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Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Hall sets American record in 50

Swimmer finishes in 21.76 seconds

August 16, 2000

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— It's a kinder, gentler Gary Hall Jr. who will challenge Alexander Popov at the Sydney Olympics.

While clearly impacted by life-changing events over the last four years, Hall broke a decade-old American record in the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials Tuesday night, edging Anthony Ervin in 21.76 seconds -- the second-fastest swim in history.

Hall once again wore his red, white and blue boxing trunks to the pool, flexing muscles when his name was announced. But the bravado was gone afterward when he quoted former tennis star Billie Jean King.

"No matter how tough, no matter what kind of outside pressure, no matter how many bad breaks along the way, I must keep my eye on the final goal -- to win, win, win," Hall said, his voice choked with emotion.

Ervin claimed the second trip to Sydney in 21.80, the third-fastest time ever, also beating the old American mark of 21.81 set by Tom Jager in March 1990.

Hall's performance set up another showdown with Popov, the Russian star who swept the 50 and 100 at the last two Olympics. Hall won the silver in both events at Atlanta, but his life changed dramatically after that.

First, Hall was suspended for three months after testing positive for marijuana. Then, he was diagnosed with diabetes, altering his training routine and requiring him to take up to eight insulin shots a day. Maybe that's why he refused to reprise his youthful war of words with Popov.

"I don't want to make predictions," said Hall, 25, of Phoenix. "I'm predicting a good race. It always is when I race Alexander Popov. I guess the rivalry continues."

At the trials, Hall earned two more Olympic chances to knock off Popov, who set the 50 world record of 21.64 at a June time trial. Hall and Ervin now have the fastest times in a full, eight-man field.

In addition, Hall will swim the 100 at Sydney after finishing second in Indy. Popov holds the world record in that event, too.

Ervin, 19, of Valencia, Calif., already had become the first U.S. swimmer of black heritage to make the Olympic team, earning a relay spot. He stayed with Hall stroke-for-stroke, then leaped into the arms of the winner -- and training partner -- after spotting their blazing times on the scoreboard.

"Training with Gary is the best thing that ever happened to me," Ervin said. "He's there to push me."

Neil Walker, already headed to Sydney, was third in 22.12. Bill Pilczuk, who upset Popov at the 1998 world championships, was shut off the Olympic team after finishing fourth in 22.21 in the fastest eight-man field in history.

Seventeen-year-old Ian Crocker of Portland completed the improbable trip from Maine to Sydney by winning the 100 butterfly.

Crocker, the first Maine-based swimmer to even qualify for the trials, was the eighth teen-ager to make the Olympic men's team. Only one male teen, Tom Malchow, went to Atlanta four years ago.

"I just wanted to come here and experience it, take it all in, see what happened," said Crocker, showing little emotion after he crawled from the pool. "It turned out pretty good."

His performance was even more amazing considering he doesn't have a full-length pool for training in his home state.

Tommy Hannan, 20, of Baltimore was ahead of the world record pace through 50 meters before Crocker caught him at the end, touching in 52.78. Hannan, who attends the University of Texas, was a surprising second in 52.81.

Brooke Bennett of Plant City, Fla., will get a chance to defend her Olympic 800 free title at Sydney. She cruised to an expected victory in 8:23.92, barely missing Janet Evans' 12-year-old trials record.

"I knew I was going to have to be real tough from the get-go and make it my race," said Bennett, who already qualified in the 400 free as runner-up to Diana Munz. "I started racing as hard as I could and I felt myself pulling away."

The real race was for the second berth in Sydney. Munz, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was expected to challenge Bennett but wound up side-by-side with Kaitlin Sandeno of Lake Forest, Calif.

Sandeno, only 17, touched in 8:28.61, with Munz just 0.05 second behind. Sandeno will be the only American woman to swim three individual events in Sydney; Munz wasn't shut out, having already made the team in the 400 free.

Amanda Adkins of Gahanna, Ohio, became the third University of Georgia swimmer to make the women's team when she came from behind to win the 200 backstroke in 2:12.97 -- a stunning triumph for someone who considered quitting a year ago.

"Never count yourself out," said Adkins, who joined college teammates Kristy Kowal and Courtney Shealy on the Olympic team. "The last three years were really hard. I've not done my best times in a long time. Sometimes, it seems you work so hard for nothing."

Lea Maurer, a 29-year-old high school English teacher from suburban Chicago, led through 150 meters but finished fifth at 2:15.12. She will have to settle being a 1992 Olympian.

Lindsay Benko of Los Angeles claimed the second Olympic berth in 2:13.19. She already was on the team in the 200 free and 800 relay.

Dara Torres breezed through the semifinals of the 50 freestyle, setting a trials record of 24.93. Amy Van Dyken, the defending Olympic champion, was second at 25.11.

In Atlanta, Van Dyken became the first American woman to win four gold medals at one Games, but two shoulder surgeries have slowed her since 1998.

"This race is my baby," Van Dyken said. "It's been my baby for a long time. Dara is ahead of me right now. But I enjoy being the underdog."

The trials conclude Wednesday with the women's 50 free and the marathon of swimming, the men's 1,500 free.

Chris Thompson, bronze medalist at the 1999 Pan Pacific championships, was fastest qualifier in the 1,500. The 21-year-old from Roseburg, Ore., finished in 15:21.71 and hopes to become the first American to eclipse 15 minutes before heading to Sydney.

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