By Phillip Whitten
AUSTIN, Texas, March 28. AS if Auburn needed any assistance in bringing the men’s team title down to that sunny, little suburb of Oppelika, Alabama, the Tiger women’s team arrived in force tonight to cheer for their male counterparts. Most drove all the way (though there are rumors of a several-day Spring Break stop down Corpus Christi way).
The women had come to the Lone Star State to ensure that the Auburn men would complete the sweep they started a week ago. Though the gesture was thoughtful, and the Lady Tigers added several decibels to the Auburn cheering section, they could have saved the gas. It would take a bolt from the blue to stop the Tigers after Day Two of the Men’s NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. This is a team of destiny.
Of course, no championship is ever won on paper, and as Yogi Berra so poignantly pointed out, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Or was that: “until the Fat Lady sings”? Anyway, the Fat Lady, she ain’t sung a note yet. Not officially-wise. But a whole platoon of 350-pound corpulent mamas can be heard warbling in the halls. They ready!
Still, Marsh, Brackin & Co. weren’t counting any chickens. They have too much respect for the likes of Texas, Stanford and Cal, and they urged their troops on to keep on rolling up the points. The Tigers responded. By the end of Day Two, Auburn boasted a 167-point lead, 449 to 282 over Texas, with Stanford only 10 points behind. Cal occupies the fourth position (238) followed by USC (190). Florida (171), Minnesota (160), Arizona (123), Michigan (105) and Georgia (88).
Tellingly, Auburn almost doubled its lead despite the fact that it failed to win a single event tonight while Texas won five!! Here’s how it went…
200 yard medley relay
The ‘Horns qualified first, but that meant nothing. Five teams had a legitimate shot at winning the 200 medley relay and it would be an all-out battle.
Aaron Peirsol gave Texas the lead with his 21.49-second opening backstroke leg, a fingernail ahead of Stanford’s Peter Marshall (21.51) and Minnesota’s Todd Smolinski (21.54). Bryce Hunt could manage only a 22.30 for Auburn, leaving them floundering in sixth place.
Brendan Hansen added to the Texas lead, as the partisan crowd cheered him on. Hansen split 23.59, as Texas reached the halfway point in 45.08. The NCAA/American record of 1:24.47 set by – uh, huh — Texas, in 2001 was in jeopardy.
Auburn’s Pat Calhoun turned in a 23.88 breaststroke split, the only other sub-24 second effort to pull the Tigers into fourth place (46.18) behind Minnesota (45.88) and defending champion Stanford (46.06).
Then the Tigers got to work. Frenchman Fred Bousquet turned in the fastest fly split, 20.21, to boost the Tigers past Stanford and Minnesota, but Texas countered with Daniel DiToro’s 20.35. With 50 yards left to go, Texas led by just over a second with Ian Crocker swimming anchor.
Crocker was up to the challenge, swimming a sizzling 19.03 – enough to hold off Derek Gibb’s phenomenal 18.57 anchor for Auburn. Crocker’s split was precisely enough to give the ‘Horns the victory and a new American and NCAA mark of 1:24.46 – one-hundredth under the old mark.
More good news for the ‘Horns: the entire team will be back in 2004.
400 yard individual medley
The 400 IM was one of the premier events of the championship, as Olympic silver medalist and NCAA defending champion Erik Vendt, of USC, was set to challenge the 3:40 barrier, pierced only by Michigan’s Tom Dolan. Even Dolan’s sacrosanct 1995 record of 3:38.18 was in Vendt’s sights.
But there was another guy in the race – Georgia’s Robert Margalis – who wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel before the race began.
In lane 8, Arizona’s Juan Veloz, a surprise finalist, took the fly out in 50.16. Vendt was third in 51.25 while Margalis was tied for fourth in 51.42.
Then Vendt put the pedal to the metal, splitting 55.12 for the backstroke to open up some clear water between himself and the rest of the field. The crowd sensed a challenge to Dolan’ record. Meanwhile Margalis remained in fourth, 1.58 seconds off the pace, as Veloz held on in second place and Florida’s Ryan Lochte turned third.
Vendt is a world-class breaststroker, and as he chugged down the pool for his first two laps of breaststroke, he lengthened his lead on the field. But Margalis came off the wall at the 250-yard mark re-energized and swam 30.77 for his second 50 of breast, giving him an astounding 1:01.82 to Vendt’s 1:02.48.
All of a sudden, we had a race. Vendt still had nearly a full-second lead, and appeared to have the race in hand. After all, he came from behind to beat Margalis in the 500 last night. But the Georgian wasn’t burdened by the past.
Margalis split 25.92 for his first 50 yards of freestyle to Vendt’s 26.13. Still, with 50 yards to go, Vendt’s 77-hundredths of a second lead seemed more than enough to give the Trojan the win.
Margalis thought otherwise. He caught Vendt at the 375-yard turn and the two battled stroke-for-stroke down the final lap. The lunged for the wall and… Margalis got there first. Robert Margalis won in an incredible upset by 3-hundredths as both men cracked 3:40. Margalis clocked 3:39.92 to Vendt’s 3:39.95, becoming the #2 and #3 performers, respectively, all-time.
A few minutes later, an elated Margalis said: “It feels great. It’s huge for my confidence. I always knew I had it in me, and now everyone knows.”
Margalis described the race like this: “I went out as relaxed as I could in the fly and saw a couple of guys ahead of me. I lost contact a bit in the back, but I expected that; it was weak this morning too. In the breaststroke I stayed in contact for the first 50. When I came off the turn I felt really good and began to get excited. That’s when I knew I had a chance to win.
“When I turned into the free, I felt strong and began to throw in my kick. I knew it would come down to Erik and me for the win.
“I knew Erik was tough. He doesn’t like to go down, and I knew he wouldn’t go down easy. Feeling a rush of energy, I gave it everything I had in the last 50. I kept my stroke long and strong and got him at the wall.
100 yard butterfly
Texas’ Ian Crocker was the top qualifier at 45.76, the only man under 46 seconds. The American and NCAA record-holder, he was the favorite to reprise his title from 2002. The man from Maine did not disappoint.
Taking the race out hard, Crocker split 21.01 at the 50. Cal’s Duje Draganja was second at 21.15 with Arizona’s Luis Rojas a surprise third at 21.32.
Crocker drew away from the field on the third leg as the crowd implored him to break his record of 45.44. But he tied up at the very end and touched in 45.67 – the third fastest time in history. Rojas, a Venezuelan, came storming through for second in 46.01, with Draganja out-touching his Cal teammate, Mike Cavic, for third, 46.40 to 46.41.
200 yard freestyle
The 200 free looked to be a total toss-up. With only eight tenths of a second separating the eight finalists, any one of them had a legitimate shot – except, perhaps the young man in lane 8. The race would go to whoever wanted it most.
Florida’s Adam Sioui, the defending champion swimming in lane 7, wanted to repeat. Texas’ Chris Kemp, who swam the fastest 200 at last year’s NCAAs in winning the consols, wanted it too. So did top qualifier Dan Ketchum of Michigan, the top ualifier at 1:34.84.
Kemp’s strategy was to go out first and hang on. “If he stays with the field for the first 100, he won’t win,” said Josh Davis, USA Swimming team captain and leading Longhorn cheerleader.
Kemp went out first, turning at 22.06 with Cal’s Joe Bruckart second at 22.13.
All eight swimmers split 46s at the 100, with Kemp (46.14) and Bruckart (46.22), holding onto the top spots. Over in lane 8, Arizona’s Simon Burnett (who???) turned third in 46.32.
Then Simon Who made his move in classic Outside Smoke fashion, totally outside the ken of everyone else. He turned first at the 150 in 1:10.20, followed by Bruckart (1:10.44) and Kemp (12:10.45).
Would the guy in lane 8 fade? Would he fold like an accordion?
Not a chance.
Young Mr. Burnett shifted into overdrive and pulled away with a 23.49 second final 50 to – improbably – give him the win in a very fast 1:33.69. Kemp salvaged second in 1:34.40, just ahead of a fast-closing Ketchum (1:34.52).
It turns out, explained Arizona head man Frank Busch, that Simon Burnett is an 18 year-old freshman from Britain, who joined the Wildcats only last January. He just made his NCAA cuts (1:36.15) at pac-10s, then swam last week at the British Nationals, finishing third in a 1:51+ . “He shaved for the first time ever for this meet” said Busch.
“He’s got a great feel for the water and great potential,” said Busch of the young man who split 46.32 – 47.37.
Only a day ago, no one knew Simon Burnett’s name. I suspect few will forget it from here on.
100 yard breaststroke
Like his teammate Ian Crocker, Texas’ Brendan Hansen was expected to win his event. The double defending champion and top qualifier, this was his race to lose.
Like Crocker, he did not disappoint.
Leading all the way and splitting 24.49 at the 50, the Longhorn junior responded with the second-fastest 100 yard breaststroke in history, a meet record 51.96. Only Jeremy Linn’s 51.86 from the 1997 SECs is faster.
Auburn’s Pat Calhoun was a distant second in 53.03, while USC’s Mihaly Flaskas, a Hungarian, took third.
Auburn finished second (Calhoun), fourth (Justin Caron), fifth (Will Brandt) and seventh (Mark Gangloff) to amass 58 points.
100 yard backstroke
Aaron Peirsol, a Texas freshman, was ranked #1 in the world last year in the 100 meter backstroke. But the race at NCAAs is about 10 yards shorter and has three turns rather than one.
Those minor differences were sufficient to give the win to Stanford's Peter Marshall, the defending champion, who notched the Cardinal's first individual title of 2003.
Marshall led all the way, splitting 22.14 and powering home to jam the pads in 45.57, 14-hundredths ahead of Peirsol. Interestingly, both men were slower than yesterday in leading off their 400 yard medley relay teams.
Cal's Alex Lim, second last year, was third in 46.59.
In its best event performance thus far, Stanford scored 56 points, placing first (Marshall), fourth (Randall Bal), seventh (Dan Westcott) and ninth (Jayme Cramer).
800 yard freestyle relay
Texas won its fourth event of the day — and the third of four relay events swum thus far — with an authoritative victory in the 800 free relay.
The team of Aaron Peirsol (1:34.57 — the kid's got potential in the freestyle), John Suchand (1:35.66), Rainer Kendrick (1:34.66) and Chris Kemp (1:33.73, the fastest split in the event) touched in 6:18.62 — the third-fatest time ever swum for the event.
Florida was second in 6:20.54, with Michigan third (6:20.78) and Auburn fourth (6:22.16).
Auburn's George Bovell, who set an NCAA record yesterday in the 200 IM, had the fastest leadoff split at 1:34.14 — a time that would have placed second in the 200 free.