By Phillip Whitten
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, August 3. WHAT kind of national championship could it be? Only a week after the World Championships in Barcelona, most of the US National Team will be taking a break. On top of that, the US National "B" Team will be off in Santo Domingo at the Pan American Games. So what kind of national championship could it be?
Turns out, a pretty good one.
A number of the members of the World Championships team, headlined by Michael Phelps, have decided to compete at the 2003 ConocoPhillips USA Summer National Championships, to be held August 5-9 in College Park, Maryland. On top of that, there are several high-profile swimmers making comebacks for next year. Throw in a horde of hungry youngsters along with very strong contingents from France and Canada, and you have the makings of a top-flight nationals.
Michael Phelps will swim only one of his individual events from Barcelona — the 200 IM, though it's hard to imagine how he could improve on his 1:56.04. But he's entered the 200 and 400 frees and, most intriguingly, the 200 back where he reportedly will take dead aim at Aaron Peirsol's world record.
The incomparable Jenny Thompson has also entered, though only the 50 free.
Other World Championship swimmers entered include Maritza Correia, Maddie Crippen, Tara Kirk, Rachel Komisarz, Kristy Kowal, Diana Munz, Gabrielle Rose, Randall Bal, Chad Carvin, Dave Denniston, Larsen Jensen, Ed Moses, Neil Walker, Tom Wilkens and Ryan Wochomurka.
The comebackers to watch include Olympians Brooke Bennett, Misty Hyman, Kaitlin Sandeno and Jeff Rouse — all but Rouse returning after shoulder surgery. Bennett, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, has been making slow but steady progress but still appears some months away from regaining top form.
Hyman, the 2000 Olympic champ in the 200 fly, is rounding nicely into shape after almost a two-year absence, and should be among the top contenders in both fly events. Sandeno, too, has shown impressive improvement this spring and summer and appears to be ready to take her place again as one of the nation's toughest and most versatile swimmer.
Rouse, at 33 the oldest man in the meet (34 year-old Peggy Gross is the oldest woman), has been making impressive strides as he strives to make his third US Olympic team. A three-time Olympic gold medalist who retired after the 1996 Games, Rouse should be able to dip under 56 seconds in the 100 back. He comes to College Park seeded fifth at 56.15.
The meet will also serve as a test for double Olympic gold medalist Megan Quann, who has been in a slump the last two years.
The women's distance events boast the toughest fields. Diana Munz, Adrienne Binder, Kalyn Keller, Canadian phenom Brittany Reimer, Alyssa Kiel, Kaitlin Sandeno, Sara McLarty, Rachael Burke, Brooke Bennett and Rachel Komisarz all have legitimate shots at winning.
Among the most promising youngsters to watch: Andrea Axtell (Circle C), Emily Goetsch (North Baltimore), Julia Smit (3 Village), Molly Houlton (Tucson Ford), Mike Klueh (Carmel) and Max Jaben (K.C. Blazers).
Some events are loaded with top foreign swimmers. The top three entrants in the women's 200 back and three of the top four in the 100 back are foreign swimmers.