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Beard, Kirk Earn Olympic Berths in Wild 100-meter Breaststroke  -- July 9, 2004 Tara Kirk & Amanda Beard check the clock after the 100 Breast

By Phillip Whitten

LONG BEACH, Calif., July 9. THE problem for the US in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke is one many countries would love to have:too much talent.

At least six young women entered tonight’s final with a legitimate shot at making the US Olympic team. Stacianna Stitts had posted the top prelim time, 1:07.20, the third-fastest time in the world this year. As it turned out, that would have won the final.

After the semis, it was Tara Kirk – the short course world record-holder -- who ranked first off her 1:07.33. Amanda Beard was second in 1:07.54, while Stitts, who had a poor start, was third.

The field was d-e-e-p…deep! It included 2000 Olympic gold medallist Megan Quann, the American record-holder; 2000 Olympic silver medallist at 200 meters, Kristy Kowal; and local favorite, Jessica Hardy, who set a national high school record this year and was named female “High School Swimmer of the Year” by Swimming World magazine.

With nothing to lose it was Hardy, the high school junior, who took the race out first, splitting 31.57 seconds at the 50, just off the world record pace of 31.40 by Australia’s Leisel Jones. Beard followed at 31.72, with Kirk (31.76), Quann (31.80) and Stitts (31.81) breathing down her neck.

Hardy held on to the lead until the 90-meter mark, when she faltered. Sensing an opening, the more experienced Beard, Kirk, Quann and Stitts swept by.

At the wall it was Beard in 1:07.64, with Kirk five-hundredths behind. Quann came oh-so-close at 1:07.80, followed by Stitts (1:08.00) and Hardy (1:08.29).

An elated Kirk commented: “It was ugly, but it was very competitive and a very good race.”

A dejected Megan Quann reflected: “It was so close, by one-tenth…it was so close. It came down to the last second.”

As for the winner, Amanda Beard, she had to warm down and get the lactic acid out of her system. After all, she was swimming in the semifinals of the very next women’s race.

Results: US Olympic Trials Final