By John Lohn
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, July 31. ONE of the distinguishing characteristics of the IU Natatorium at IUPUI, a 4,700-seat facility, is the famed Wall of Names. Located at the diving-board end of the facility, the wall features the names of all athletes who have qualified for an Olympic Games through the years in swimming, diving and synchronized swimming.
With the Olympic Trials now sporting crowds of 10,000, the IUPUI Natatorium may not have the chance to again host the do-or-die event that it's best known for accommodating. The last U.S. Olympic Trials were held in Long Beach while next year's version will be held in Omaha. However, the last Trials here is worth noting.
In 2000, the competition served as the coming-out party for several individuals who have become international staples for the Red, White and Blue, including Michael Phelps. A 15-year-old rising star seven years ago, Phelps punched his ticket to Sydney with a late flourish in the 200-meter butterfly that landed a second-place finish to Tom Malchow. Now, of course, Phelps can be considered the greatest swimmer in history.
Beyond Phelps, the Olympic Trials of 2000 witnessed breakthrough performances by Klete Keller, Ian Crocker and Aaron Peirsol on the male side. While Keller is the American-record holder in the 400 freestyle, Crocker holds the world record in the 100 butterfly. As for Peirsol, he's the world-record holder in the 100 backstroke and reigning Olympic champ in the 100 and 200 back events.
The events of seven years ago also featured a handful of here-I-am announcements from the American women, headlined by Megan Jendrick, known then by her maiden name of Quann. The youngster parlayed her Trials experience into a gold medal at the Sydney Games. Of course, Jendrick remains a power player internationally, evidenced by her silver medal in the 200 breaststroke at the World Championships in Melbourne. Also joining in the party was Kaitlin Sandeno, who earned her trip to Sydney by winning the 400 individual medley.
**If you're wondering why a handful of the top American stars are not showing up in the results, remember that several athletes have decided to travel to Europe for an invitational event in Paris. Among the U.S. guns who decided to venture to France was Aaron Peirsol, who has posted a number of top-flight swims during the summer.
Coming off a 1:55 clocking in the 200 backstroke at the Texas Senior Circuit Championships, don't be surprised if Peirsol makes a run at reclaiming his world record in that event while across the pond. At the World Champs, Ryan Lochte took the global standard down to 1:54.32. Peirsol was the silver medalist to Lochte in Melbourne, but took gold in the 100 back with a clocking of 52.98, the first sub-53 effort in history. Peirsol has also delivered some fine showings in the 200 butterfly during the summer.
Scheduled to begin Thursday, the competition in Paris also includes Amanda Beard, making her first international showing since winning gold in the 200 breaststroke at the Athens Olympics. The American contingent also features sprinter Jason Lezak and the backstroke tandem of Randall Bal and Margaret Hoelzer.
**One of the brighter developments of the morning was the news that Nort Thornton has been reinstated as the head coach at California-Berkeley. Last week, the school announced that Thornton retired from his official post of head coach, which was true, although he was planning to stay on as the volunteer head coach. The school, though, was not going to allow Thornton to follow his plan. Consequently, he was shown the door. Now, the chancellor has become involved and Thornton is back in the fold.
During his tenure, Thornton has routinely guided squads ranked among the elite in the nation. That the school even considered dismissing the man is ridiculous, let alone actually letting him go. But, at least the university got it right in the end and retained a man who has contributed much to Cal and the athletes he has molded through the years.
**Swim of the Morning: We'll give the nod to Dana Vollmer for the 2:09.82 effort she uncorked in the 200 butterfly. The time was the fastest of the morning and the only mark under 2:10. Best known for her prowess in the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle, Vollmer showed the ability to handle the longer of the fly events.
**The only event for Michael Phelps on the first day of action wasn't one of his familiar disciplines. Mixing up his schedule this week, Phelps got rolling with the 200 breaststroke. The Club Wolverine star, who won seven gold medals and set five world records at the World Champs, qualified 11th, good for a place in the consolation final. Phelps went 2:15.81 in his off event.
World-record holder Brendan Hansen breezed through the morning as the top seed in the 200 breast. Hansen eased his way to a time of 2:11.50, exactly three seconds off his world-record time from last year's Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, Canada. Expect Hansen to press the pace at night and take aim at his global mark.
**The preliminary session wasn't interrupted, but a brief power outage tossed a wrinkle into the morning. During the second heat of the women's 200 butterfly, the lights (except that brought in by the sun) and scoreboard went black. Due to the sunlight, heats continued smoothly, although it took a few minutes for the scoreboard to return to working order.