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Preview: 1999 Pan Pacific Championships - Women's Events -- August 20, 1999

By Phillip Whitten

The Pan Pacific Championships, to be held August 22-29 at next year's Olympic pool in Sydney, is the pre-eminent swimming competition in the world this year. Times have been fast all season and there are expectations for a superfast meet just a little more than a year before the 2000 Games. For the American women, hopes are high for a world record in the 100 meter butterfly (Jenny Thompson). No American woman has set a world record since 1992, when Jenny Thompson went 54.48 in the 100 free and Anita Nall swam 2:25.35 in the 200 breast.

This is the second article in a two-part series that previews the Pan Pacs. In this article we look at the women's events.

The women's meet shapes up as a battle between the U.S.A. and Japan, with Australia winning at least the 200 fly and South Africa's Penny Heyns assuming a starring role. The Chinese are an unknown factor since they announced three weeks ago they were reducing their team from 20 to five swimmers--two men and three women. The three women competing in Sydney were not named.

Four or five women's world records are vulnerable, including the two oldest and most venerating marks on the books. Here is a rundown on the events in which world records may fall.

Women's 100 meter freestyle
A world record is unlikely but possible...and if it happened, it would be replete with irony. In 1992, Jenny Thompson set the world mark at 54.48. That was blown away in 1994 by China's Le Jingyi, whose 54.01 is almost universally believed to have been enhanced by drugs. Now Thompson is on a tear. Her 54.66 at Nationals, unrested and unshaved, is her best time in seven years. She definitely should lower that time in Sydney, but two-thirds of a second may be too much to ask. Unlike at U.S. Nationals, Thompson should have some company. Japan's Suzu Chiba set a national record 54.99 earlier this year.

Women's 100 meter breaststroke
South Africa's Penny Heyns twice lowered her own world mark of 1:07.02 this year. At the Janet Evans Invitational on July 18, in the prelims, she clocked 1:06.99, then came back and swam 1:06.95 in finals. That was unrested and unshaved. She should go faster in Sydney. Challenging Heyns will be Japan's Masami Tanaka (1:08.86), the short course world champion; the USA pair of Kristy Kowal (1:09.57), the 1998 world champion and 15-year-old Megan Quann (1:08.70); and Australia's 1994 world champion, Samantha Riley. South African youngster Sarah Poewe (1:09.43) may be inspired by her countrywoman.

Women's 200 meter breaststroke
Again, the story should be Heyns, who twice broke Australian Rebecca Brown's world record (2:24.76) on July 17--first swimming 2:24.69, then 2:24.51. Shaved and rested, she may crack 2:24.

Heyns is three seconds faster than the next-fastest woman in the world, so the battle should be for silver...and a spirited battle it should be. Japan's Tanaka, who set a world short course record in Hong Kong, leads a squad of four Rising Daughters who are 2:29.0 or better, with Fumiko Kawanabe second best at 2:28.28. Kowal (2:28.60) and Quann or Crippen will be in the hunt, as will Australia's Riley, the 1994 world champion, and Caroline Hildredth. South Africa's Poewe is even better in the 200 than the 100.

Women's 100 meter butterfly
Jenny Thompson may finally erase Mary T. Meagher's indelibly-etched name from the record books in this event. In 1981, Madame Butterfly swam 57.93--when no one before her had ever broken 59-seconds. Last week, J.T. swam the second fastest time ever, 58.15, unshaved and unrested at Nationals. Thomson will also have the benefit of a very fast field including Misty Hyman (58.89), Japan's Ayari Aoyama (59.77, but sub-59 last year) and Aussies Susie O'Neill and Petria Thomas. If China's Liu Limin (59.15) competes--she reportedly is regarded as a "has-been" by the Chinese federation--the field will be even tougher.

Women's 200 meter butterfly
At that same Nationals in 1981, Mary T. set a second record--2:05.96 in the 200 fly--that, too, has remained inviolable for nearly two decades. Now, it, too, is under attack, this time from Australia's Susie O'Neill who last year clocked 2:06.60--second fastest ever--in winning her sixth event at Commonwealth Games. Susie is taking dead aim at Mary T.'s mark, but unlike Jenny Thompson in the 100, she may have to do it herself. O'Neill is a good two to three seconds faster than the field, though Misty Hyman and others may take the first 100 out faster than the Aussie whiz. Liu has the world's second fastest time this year (2:09.34), but probably won't be in Sydney. Canada's Jessica Deglau (2:09.64), Japan's Maki Mita (2:09.64), Hyman (2:10.17) and Australia's Petria Thomas (2:10.41) should contend for the silver.

Other Events
Here's how the remaining events stack up.

Women's 50 meter freestyle
With Amy Van Dyken home nursing her shoulder, Thompson (25.47) is the top seed, just ahead of Japan's Sumika Minamoto (25.58). Panama's Eileen Coparrapa (25.78) should be in medal contention along with America's B.J. Bedford and Australia's Rebecca Creedy.

Women's 200 meter freestyle
If Costa Rican 1998 World Champion Claudia Poll (2:01.61 this year) shows up fit and ready to do battle, she'll be the favorite...but not by much. Japan's Suzu Chiba has the world's top time this year (1:58.78), with Australia's O'Neill (1:59.11) not far behind. Lindsay Benko (1:59.72) gets better every time she gets wet, and Thompson (2:00.19) should never be counted out of any race.

Women's 400 meter freestyle
With top Americans Diana Munz (auto accident) and Kaitlin Sandeno (selection criteria) absent, the top seed is Benko (4:11.05). Brooke Bennett, silver medalist in this event in Perth, will be looking to avenge her defeat at Benko's hands last week, and Poll, if she's ready to swim fast, could be fastest of all. China's Chen Hua, if she shows up, will be in the thick of things, though she's better at short course. Canada's Joanne Malar, though known for her IM, is seeded only a second behind Benko.

Women's 800 meter freestyle
Munz and Sandeno are the two fastest Yanks this year, but the Stars and Stripes will be well represented by Brooke Bennett (8:36.12s), the 1998 World Champion. Five other likely competitors--Australia's Rachel Harris, Japan's Sachiko Yamada, Canada's Malar, America's Cristina Teuscher, and China's Chen--have swum sub 8:40 this year.

Women's 100 meter backstroke
The Japanese dominate in this event, with the world's top two swimmers this year--Noriko Inada (1:01.06) and Mai Nakamura (1:01.07)--and four of the top nine. B.J. Bedford (1:01.89) is the best hope for the U.S., with Canada's Kelly Stefanyshyn (1:02.14) a medal possibility. Australia's fastest dorsal swimmer is Giaan Rooney (1:02.91).

Women's 200 meter backstroke
If anything, the Japanese are even more dominanat in the 200 than the 100 back, ranking first, third, fourth, sixth and eighth. Nakao leads the way at 2:10.32, followed by Tomoko Hagiwara (2:11.96) and Nakamura (2:12.09). Lindsay Benko swam 2:12.25 to stake her claim, Bedford went 2:13 but looks to go faster, and Natalie Coughlin swam 2:12 last year but has been battling injuries this year. Stefanyshyn swam 2:13.24 at Pan Ams.

Women's 200 meter Individual Medley
This event should go to Canada's Joanne Malar (2:14.18), with second place a battle among Hagiwara (2:15.71), Canada's Marianne Limpert (2:16.09), Korea's Hee-Yun Cho (2:16.09) and the USA's Cristina Teuscher (2:16.50). Again, a healthy Coughlin could be a factor, and Jenny Thompson is always a threat in this event when she chooses to swim it.

Women's 400 meter Individual Medley
Canada's Malar is head and shoulders above the rest of the field this year with her winning Pan Am time of 4:38.46, but Japan's Yasuko Tajima (4:45.23) was under 4:40 last year and reportedly is swimming well. Teuscher (4:46.33) and Crippen (4:48.38) are both capable of going in the low 4:40s, perhaps better, and Korea's Cho may improve on her national record 4:47.74.

Women's 4 x 100 meter medley relay
This shapes up as a match-up between the USA and Japan. The Yanks probably will go with Bedford, Kowal, Hyman and Thompson, with Japan fielding Inada, Tanaka, Aoyama and Chiba. The US has a slight edge in what should be a very close race.

Women's 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay
Another battle between the US and Japan. Traditionally, US depth has pulled this race out, but this year the two nations are evenly matched.

Women's 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay
Another America vs. Japan battle. Japan probably has the fastest swimmer in Chiba, but the Yanks should pull this one out.