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Column by Erik Boal
PALO ALTO, California, August 6. THERE were no exorcisms taking place on the pool deck Friday night at the USA Swimming Long Course National Championships, but there were a lot of demons that had to be conquered for reigning champions Kathleen Hersey and Elizabeth Beisel.
Hersey, who entered the meet at Stanford University with the fastest time by an American this year in the 200-meter butterfly, wanted to ease the frustration of not qualifying for the finals at last week's FINA World Championships following a ninth-place tie in the semifinals.
Beisel, who captured national and Pan Pacific titles last year in the 200 backstroke, was looking to erase the memory of placing a disappointing fifth in Shanghai in a race that 16-year-old teammate Missy Franklin set the American record at 2 minutes, 5.10 seconds.
Both U.S. national teamers were not only able to quickly put the past behind them, but capture their third consecutive titles in their prominent events, giving them the confidence to move forward toward the goal of swimming in their next major international competition in 2012 in London.
Although Bluefish Swim Club's Beisel didn't post a faster time than any of her three swims in Shanghai, she captured her meet-leading third individual title in 2:08.81. Longhorn Aquatics' Hersey, who improved on both of her marks in China to win in 2:07.61, secured her fourth summer national championship in five years.
"Especially since I wasn't happy at all with how things turned out in Shanghai, I'm definitely pleased it all worked out here. I have no complaints. I needed closure, that's definitely the word," Beisel said. "I swam a different race than I did in Shanghai. I tried to split the race a lot differently, so I didn't make the same mistakes again."
Hersey addressed the areas in which she struggled mentally in Shanghai to pull away from the field in the final 150 meters, winning by nearly two seconds over Trojan Swim Club's Lyndsay DePaul (2:09.47).
"Going into the second 50, there was a moment where I almost started freaking out, which was exactly happened in Shanghai, but I just turned my mind off and let everything go blank, which is how it's supposed to be," Hersey said. "I would have swam faster in Shanghai if I had just done what I should have and let my body do the work. I knew it was such a wide-open field there and I was so consumed with the possibility of getting a medal that I just let it get away from me."
Beisel does have something Hersey is still seeking to add to her resume and that's a World Championships gold medal, which Beisel secured by winning the 400 individual medley Sunday in Shanghai. Hersey did win gold in the 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly and 400 IM at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil, but has only since captured an international bronze medal in the 200 butterfly at last year's Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif.
"When I was watching the final in Shanghai, I was so mad because I was like ‘I could've been right there,' since I had been preparing myself all year to go that fast," Hersey said. "But I feel like after coming back and winning this race, the mental work is done now. My next goal is to swim well in a 200 fly in a big international competition. I've had a lot of mishaps, but I want to prove that I'm not just happy to be there. I want to make an impact."
For Beisel, who will leave Sunday to attend a training camp in Colorado, her goal is firmly in place next year to challenge Franklin and the rest of her peers for the right to compete in another Olympics in the 200 backstroke.
"I still have that fire," Beisel said. "By going to this camp, especially when we're this tired, it's all about setting up a base for next year. We're trying to get one step ahead of the game."
Dwyer has learned from the best
Although Conor Dwyer represented Lake Forest Swim Club when he captured his first national title Friday in the 200 individual medley, he gave plenty of credit to world-record holder Ryan Lochte, whom he has benefited from training with during his senior year at Florida.
"He's got the best (underwaters) in the world, so if I can get on his level, I'll be OK," said Dwyer, who elevated to No. 15 in the world this year with his winning effort of 1:59.19.
"Training with Ryan, it's nice to know where you're at (in comparison) with the best."
Dwyer, along with fourth-place finisher and 18-and-under national champion David Nolan (2:01.14) of Hershey Swim Club, and perhaps reigning NCAA 200-yard IM champion Austin Staab – who is petitioning the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility after taking an unspecified leave of absence during the 2009-10 school year – give the U.S. several potential future hopefuls in the event after Lochte and Michael Phelps likely engage in one final battle for supremacy at the London Olympics.
"Down the line in the future, I can see myself doing it," Dwyer said. "Right now, it's all about getting stronger in all four strokes."
Weber-Gale makes amends
Garrett Weber-Gale took it personally when the American men took bronze in the 400 freestyle relay in Shanghai, using the words "angry", "embarrassed" and "disappointed" after producing a 48.33 split on the second leg, the slowest of the quartet that included Michael Phelps , Jason Lezak and Nathan Adrian.
But after anchoring the 400 medley relay in prelims in 47.32, later securing a gold medal when the U.S. held off Australia in the final, Weber-Gale felt a renewed confidence to come to Palo Alto and challenge for the national title in the 100 freestyle.
Following a third-place finish Thursday in the 50 free, Weber-Gale rallied from a narrow deficit Friday at the turn to capture his first 100 free championship since 2008 with a mark of 48.87, just ahead of fellow Longhorn Aquatics standout Jimmy Feigen (48.99).
"I'm just happy going into a final against such a great group of guys and being able to find a way to win," Weber-Gale said. "After I time-trialed the 100 in Shanghai and then swimming as fast as I did on the medley relay, I felt like everything was OK. I'm just happy to be here racing against the best in the country."
Hansen headed in right direction
Brendan Hansen was tired of watching Shark Week on TV in his hotel room, so the Longhorn Aquatics veteran decided to compete in a time trial of the 100 breaststroke Friday in between the prelims and finals, looking to take another shot at breaking the 1-minute barrier in only his second meet since his return to the pool in December.
Just like in Tuesday's championship race, Hansen was victorious, but just missed dipping under 1 minute, prevailing in 1:00.19, ahead of SwimMAC Carolina's Kevin Swander (1:00.32) and Trojan Swim Club's Mike Alexandrov (1:00.36).
"Had I gone 59.1, I would've been pissed off because I would've been like ‘Why couldn't I do that on Tuesday?' But obviously this is where I'm supposed to be and that's fine," Hansen said. "This was light years better than the other two swims (Tuesday), which is encouraging. The only way I'm going to get better is to keep racing, that's why I'll go to Japan or Australia or you might see me at some rinky-dink meet because it helps me find out what I have to do in order to get better."
Hansen, who hasn't decided if he's going to attend the Pan American Games in October in Guadalajara, Mexico, is scheduled to compete Saturday in the 200 breaststroke. Hansen is targeting the country's fastest time this year of 2:09.28 produced by Eric Shanteau (not competing at Stanford) during his fourth-place swim in Shanghai.
"The goal is the same goal as when I left in 2008. I want to put U.S. breaststroking back on the board because I plan on racing the best," Hansen said. "The best way for me to show how serious I am about coming back is not by talking about it, but by going out and doing it and then talking about it afterward."