NCAA Div. I Men: Minnesota Takes Big 10 Title; Chris Thompson is Big 10 Swimmer of the Year

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 24. COACH DENNIS DALE'S Minnesota Golden Gophers won the Big 10 men's championship in 1996 and again in 1998, so by rights they should have won again last season.

Wrong. Coach Jon Urbancek's Michigan Wolverines took the top spot.

But there was nothin' like a "little home cookin'" this year for Gov. Jesse Ventura's favorite team as Minnesota stroked to a record-setting victory with 797 points, the most scored since 1974.

Michigan and Penn State were tied for the runner-up spot going into tonight's final session but the Wolverines — on the strength of four top-eight finishes in the 1650 free, including Sydney mile bronze medalist Chris Thompson's record-breaking 14:31.15 effort — took second with 549 points.

Coach Peter Brown's Nittany Lions, who won the title a couple of years ago, were third with 538.

Dale was named Big 10 Coach of the Year, diving coach KZ Li was amed Diving Coach of the Year, and sophomore backstroker Todd Smolinski – with a Big 10 record-breaking 46.91 100 win and a 200 runner-up finish — was named Swimmer of the Championships. Senior teammate Dan Croaston was named Big 10 Diver of the Year and Diver of the Championships.

Thompson — with a win in the 500 (pr 4:16.11) to go along with his great "mile" clocking — was named Big 10 Swimmer of the Year.

The only man to swim a 1650 faster than Thompson is former Michigander Tom Dolan, whose 14:29.31 from the 1995 NCAAs in Indianapolis is the American-collegiate record. Dolan also holds the American-NCAA records in the 500 free and 400 IM (4:08.75-3:38.18), along with the world record in the 400 IM and a pair of Olympic golds in this race from Atlanta and Sydney — not to mention World Championship wins in '94-'98.

The previous second-fastest 1650 belonged to Arizona's Ryk Neethling, who clocked 14:32.50 en route to the NCAA title in Auburn three years ago.

Thompson's previous pr in the mile was a 14:38.96 that earned him runner-up honors at NCAAs two years ago in Indy. Neethling won that race too (14:35.57). Last season Thompson was expected to finally get the gold but instead was "upset" at NCAAs by USC rookie Erik Vendt, who was a teammate at Sydney where he won a silver medal in the 400 IM and was a mile finalist.

Vendt will have his chance to reclaim top honors in the 1650 this weekend at Long Beach, CA.'s Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool during the Pac-10 Championships.

Other winners for the Gophers tonight included Ben Bartell in the 200 back (pr 1:44.30); Swedish Olympian Martin Gustavsson (pr, school record and nation-leading 1:56.04, just off the meet standard 1:55.87 by ex-Michigander Eric Wunderlich); and Malaysian Olympian Keam Ang's Big 10 200 fly record 1:44.25 — breaking the old meet record of 1:44.33 by ex-Golden Gopher Sean Quackenbush from 1990.

Ohio State's Brian Malich defended his 100 free title (pr 43.27), with 50 free champ Bob Molittieri (Penn State) runner-up in 43.72.

The Nittany Lions climaxed the evening's proceedings with a Big 10 record-breaking and nation-leading 400 free relay win (2:54.25). The old record was 2:54.62 by Michigan from the 1995 Championships.

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