By Bill Bell
BELMONT SHORES, CA., Jan. 16. OLYMPIANS Kaitlin Sandeno and Aaron Peirsol continued their relentless quest for a berth on this summer's World Championship team by churning up the waters of the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool over the King Holiday weekend, and former UCLA All-America Michael Picotte — now a ripe old 28 but still going strong — showed he's not quite ready to to hang up his skinsuit just yet either.
Competing in Southern California Swimming's Martin D. Inkmann Invitational, Sandeno, who graces the cover of the current (January) issue of Swimming World, won a whopping seven events over the four-day competition (500-1000-1650 frees, 200 back, both flys and the 400 IM.
Peirsol, silver medalist at Sydney in the 200 meter backstroke and a member of Coach Dave Salo's powerhouse Irvine NOVA squad, collected a quartet of gold medals in both backstrokes, the 500 free and — surprise — the 200 fly, an event he has rarely swum in the past.
Picotte, representing North Coast Aquatics, won the 50-100 frees in unshaved bests of 20.29-44.57 and was runner-up to to 15-year-old Michael Cavic (NOVA) in the 100 fly, 48.21-49.09. Cavic's winning effort was a pr by several tenths (48.5 from last year's win at the CIF Division II Championships) and he could become the youngest boy to ever go under 48.0. The boys' 15-16 NAG record is 48.12 by Birmingham's (AL.) Rainer Kendrick.
Picotte's career-best are 19.77 in the 50 from the 1992 NCAAs, 43.28 in the 100 from the following year's NCAAs and 47.81 i n the 100 fly from the '92 Pac-10s –which were actually held the previous November because the Trials were in early March of '92. Is the ex-Bruin angling for a trip to Japan in July? "Just having fun and keeping active," he avers.
Sandeno, the "modern day" Tracy Caulkins who swims for Coach Vic Riggs' Nellie's Gator squad — was in a sense sensational but this sort of performance is almost becoming the norm for her as she routinely wins a plethora of races at any age-group meet she enters. In any event, she raced to wins in the 500 free(4:44.08), 1000 (9:41.50), 1650 (16:15.88), 200 back (1:57.73), 100-200 flys (55-10-1:56.92) and 400 IM (4:10.38). All swims except the 1000 were prs and if one were to compare these times — done unshaved and unrested — against the lastest swiminfo.com's Div. I women's rankings, Sandeno would be among the national leaders in every race! Not bad for a "low key" qualifying meet in the middle of heavy winter training.
What will Sandeno swim at the World Championship Trials in March? "Anything she wants to," says Riggs with a smile.
Peirsol was no slouch either swimming unshaved yet scored career bests while winning the 500 free (4:22.86), both backstrokes (48.53-1:44.26 — the latter a pr by more than a second!), and the 200 fly (pr 1:48.98).
Does NOVA coach Salo forsee a "Battle of the Titans" between Peirsol and, say, USC's Erik Vendt (Sydney silver medalist in the 400 IM), Michigan's Chris Thompson (Sydney silver medalist in the mile), Arizona's Ty Painter or even perhaps USC's Kelte Keller, American record holder and Sydney bronze medalist in the 400 free — at Austin in March, site of the U.S. WCTs — in the 400 free? "I think we'll stick to the backstrokes for now," says Salo.
What about a 200 fly showdown against Michael Phelps, who at 15 was the U.S.' youngest male swim Olympian ever last summer and who clocked a mind-boggling 1:56.50 to finish just out of the money at the Olympics? "We'll see," allows Salo, albeit a tad facetiously.
With double Sydney gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg opting out of the World Championships this year to swim instead at the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv come late July, the 200 back is a wide open race at the Trials although Peirosl will be the odds-on favorite off his Olympic silver medal finish.
While not scoring any victories at the meet 15-year-old Sun Devil, Kalyn Keller, "kid" sister of Klete and the only member of the U.S. World Championship Open Water distance squad to win a medal in Hawaii last October, showed she's competitive in the pool too as she scored a pair of seconds in both flys in prs of 55.87-1:59.98. She also swam an impressive 4:45 in the 500 free, again finishing second behind Sandeno. Word out of the desert has it that she's challenged her brother to a Long Beach-Catalina race but so far has had no response!
Another youngster who scored an impressive win was Leapin' Lionfish's 15-year-old Aubrie Smallwood, who splashed a fine 2:14.91 pr to win the 200 breast.
NOVA's 14-year-old Diana MacManus won the 100 back (55.69 with a 55.67 relay leadoff) and was runner-up to Sandeno in the 200 back (1:59.82). She's been 55.22-1:59.58 and has made some major drops in the last year.