SwimmingWorldMagazine.com Rewind: 1989 U.S. Short Course Championships

By Jason Marsteller

PHOENIX, Arizona, September 29. AS we have recently reported, the USA Swimming Short Course Championship will be back in action next December after a 17-year hiatus. With that being said, SwimmingWorldMagazine.com will take a walk down memory lane with previous editions of the short course meet leading up to the December 2007 competition slated to take place at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The 1989 version of the meet featured the coming out party for then 15-year-old Mary Ellen Blanchard. At the competition held in Chapel Hill, N.C., at Koury Natatorium, Blanchard broke the first American record at the short course meet since 1985 during prelims of the 200 breaststroke.

Here is an excerpt of the story written by Russ Ewald in the May issue of Swimming World Magazine that year.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – This college town has seen a number of athletes become famous on its University of North Carolina campus. There's Michael Jordan and James Worthy among others in basketball and Lawrence Taylor in football.

Another star emerged at Koury Natatorium, the school's swimming facility, although she's not a North Carolina student. Mary Ellen Blanchard is only 15 years old, but she stamped herself as a leading lady with her performance at the 1989 Phillips 66/U.S. Swimming Short Course Championships March 21-25.

Blanchard has always been known as Doc's granddaughter. That's Doc as in Doc Blanchard, the 1945 Heisman Trophy winner as a running back for Army. Her father, Tony, was also a football standout, ironically playing at North Carolina. The Blanchards now live in Norcross, Ga.

Mary Ellen made her name known early in the meet. On the first morning of prelims of the five-day competition, Blanchard wiped out the nine-year-old American record of the great Tracy Caulkins in the 200 yard breaststroke. And she erased the better U.S. open mark by Japan's Hiroko Nagasaki with it.

Nobody had set an American record at the short course nationals since 1985. And no one had set an American short course mark in a prelim race of 200 yards or longer since 1978. But it's plain to see Blanchard is no ordinary swimmer. Besides having good genes, she has exceptional technique that allows her to swim high out of the water. And she's a very determined girl.

"She's the first one in the weight room," says Alex Braunfeld, her coach at the Dynamo club. "She's not afraid to lift."

While no one outside of Dynamo may have thought a record would fall in the sixth heat of the 200 breast, Blanchard went into the race with that goal in mind. After going 2:12.1 unshaved two weeks earlier in a region meet, she reasoned that not only was Caulkins' mark of 2:11.46 within reach, but even a sub-2:10 which had been done only once before (Nagasaki's U.S. open mark of 2:09.76).

Blanchard got out almost as fast as Nagasaki's pace, 30.07 to 30.04, but fell 22-hundredths of a second behind the halfway record split of 1:03.08. The young American picked up her pace the third quarter, though, thanks to an underwater intercom from which she could hear her times and the excitement of the crowd. A blistering 32.53 third 50 put her 12-hundredths up on the record at 1:35.61. And instead of backing off the final part of her heat like most swimmers do in prelims, she stormed home in 33.45 for a time of 2:09.06.

"I wanted to get the record in the morning to take off the pressure in the final," she explained.

For the complete Swimming World Magazine article on the 1989 Short Course Championships, click here.

Premium online subscribers can view the entire 1989 May edition of the magazine, as well as any other edition of the magazine back to 1960. For more information on a premium subscription, please click here.

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