By Kari Lydersen
Oklahoma City, OK – Ashley Tappin got a nice birthday present at the Kerr-McGee Nike Pro-Am on December 18, just as she has the past two years. Celebrating her twenty-fifth birthday, Tappin won the women’s 50 yard freestyle shoot-out at the meet, with a special purse of $1,500. Two years ago Tappin won the first shoot-out and collected a $6,000 purse–it was the first meet in her comeback and helped convince her to continue training. Then last year she finished second behind Jenny Thompson and also collected prize money.
This year Tappin beat Naoko Imoto, a Japanese Olympian and SMU graduate, with a time of 22.76 to Imoto’s 23.35. In the shoot-out, the top eight qualifiers from the 50 free prelims swim four one-on-one heats, with the winners meeting in two semi-final heats. The two semi-final winners then go head-to-head in the final.
Tappin had won the two earlier rounds handily as well, with times of 23.23 and 22.87. Her 50 free win gave Tappin three wins in Oklahoma City, as she earlier won the 100 fly and 200 free.
“I love doing these,” said Tappin, who plans to use the money to pay her quarterly taxes. “It’s a lot of fun for me. I swim faster and faster as I go, so this works well.”
South Africa’s Brendon Dedekind, a Florida State student, won the men’s shoot-out with a time of 19.31 seconds, defeating Neil Walker by eight hundredths of a second. Walker set a meet and pool record in the 100 back the same evening, with his time of 46.69 almost three seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Walker broke Sabir Muhammad’s marks set in 1997.
“I’m real happy with the time [in the 50],” said Dedekind, noting that he finished his last exam to complete his electrical engineering degree just the day before the meet. “I was coming off a stressful week and didn’t feel good at first,” he said. “But the format of the shoot-out really helps. It helps you focus more and your muscles stay warm.”
The evening also included a meet record by SMU grad Katie McClelland, who won the 200 breast in 2:11.88 to break the pool and meet record set by Penny Heyns in 1997. B.J. Bedford easily won the 100 back in 53.58, more than two seconds ahead of Lia Oberstar.
Japan’s Imoto won the 500 free in 4:50.66, and Natalie Coughlin swam away with her third win when she took the 200 IM in 1:59.00, close to her unshaved best. She said her performance here has shown she is recovering well from a shoulder injury she suffered last spring. “I lost a lot of endurance and technique-wise,” she said, “but I think I’m back on track.”
Josh Davis won the men’s 500 free handily in 4:22.52 to add to his 200 free win on the first day of competition. Earlier in the evening he won a close race with Ron Karnaugh in the 200 IM (1:47.09 to 1:48.18). The two recently spent some time training together in Austin, Texas. After the medley, Karnaugh went on to win the 200 breast in 2:00.64. He said he was very happy with his swims considering he had just arrived at midnight the night before, after an all-day interview for a surgical residency at the Los Angeles County Hospital.
“My training’s going well,” said Karnaugh. “I feel strong in the water. This is the first time in four months I’ve competed, so these were really respectable swims.” Karnaugh, Tappin and Davis all had high praise for the shoot-out format and the meet in general. “This is, by far, my favorite meet to come to,” said Karnaugh. “I enjoy it even more than nationals. They treat us so well here.”
Davis said other teams and regions should emulate Oklahoma City in putting on top-notch regional meets that attract Olympic-level competitors. “If Oklahoma City can pull this off with only a handful of officials and parents, then there are a ton of other regions that could do this too. It just takes a little imagination and sacrifice. $50,000 or so in prize money isn’t that much for a community to raise, and it brings in some of the top national team swimmers and gives the high school kids a chance to race them. That could be invaluable in their careers.”
Davis said that while the money should never figure too strongly in someone’s motivation, it is a nice bonus. “You should never be racing purely for money,” he said. “But when I’m racing Ron Karnaugh for $600, that adds a lot.” Davis notes that he has a young son and daughter, adding “$500 buys a lot of diapers!”