The U.S. trials produced a world-record-setting lineup to take to Athens
At the Olympic swimming trials in Long Beach, Calif., last week Eddie Reese, the veteran University of Texas coach who will lead the men's team in Athens, sized up his squad by equating it to "presents under the Christmas tree." The gifted team, which produced five of the six world records set in Long Beach, should eclipse the 17 medals the American men won at the Sydney Olympics (though it has no chance of challenging the men's record of 27 set in Montreal in 1976, when teams could send three swimmers per event rather than two).
Much of the hardware should come from Michael Phelps, the first U.S. athlete in any sport to qualify for an Olympic team in six individual events. Phelps, 19, won four events, and if not for world-record swims by Aaron Peirsol in the 200-meter backstroke and Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly, he might have won six. After the trials Phelps said he wouldn't swim the 200 backstroke in Athens, leaving him with eight Olympic events, three of them relays.
His quest to break Mark Spitz's single-Games record of seven gold medals (and tie Soviet gymnast Aleksander Dityatin's mark of eight total medals) won't be the team's only story line in Athens. Gary Hall Jr., who takes as many as eight daily insulin injections to combat type 1 diabetes, will make history just by jumping into the pool. Hall, a qualifier in the 50 freestyle and 400-free relay, and his father, an Olympian in 1968, '72 and '76, are the first father-son duo in any sport to compete in three Games each.
Another swimmer to watch will be Brendan Hansen, a 22-year-old Texas grad who startled even himself by setting world records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke in Long Beach and becoming the first American in 30 years to hold both of those marks. The performances atoned for Hansen's near misses at the 2000 trials, where he finished third in the two breast events by less than a second combined and was left feeling, in his words, "like someone ran over my dog." Now he'll be expected to duel Japanese star Kosuke Kitajima (whose records he broke) for gold in Athens.
The outlook isn't as hopeful for the U.S. women's team, which won't match the 16 medals brought home by the 2000 squad. Two members who should wind up on the medal stand are former Cal star Natalie Coughlin, in the 100 back-stroke, and three-time Olympian Amanda Beard, who broke the world record in the 200 breast-stroke at the trials.
The team's freshest face is also its youngest: Katie Hoff, 15, who trains in Harford County, Md., at a satellite pool run by Phelps's North Baltimore Aquatic Club, made the team in the 200 and 400 individual medleys, events Phelps is favored to win on the men's side in Athens. The Olympic berth had only one drawback for Hoff. "I'm not sure," she said, "if I can still ask [other swimmers] for autographs."
New 400 Star
Wariner Sprints To the Forefront
Jeremy Wariner is a rare bird. Not just because he won the 400 meters last week at the Olympic track and field trials in Sacramento and ran the fastest time in the world this year (44.37 seconds). The 20-year-old Wariner, a 6'1", 153-pound junior-to-be at Baylor, is more starkly distinguished because he is white—the first white male, in fact, to represent the United States in the Olympic 400 meters since gold medalist Mike Larrabee and Ollan Cassell in 1964. "I hear about it sometimes," Wariner says. "Fans and media bring it up. I've finished races and hear people say, 'Is he white?' My parents always taught me not to worry about race, gender or age."
Wariner, who's from Grand Prairie, Texas, didn't run track until his sophomore year in high school but scorched a precocious 48.5 in the 400 that season. By his senior year he was a double state champion in Texas and among the nation's fastest high school sprinters in the 200 and 400. He was drawn to Baylor by the reputation of coach Clyde Hart, who coached Michael Johnson, the world-record holder and two-time Olympic champion in the 400.