DALLAS, November 25. THE swimming gods have not been smiling upon Southern Methodist University's Flavia Rigamonti this past year and-a-half.
The junior distance specialist, who represents her native Switzerland internationally, dropped out of Coach Steve Collins' program after winning the NCAA 500 and 1650 frees in March of 2003. At that meet in Auburn, she clocked the races' seventh (500) and fourth-fastest (1650) times en route to the golds. But she felt the time had come to take a break from her studies to train for the then up-coming World Championships (Barcelona) and Olympics (Athens).
A medal or two certainly seemed within her grasp as Rigamonti's NCAA mile-winning time of 15:43.90, for example, was just off the second-quickest 1650 ever (15:40.41), which she had swum several weeks earlier at the Western Athletic Conference Championships in San Antonio. Her 4:37+ 500 free also buoyed her hopes for international success in the 400 free.
But an accident in which she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle resulting in a broken leg rendered her hors d'combat for the World Championships. Then, in a bad move, she left Switzerland to train with her boyfriend's club in Italy. The result? She wasn't a factor in Athens.
So…still chasing that elusive first major international long course medal, Rigamonti has returned for her third season in Big D with the Mustangs this fall, and she's swimming better than ever. She showed her heels to the field last Saturday at Texas A&M's Aggie Invitational in College Station, racing to the 10th-fastest 1650 free ever, a nation-leading 15:49.16 — easily making the NCAA "A" cut.
She won by nearly 45 seconds and her time is among the fastest-ever in a non-NCAA Championship, non-USS Nationals. (Former Santa Barbara Swim Club star Adrienne Binder, now a sophomore for Coach David Marsh's defending NCAA champ Auburn Tigers, splashed to a pr 15:43.44 at the Speedo Cal-Nevada meet in March of last year at the City of Commerce pool to rank No. 1 in this category. Binder's time ranks her third on both the all-time performers and performances lists.)
Rigamonti now owns the second, fourth, sixth, and 10th-best performances (15:40,41, 15:43.90, 15:45.93, 15:49.16), and it would appear she may be on track to break former Stanford star Janet Evans' "unbreakable" American/NCAA standard of 15:39.14, set at the 1990 NCAAs in Austin. At that time Evans, a quadruple Olympic gold-medalist, was a freshman on The Farm.
Rigamonti's 500 pr (4:37.72), also an SMU and WAC record, ranks seventh on the all-time list(performances) and she's fifth-fastest performer.
Only Evans among the top five women in the event has more than one time on the list (aside from her American/NCAA-record 4:34.39, also from '90). That's her national prep-record 4:37.39 from the 1989 CIF Championships at Belmont Plaza.
Evans was then finishing her senior year at El Dorado High in Orange County, CA. after having won three golds the previous fall at the Seoul Olympics (400-800 free, 400 IM) and setting world records in both freestyle races.
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Rigamonti swam a 4:44.02 in the 500 at the Aggie meet — and lost! — to teammate Anja Carman, who splashed to a nation-leading and pr 4:41.05 (both making the "A" cut.) A Slovenian Olympian and graduate of the prestigious Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fl. — where current Florida women's and men's coach Gregg Troy used to toil before joining the Gators in the late '90s — Carman also won the 200 back (pr 1:56.03). That ranks her second nationally, and she swam a pr 1:48.60 200 free to rank 12th.
Collins' "mini UN" also includes, among others, Canadaian sprinter Laura Pomeroy, who won the 100 in a pr 49.51; and Brazilian freshman breaststroker Tamra Sambrailo, who the 200 in a pr 2:12.90 (third-fastest nationally) and was runner-up to teammate Corrie Clark in the 100 (1:01.80-1:01.83).
Perennial WAC Champs, the Mustangs, with the return of Rigamonti and the addition of Carman and Sambrailo plus veterans Pomeroy and breaststroker-IMer Clark could be in contention for a Top 5 finish at NCAAs. The Ponies also have a potent freshmen class that includes the Blackman sisters (Candace, Jennifer), and Celine Lemmen, all former Texas prep All-Americas; and Minnesota "import" Roxanne Arkadi, a 54+/1:57+ backstroker who is starting to make her presence known too.
Candace Blackman won the 200 free with a pr 1:46.90 at the Aggie Invitational and ranks third nationally. Lemmen's pr (1:47.00 for second) is fourth on the list.