By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 29. OCCASSIONALLY, a handful of swimmers can take it easy during the morning preliminaries, doing just enough to advance to the night's semifinals or, in some cases, the finals. Well, the women's 400 individual medley was not an event in which the athletes had the luxury of taking a coaster.
One of the deepest fields on the female side, the 400 I.M. required a time of 4:43.20 just to return for the championship heat and four women cracked 4:40 in the A.M. Most countries would be thrilled to have one or two swimmers capable of that kind of time. Not in the U.S. Here, sub-4:40 has become a shrug of the shoulders, as crazy as that statement may sound. Look for more than four women to go under 4:40 tonight.
Two-time defending world champion Katie Hoff looks to be in position to reclaim her global standard in the event after popping a Trials record time of 4:34.59 in her opening swim. Hoff will have Stephanie Rice's world mark of 4:31.46 in her sights tonight and a time of 4:30 is not out of the question. Dare we even say she could go 4:29?
The 12th-place finisher at the 2007 World Championships in the 200 backstroke, Elizabeth Beisel dropped the hammer in the penultimate heat. Beisel was under world-record pace for the first half of her race before slowing to register a time of 4:35.76, almost a second under what she clocked last month for a personal best.
Also going under 4:40 during the morning were Julia Smit and Caitlin Leverenz. Smit, a power at Stanford University, won the ninth heat with a swim of 4:37.19 and Leverenz, a contender in the 200 breast among other events, touched the pads in 4:38.96. Leverenz is considered one of the top young stars in the U.S.
World Champs qualifier Ariana Kukors advanced to the final in the fifth position as she registered a mark of 4:40.36. The rest of the field for the championship heat will include Alicia Aemisegger (4:42.72), Julie Stupp (4:42.92) and Kathleen Hersey (4:43.20). Kaitlin Sandeno, the silver medalist in the event in Athens, did not qualify for the final.