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Feature by Jason Marsteller
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 28. FOUR years after the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics, Russia returned the favor at the 1984 Olympics hosted in Los Angeles. That didn't seem to bother the American swimmers during their Trials in Indianapolis, Ind., as fast times went up with regularity. Add in the fact that 1984 was the first year countries were only allowed to send two swimmers, and the tension was palpable.
Tonight, the likes of Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin and Dana Vollmer will do battle in the women's 200 free for the Trials title and relay positioning. In 1984, the swimmers did not have the luxury of relay spots as the women's 800 freestyle relay first made its way to the Olympic schedule in 1996. That year's women's 200 free proved to have the closest finish in Trials finals history in the event as Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead pipped Mary Wayte, 2:00.11 to 2:00.15, for a .04-second victory.
Woodhead, a 20-year-old from Trojan Swim Club in 1984, was the fastest American freestyler at the time, but it took digging down deep to beat 19-year-old Wayte to the wall. The top three proved to be remarkably close as well, as Marybeth Linzmeier missed the squad with a 2:00.56, just behind the top two.
“I've had a lot of ups and downs,” Woodhead said. “Luckily, this is an 'up.' ”
Woodhead had some concerns heading into her second swim, after qualifying well back of the lead pack with a 10th-place effort in the women's 100 free the day before. She was definitely on an emotional rollercoaster heading into the 200 free.
“When I got back to my room that night, my roommate (Mary Birdsell) really let me have it,” Woodhead said. “She made me think of just positive things. She would ask me what time I wanted to do in the 200 free, and I would focus on that.”
After qualifying behind Wayte in prelims, 2:00.55 to 2:00.32, Woodhead knew she had some work to do.
“My strategy for the finals was to kick the last 50 as hard as I could,” Woodhead said. “My biggest problem to overcome was concentration–just getting in the pool and concentrating on what I'm doing.”
Luckily for her, Woodhead put on the steam early in the race and had enough to hold on to the finish, after turning with a 58.37 at the 100-meter mark.
“At the end, I thought, 'I'm dying, I can feel it, but I'm just going to concentrate on my kick,' ” she said. “For once in three years, I didn't panic. I felt like I was dreaming when I finished. I'm so happy – I don't know what I feel. Making the Olympic team is very important to me. There's a lot of things I've sacrificed. As much as I've tried to play it down, I think this means more to me than anything else in my career.”