off Larsen Jensen and Michael Phelps in the process, he became the fourth-fastest man in the history of the 200 free, a time of 1:45.45 turning the trick. For good measure, he also registered personal-best swims of 49.20 in the 100 free and 7:53.93 in the 800 free. At this rate, Vanderkaay is likely to earn a podium spot in China – on an individual basis.
Eric Shanteau: Already the third-fastest 200 I.M. performer in American history, Shanteau has positioned himself for a first Olympic berth. Using a personal record of 2:10.65, he was second in the 200 breaststroke to Longhorn teammate Brendan Hansen. He also took bronze in the 100 breast (1:01.50) and grabbed silver in the 200 I.M. (1:59.56). The training move to Austin has obviously been beneficial and could pay major dividends next summer in Omaha, site of the Olympic Trials.
Kathleen Hersey: Like Cailtin Leverenz, Hersey expended a lot of energy at the Pan American Games, where she secured gold in the 100 and 200 butterfly events, along with the 400 individual medley. At Nationals, she went a personal best of 2:07.19 to win the 200 fly and become the fourth-fastest American of all-time.
Mary DeScenza: She's been around for a while and didn't win an event at Nationals. But, DeScenza was strong and consistent across the board, a feat deserving of recognition. A four-time NCAA champ in the 200 fly at the University of Georgia, DeScenza was second in that event with a personal-best time (2:07.84) and took silver in the 200 back (2:11.26). She also was fourth in the 100 back (1:01.40), fourth in the 200 free (1:59.79), seventh in the 100 fly (59.35) and went a lifetime best of 2:15.95 in the bonus final of the 200 individual medley.
Erik Vendt: Three distance-freestyle events and three personal-best marks. Sounds like a pretty good meet, even for a guy with a pair of Olympic silver medals in the 400 individual medley. The Club Wolverine star won the 800 free in 7:49.75 and took top honors in the 1500 free in 14:57.01. Making matters better, Vendt finished fifth in the 400 free in 3:47.53. All this just one year after returning from retirement. Oh, and Vendt also grabbed the silver medal in the 400 I.M. in 4:15.89.
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