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May 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004

History's 100 back best History's 100 back best (May 21, 2004)in swim trials preview

Santa Clara International Invitational provides a look at who'll be competing for USA in Summer Olympics

by Keith Peters

For those who can't get to Long Beach in July for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, a preview of that will be held this weekend at the 37th annual Santa Clara International Invitational.

The majority of those swimmers who will earn a berth on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that competes in Athens, Greece, in August, will be continuing their tuneups for the trials at the George Haines International Swim Center today through Sunday.

If one event supports that claim, it's the men's 100-meter backstroke on Sunday. The field is so loaded, there are more top competitors than lanes.

"This will be the best heat of the year until the trials," said Ted Knapp, the Stanford men's assistant coach.

To start, the men's 100 back features history's top three in Lenny Krayzelburg, Aaron Peirsol and Jeff Rouse. Add in Stanford grad Randal Bal at No. 8 all-time and Stanford senior Peter Marshall (No. 16), and you've got a preview of the U.S. Olympic team in the event.

"Without a doubt," Knapp said.

There's also Stanford senior Markus Rogan (history's No. 11 performer who swims for Austria), junior Jayme Cramer, Andrew Davidson of Texas, Cardinal grad Dan Westcott and, oh yes, a fellow named Michael Phelps, who is to U.S. swimming as Ian Thorpe is to Australia.

The men's 100 back is truly a look at USA's swimming past, present and future.

The past is Rouse, who set a world record of 53.86 on the gold medal-winning 400 medley relay at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. After being ranked No. 1 in the world for eight straight years and winning the gold medal in the 100 back in the 1996 Atlanta Games, Rouse retired. He has come out of a six-year retirement at age 34 for one final shot at the Olympics.

The present is Krayzelburg, 29, the current world and American recordholder at 53.60. He followed Rouse to the victory stand in 2000, winning the gold at the Sydney Games.

The future (some believe he's the present, as well) is the xx-year-old Peirsol, who swims for Texas and ranks No. 2 in history with a 53.61. He also has the No. 5 performance of all-time (53.71 on a relay), in addition to hold the world record of 1:55.15 in the 200 back, an event in which Krayzelburg holds the Olympic record (1:56.76).

Rouse, Krayzelburg and Peirsol have combined for nine of the 10 fastest 100 back times in history.

Ex-Stanford teammates Bal (54.24) and Marshall (54.74) also rank among the all-time top 25 performers and will be in Long Beach in July battling Rouse, Krayzelburg and Peirsol for the two available Olympic team berths. There may be no other event at the Olympic trials as competitive as the men's 100 back.

The 19-year-old Phelps could have been another contender, but he'll be busy in other events while attempting to win as many as eight gold medals in Athens.

The men's 50 free will feature the oldest group of swimmers in any event, led by Olympian Gary Hall (29) and 28-year-old Stanford grad Sabir Muhammad, who perhaps is swimming faster than ever before - at least in the 50 free. Muhammad recently competed in the U.S. Masters Swimming Championships and clocked 19.44 for the 50-yard free and 42.91 in the 100-yard free, times faster than he swam while at Stanford.

The women's fields also will be loaded with recordholders and those attempting to earn berths to Athens.

Cal senior Natalie Coughlin, the world recordholder in the 100-meter back (59.58), is entered in numerous events this weekend. The women's breaststroke events feature 2000 Olympians Megan Quann and Staciana Stitts, plus Stanford senior Tara Kirk and Kristy Kowal.

Quann is the U.S. recordholder in the 100-meter breast (1:07.05) and Kirk is the American recordholder in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes. Also in the mix is Mitty's Erica Liu, who'll be a Stanford freshman this fall.

The women's butterfly events have Stanford grad Misty Hyman and current sophomore Dana Kirk. Hyman still holds the American record in the 200-meter fly (2:05.88), when she won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney four years ago. She briefly retired after the Games, but has returned with times supporting her legitimate comeback.

Dana Kirk is perhaps the future in the event and ranks ahead of Hyman in the 200 fly this season.

The women's 200 breast and 100 fly will be tonight, with the 100 breast set for Saturday. Among the men's featured events will be tonight's 200 fly and 400 IM (with Phelps), the 50 free on Saturday, and 100 back and 200 IM on Sunday. Phelps is the world recordholder in the 200 and 400 individual medleys.

Prelims begin at 9 a.m. each day with finals set for 5 p.m. The swim center is located off Homestead Road between Lawrence and San Tomas expressways.

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