(from the August issue of SWIMMING WORLD Magazine)
By Phillip Whitten
Arguably the most anxiety- and tension-ridden meet in all of swimming, the U.S. Olympic Trials is the one and only opportunity to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. Do it here, at this quadrennial test of body and spirit, and you’re in. Fail to qualify, and it doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished in the past—you’re plumb out of luck.
There are only two Olympic berths in each event. So the Trials has come to be known as the only meet where first and second are both first … and everything else is last. Every four years a poignant mixture of agony and ecstasy is re-enacted. Every Trials has its share of upsets– of "unknowns" who burst suddenly onto the world stage, and favorites and world record-holders who fail to qualify: think of Pablo Morales in ’88, or Jenny Thompson last time around.
Thus it has ever been. Thus it will be this year again.
Though the play is the same, some of the players have changed. This is particularly so when it comes to the "older" swimmers—those doddering geriatrics in their late 20s or even (gasp!) their 30s. Several of the thirtysomethings have legitimate shots at making the team: Dara Torres, Angel Martino, Ron Karnaugh, Jon Olsen and Byron Davis among the thirtysomethings. In some events you’ll be hard-pressed to find a finalist under the age of 21.
On the other hand, the Trials should highlight the talents of a new generation of teenage stars, among them: Megan Quann, Kaitlin Sandeno and Aaron Peirsol, 16; Fran Crippen, and Laura Davis, 15; and Michael Phelps and Diana MacManus, just 14.
Here is our rundown of how those momentous eight days in Indy–beginning next Wednesday–shape up. (Times are the best a swimmer has done since 1997.)
To follow the Trials themselves and root on your favorites, click onto www.swiminfo.com. We will provide real-time coverage of every event—every heat, semi-final and final—at Trials, complete with photos.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9: DAY ONE
Men’s 400m Free
On paper, Tom Dolan (3:49.59) and Chad Carvin (3:49.68) appear to have a lock on the two Olympic team berths. But nothing is as it seems when it comes to the Trials. Dolan is inconsistent; Eric Vendt appears on the verge of fulfilling the promise he showed two years ago, and fast-improving 17 year-old Klete Keller is a definite threat: both should be under 3:50. Chris Thompson, Robert Margalis and Jon Younghouse are longshots.
Favorites: Carvin, Dolan
Watch For: Vendt, Keller, Thompson, Margalis, Younghouse
Women’s 400m IM
This shapes up as a fantastic four-woman race. Kristine Quance-Julian (4:42.01) is back in top form after giving birth to her son, Trenton, 19 months ago, and she has amends to make for her controversial DQ in ’96; At 16, Kaitlin Sandeno (4:42.04) is the hungry, up-and-coming kid who seems to get better each time she swims; Cristina Teuscher (4:41.21) won NCAAs this year with the world’s second fastest short course time; and Maddie Crippen (4:41.30), last year’s NCAA champ, is tough as nails.
Look out for Kristen Caverly, who has been swimming well all summer.
Favorites: Sandeno, Quance-Julian, Crippen, Teuscher
Dark Horses: Corrie Murphy, Maggie Bowen, Kristen Caverly
THURSDAY, AUGUST 10: DAY TWO
Women’s 100m Fly
The U.S. is blessed with a plethora of world-class 100 meter flyers—seven women have swum under the magic one-minute mark. So at least five very fast swimmers—potential Olympic finalists all—will be left at home when the team leaves for Sydney. Former world record-holder Jenny Thompson (57.88) is the favorite, but she will be challenged by both the oldest swimmer in the group, 33-year-old Dara Torres, who swam a lifetime best, unrested, at the Santa Clara International meet in June (59.12), and by the youngest, Misty Hyman, 21 (58.72). Another creaky old-timer, Angel Martino, who has swum very well lately, may pass on this event. DEfending Olympic champ, Amy Van Dyken, will probably pass as well.
Favorites: Thompson, Hyman, Torres
In the Fight: Ashley Tappin, Richelle DePold, Angel Martino, Karen Campbell
Men’s 100m Breast
Conventional wisdom says that Ed Moses (1:00.99) has a lock on the first spot, and that it’ll be a battle among as many as 10 talented breaststrokers for the #2 slot. Moses, who set WRs in both the 100 and 200 short course and has told SWIMMING WORLD he expects to become the first man under the magic one-minute barrier at Trials is, indeed, the favorite. But he is inexperienced in big meets and tends to hurry his stroke when pressed. Among the men pressing Moses will be veteran Kurt Grote (1:01.60), who is trying to overcome knee injuries; Mike Norment (1:01.85), looking to become the first African-American swimming Olympian for the U.S.; American record-holder Jeremy Linn (1:01.87), battling inconsistency; Jarrod Marrs (1:01.80); and high schooler Brendan Hansen (1:02.35).
Favorites: Moses, Norment, Marrs
Could Get In: Grote, Hansen, Kyle Salyards, Steve West, Linn
Women’s 400m Free
Most people see this as a two-way race pitting Brooke Bennett, the 1998 World Championship silver medalist (4:07.07), against Diana Munz, who recovered from a serious auto accident to swim a lifetime best 4:08.56 and win Spring Nationals this year. But there probably will be at least two other contenders in the mix: Lindsay Benko (4:08.75), who beat Bennett head-to-head at last summer’s Nationals; and Pan Am champ Kaitlin Sandeno (4:10.74), who is ready to go well under 4:10.
Favorites: Bennett, Munz
Strong Challengers: Benko, Sandeno
Look Out For: Cristina Teuscher, Ellen Stonebraker, Melissa Deary
Men’s 400m IM
At the ’96 Trials, Tom Dolan and Eric Namesnik were seen as so dominant, that almost no one was prepared to challenge them. This year, the situation seems the same, with Tom Wilkens, this year’s world leader (4:13.84) and world record-holder Dolan (4:12.30 in ’94) occupying the top two spots. But should either one falter, there are three younger men ready to step up: Eric Donnelly (4:17.86), Eric Vendt (4:18.25) and Robert Margalis (4:19.70). The 400 IM is a long, grueling race and it’s far too soon to be anointing winners.
Favorites: Wilkens, Dolan
Challengers: Donnelly, Vendt, Margalis
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11: DAY THREE
Women’s 100m Back
This race, featuring a mix of battle-scarred veterans and dewy-eyed newcomers, is likely to come down to the touch. Lee Maurer, the U.S. record-holder (1:00.77), and her perennial foe, B.J. Bedford (1:01.11), who shaved her head for the ’96 Trials, have to be considered the favorites. But, as they say in baseball, "on any given day" the race can go to any of the challengers: 16-year-old Jamie Reid (1:02.29); Denali Knapp, #2 American last year (1:01.85); NCAA champ Catherine Fox (1:02.52); fast-rising Haley Cope (1:02.59); ’96 Olympic champ Beth Botsford (1:01.94) and Linda Riker (1:02.97). Fourteen year-old Diana MacManus (1:04.08) is a dark horse.
Favorites: Maurer, Bedford
Capable of Winning: Reid, Knapp, Cope, Botsford, Catherine Fox, Riker
Dar Horse: MacManus
Men’s 200m Free
In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as "approach-avoidance." That’s what we have here. On the one hand, the winners of this event will have the dubious honor of going up against Australia’s Ian Thorpe, the world record holder (1:45.51) and Grant Hackett, the former WR-holder (1:46.69) and Holland’s Pieter van den Hoogenband (1:46.58). On the other, the top six guys will be on the 800 free relay, which has a good shot at the silver medal. Ten sub-1:50 swimmers are fighting for an Olympic berth, with Josh Davis (1:47.94), Chad Carvin (1:48.26) and Ugur Taner (1:48.54) the favorites.
Favorites: Davis, Carvin, Taner
Looking for a Relay Slot: Scott Goldblatt, Klete Keller, Ian Crocker, Scott Tucker, Mark Warkentin
Men’s 100m Backstroke
Last summer Lenny Krayzelburg destroyed Jeff Rouse’s world record with his 53.60 at Pan Pacs, a time that put him well ahead of anyone else in the world. But this March, Neil Walker set a short course WR of 50.75 that moves him up to Lenny’s league and makes him a legitimate challenger. Bobby Brewer (55.26), perennial silver medalist will be fighting to land a slot on the team. Sixteen year-old Aaron Peirsol (55.63) is improving fast, but he probably won’t be able to play with the big boys in the 100.
Favorites: Krayzelburg, Walker
Challengers: Brewer, Peirsol
Women’s 100m Breast
This is about the closest you’ll see to a "lock" in Indy, with the two fastest women in U.S. history dominating a strong field. Sixteen year-old Megan Quann (AR 1:07.54) has no doubts about her golden destiny and seemingly only 1998 world champion Kristy Kowal (1:07.85) can stand in her way. But ’96 Olympic silver medalist Amanda Beard has been back on her game and Stacianna Stitts yields to no one. Amy Balcerzak, runner-up to Kowal at NCAAs, has been having a very strong summer and could also challenge.
Favorites: Quann, Kowal
Challengers: Beard, Stitts
Long Shots: Katie McClelland, Amy Balcerzak, Kristen Woodring, Erin Sieper, Tara Kirk
SATURDAY, AUGUST 12: DAY FOUR
Women’s 200m Free
Lindsay Benko, the third fastest woman in US history (1:58.86), is the favorite, but after that: you pick ‘em. Cristina Teuscher swam 1:59.63 in 1998, and Jenny Thompson has been 1:59.98. Diana Munz showed surprising speed in winning this event at Spring Nationals (2:00.75) while Maritza Correia, who wants to be the first African-American woman on the US Olympic swim team, took the short course version of this event at NCAAs. Dara Torres swam an unrested 2:00.5 at Santa Clara, but still insists she won’t swim the event in Indy. Twelve other women have been 2:02.0 or better.
Favorites: Benko, Teuscher
Looking for a Relay Gold: Thompson, Munz, Correia, Brooke Bennett, Natalie Coughlin, Sarah Tolar, Samantha Arsenault, et al.
Joker: Dara Torres
Men’s 200m Fly
At last year’s Pan Pacs, Tom Malchow swam 1:55.41, an American record and the second fastest time in history. In June he broke the world mark with his unrested 1:55.18 at Charlotte. Clearly, Malchow is The Man. Ugur Taner (1:56.81), the third fastest American all-time, should grab the second spot. Jeff Somensatto and Steven Brown have both gone under 1:59 and are looking to upset. Fourteen year-old Michael Phelps swam a phenomenal 1:59.02 at Spring Nationals, but is probably a year or two away from being a factor on the world scene.
Favorites: Malchow, Taner
Hoping to Upset: Somensatto, Brown, Phelps
Women’s 200m IM
Three of the four top women in the 400IM will also be contending for the two berths in the 200—Kristine Quance-Julian (2:15.14), Cristina Teuscher (2:14.31) and Maddie Crippen (2:15.33), with the first two having a tiny edge. A fully recovered Natalie Coughlin (2:16.68) must also be considered a top contender along with her 15-year-old teammate, Laura Davis (2:16.55). Gabrielle Rose has been swimming extremely well all summer and could very well be a factor. Kristy Kowal swam a lifetime best (2:15.80) last month, unrested; if she decides to swim this event she could upset the field.
Favorites: Quance-Julian, Teuscher, Crippen
Don’t Count Them Out: Rose, Coughlin, Davis, Kowal
Dark Horses: Michala Kwasny, Maggie Bowen, Katie Yevak
SUNDAY, AUGUST 13: DAY FIVE
Finals: Men’s 200m Breast
By most accounts, Ed Moses (2:13.41), who set a world short course record in this event in March, already has one of the slots locked up. But we don’t see it that way. Kurt Grote was the world champion (2:12.66) in 1998, and has been training well despite knee problems and surgery. Tom Wilkens (2:12.39), ranked first in the world in ’98, is tough as nails. Kyle Salyards (2:14.32) has been improving steadily and this is his best event. Mike Norment and Steve West are also contenders. Norment, better in the 100, still swam 2:14.56 in ’98, while West (2;15.11), third at the ’96 Trials, can never be counted out.
Favorites: Moses, Wilkens
Strong Challengers: Grote, Salyards
Looking to Upset: West, Norment
Women’s 200m Fly
Misty Hyman (2:09.08) has been the top American in the double century fly each of the last four years. She should finish first in Indy with a lifetime best, but she’s likely to be pushed. The multi-talented Kristine Quance-Julian swam 2:09.29 in ’97 and is back in top shape. Kaitlin Sandeno, known for the 400 IM and distance free, swam 2:10.80 in March, and will go for this event. Molly Freedman (2:11.22), Maddie Crippen (2:11.63) and 15-year-old Kalyn Keller, who swam 2:12.76 when she was 12, are likely challengers.
Favorites: Hyman, Quance-Julian
Looking to Upset: Sandeno, Freedman, Crippen, Keller, Emily Mason
Men’s 100m Free
The men’s 100 free will be a free-for-all, with a sub-50 second effort needed just to swim in the finals. The two individual slots plus four more relay positions are up for grabs. Neil Walker, the top American last year and this (49.02), appears to be top fish.
After Neil: any one of at least ten men could make it. Scott Tucker (49.54) has been the most consistent, Jason Lezak (49.34) has won two national titles, and Jon Olsen (50.40), who took this event at the ’96 Trials, has won four gold medals at the last two Olympiads; he had the fastest split (48.17) on the US world record-setting 400 free relay team. Bryan Jones swam 49.43 last year. NCAA champ Anthony Ervin, another bidder to become the first African-American on the U.S. Olympic swim team. is definitely for real in long course, and Gary Hall, the ’96 silver medalist, is a definite threat. At Janet Evans, Hall swam lifetime best in-season times for both the 100 and 50, while Ervin swam overall lifetime bests. Matt Macedo also appears to be ready to go 49-low.
Favorites: Walker, Lezak, Tucker
Could Upset: Olsen, Hall, Ervin, Macedo, Josh Davis, Bryan Jones, Brock Newman, Sabir Muhammad
MONDAY, AUGUST 14: DAY SIX
Women’s 200m Breast
This race appears to belong to the long stroking Kristy Kowal (2:25.52), who comes to Indy three full seconds ahead of her competitors. After Kristy, the second slot will go to the woman who wants it most. Megan Quann (2:28.77), much better at 100 meters, is on a roll: Atlanta silver medalist Amanda Beard is going to be tough; Maddie Crippen (2:29.33) has been very consistent; Jenna Street (2:26.50), bronze medalist at the ’98 World Champs, may have another fast one in her. Fifteen year-old water sprite, Kristen Caverly, has looked awfully good of late and could very well slip into that #2 slot. Others, including Anita Nall, who set the AR (2:25.35) in ’92, could challenge.
Challengers: Quann, Beard, Crippen
Upset-Minded: Caverly, Street, Nall, Laura Davis, Katie McClelland, Stacianna Stitts
Men’s 200m Back
A year ago, Lenny Krayzelburg set the world record (1:55.87) and swam more than three seconds faster than anyone else on the planet. He’s still the favorite, but 16 year-old Aaron Peirsol, whose 1:57.03 this year makes him the third fastest man in history, is now a legitimate challenger. With a very fast field, it may take under 2:00 just to make finals, with ‘96 Olympic champ Brad Bridgewater (1:58.24) an outside shot to score another ticket to the Big Time.
Favorite: Krayzelburg, Peirsol
Challengers: Bridgewater, Tate Blahnik, Dan Shevchik, Trevor Gray, Brian Walters
Women’s 100m Free
The top two spots appear to belong to Jenny Thompson (54.66), and 33 year-old comeback queen Dara Torres (54.98). After that it’s a scramble for the relay berths. Amy Van Dyken (55.15) appears to be coming back after a second shoulder surgery; at 33, Angel Martino (56.45) is looking strong in her bid to make her third Olympic team; Ashley Tappin hopes to get back to her 55.28 form from ’98. Courtney Shealy, the NCAA champion, has continued to swim well all summer, while Keiko Price has a shot at a relay berth, in her bid to become the first African-American woman on the U.S. Olympic swim team. At least seven other women have swum 56+.
Favorites: Thompson, Torres
Relay Spots: Martino, Tappin, Van Dyken, Shealey, Price, Liesl Kolbisen, Richelle DePold, Tammie Stone, Samantha Arsenault, et al
Men’s 200m IM
The sprint medley boils down to a three-man race among Tom Wilkens (2:00.67), Tom Dolan (2:01.18) and Dr. Ron Karnaugh (2:01.62), attempting to become at 34 the oldest U.S. Olympic swimmer ever. Wilkens is on a hot streak, Dolan is back in the groove, and Karnaugh is training better than ever under Randy Reese. All three are potential medalists in Sydney, but only two will make the trans-Pacific flight.
Favorites: Wilkens, Karnaugh, Dolan
Hoping to Upset: Joey Montague, Beau Wiebel, Scott Tucker
THUESDAY, AUGUST 15: DAY SEVEN
Women’s 200m Back
Just as in the 100 back, the 200 is awash with swimmers with only a fingernail or two to separate them—10 women have 2:12s to their credit. Lindsay Benko (2:12.25) and 16-year-old Jamie Reid (2:12.00) appear to have a slight edge but Beth Botsford (2:12.49), the 1996 Olympic champ in the 100, is looking strong, and Natalie Coughlin (2:12.03) will be tough if she is healthy. Any of six other dorsal specialists could earn an Olympic berth.
Favorites: Benko, Reid
Could Win: Botsford, Coughlin, Lea Maurer, Denali Knapp, B.J. Bedford, Amanda Adkins, Lia Oberstar, Linda Riker
Men’s 100m Fly
This is another wide open event, with no one having a clear advantage. Neil Walker, the American record holder (52.76), will probably pass, as will Sabir Muhammad (53.75). It should take a sub-53 second effort to make the team, a performance only Bryan Jones (52.90 last year) has achieved. Dod Wales (53.38) and Nate Dusing (53.13) could burst through. Byron Davis, 30, who in ’96 came within a whisker of becoming the first African-American on the US Olympic swim team, has been training well in his comeback. Ian Crocker (53.61) may surprise as may Tommy Hannan, who has been coming on very strong of late.
Favorites: Wales, Jones, Dusing
Upset-Minded: Davis, Brock Newman, Matt Pierce, Crocker, Hannan
Women’s 800m Free
It appears there are two possibilities: Brooke Bennett (8:25.06) and Diana Munz (8:29.06) or Diana Munz and Brooke Bennett. Bennett, the 1996 Olympic and ’98 world champion, is the slight favorite, but Munz, fully recovered from her auto accident, is tougher than ever. Kaitlin Sandeno (8:34.65) could break through.
Favorites: Bennett, Munz
Dark Horses: Sandeno, Julie Varozza
Men’s 50m Free
Anything can happen in an event that is nothing more than an explosive start and a desperate finish interrupted by some furious thrashing. Still, Neil Walker (22.10) and 1996 Olympic silver medalist Gary Hall (22.13) should be the favorites along with NCAA champion and short course world record-holder, Anthony Ervin. Bill Pilczuk is looking to prove his 1998 world championship (22.29) was no fluke, and Sabir Muhammad (22.32) is a definite contender.
Favorites: Walker, Hall, Ervin
Looking to Upset: Muhammad, Pilczuk
Don’t Count Out: Jason Lezak, Matt Macedo, Matt Weghorst
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16: DAY EIGHT
Women’s 50m Free
Like the men’s event, the women’s 50 free has three definite favorites: born-again sprinter Dara Torres, who set an American record of 24.73 in late June, 1996 Olympic champ and former AR-holder, Amy Van Dyken (25.10), and the indomitable Jenny Thompson, who swam a lifetime best 25.22 last month in defeating Van Dyken.
Tammie Stone (25.33), Courtney Allen (25.49), Angel Martino (25.88) and Ashley Tappin (25.54) will be there if either favorite falters.
Favorites: Torres, Van Dyken, Thompson
Ready to Step Up: Stone, Allen, Tappin, Martino
Men’s 1500m Free
For two long decades, this has been a bleak event for the Stars and Stripes. But last summer Chris Thompson (15:04.68) gave reason to hope for a change in US distance fortunes. Judging by his NCAA win, Erik Vendt (15:10.50) should challenge. Fran Crippen (15:28.52), just 15, could be the surprise here—though he probably needs a year’s more seasoning. Several other sub-15:20 swimmers may step up.
Favorites: Thompson, Vendt
Upset-Minded: Tim Silciano, Chad Carvin, Tyler Painter, Robert Margalis, Jon Younghouse