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Which makes one wonder how much faster Barrowman can go. After all, only two years ago, his best time for the 200 breast was 2:18.56. Barrowman, however, remains the very soul of caution. "I'll only say that I can go 2:11.53," he said before allowing, "Well...maybe 2:11.4."
Stackle is not as coy about his expectations. "By the Olympics, I'll be under 2:10," he said. That sounds outlandish until one realizes that before last Friday, his best time was 2:16.30. And, by the only yardstick that seems to matter in this event, Stackle has made tremendous strides. "I'm getting much closer to Mike," he said.
Matt Biondi has been similarly influenced by tiny fractions. On Friday night he beat Tom Jager, in the zillionth race at 50 meters between the two American swimmers, 22.10 to 22.31. But it was the rematch with Suriname's Anthony Nesty in the 100 fly that Biondi had been looking forward to most keenly. Their first race had come in Seoul, where Nesty edged Biondi by .01 when Biondi decided against taking a final stroke, choosing instead to glide to the wall. As the first citizen of Suriname to win an Olympic medal in any sport, Nesty became an instant hero in his tiny country, where, he says, there are only 10 swimming pools. But Nesty has lived the past two years knowing that most people considered his biggest victory a matter of luck.
On Sunday afternoon Biondi got out fast. He turned at the midway mark in 24.94, with Nesty well behind him, in fourth place. "When I dove into the pool," said Nesty, "I tried to scramble. I didn't get going until the final 25." He passed Biondi during that final stretch and touched a convincing arm's length ahead of his rival, with a time of 53.42 to Biondi's 53.82. "I kicked in pretty good," Nesty allowed.
After the race, Biondi sat by the pool subdued, his head resting in his hands. "I'm pretty disappointed," he said. "I just don't think I swam a good race. I never felt smooth today, never felt up on the water." Of Nesty, Biondi would only say what was obvious. "He's the best butter-flyer of this meet."
Among the women, Evans, a sophomore at Stanford, had seemed unapproachable by everyone save a handful of East Germans. So no one knew quite what to make of Sanders when she turned into the final leg of the 400 IM ahead of Evans. Sanders, a willowy 17-year-old from Roseville, Calif., had gone out like a rocket, clocking 1:02.47 for the opening leg, the fly, which was 2.5 seconds faster than she had ever gone before. Evans narrowed the gap on the backstroke, but Sanders opened it up again in the breast. She had three body lengths on Evans with 100 meters to swim. But freestyle is Evans's strongest event, and Sanders was carrying her own demons.
"I've been out front with 100 to go before, and had people come by me," said Sanders. "You want to just climb under a rock." At the 1988 Olympic trials, Sanders led the 200 IM with 25 meters to go but finished third, missing a trip to Seoul.
At the final turn Sanders still had 1� body lengths on Evans. "I knew that if she wasn't there yet, she would be soon," Sanders said. "She's a freestyle maniac."
And Evans, winner of three gold medals in Seoul, does not take losing lightly. She put her head down and launched a furious sprint, churning closer and closer to Sanders. But with 25 meters to go, it was clear that Evans would not catch up.