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SWIMMING : The Long and Short of It Was U.S. Victory

January 15, 1991|THERESA MUNOZ

It was the men's turn to make an impression at the World Championships this year.

In 1986 at Madrid, they did not break any world records. This time, they set all of the six that occurred during the competition, which ended Sunday in Perth, Australia.

Hungary accounted for three, two by Tamas Darnyi and one by Norbert Rozsa. Joerg Hoffmann of Germany broke the oldest world record in men's competition, Vladimir Salnikov's 14:54.76 in the 1,500 freestyle, which was set in 1983.

The two Americans who set records, Mike Barrowman and Melvin Stewart, took similar approaches although in different environments.

Barrowman passed up the fall semester at the University of Michigan to train with a U.S. swimming club, Curl-Burke in the Washington, D.C., area. There he worked with Coach Jozsef Nagy, a Hungarian.

It worked for Barrowman, who lowered his 200-meter breast-stroke mark to 2 minutes 11.23 seconds while defeating the fastest field in the history of the event, including all three medalists from the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Stewart also concentrated on international competition, rather than collegiate events, although he stayed at the University of Tennessee. There he worked with Volunteer Coach John Trembly, who acknowledges, "I don't care a whole lot about NCAA swimming relative to international swimming."

It has paid off for Stewart, a junior from Ft. Mill, S.C. He ended German Michael Gross' eight-year domination of the 200 butterfly when he came from behind in the final 30 meters to pass Gross and set a world record of 1:55.69. One of the keys for Stewart, who breathes to the side instead of forward, was his perfectly timed turns.

Although Stewart's world record appears surprising, he showed potential last July when he set the American record of 1:57.05 in the Goodwill Games.

"It was overdue, in my mind, and I think Melvin's," Trembly said of the world-record performance. "He's very dedicated. It was comforting to see him swim the fourth 50 as well as he did because he's paid the price."

When Trembly arrived at Tennessee three years ago, he started his team on a training cycle aimed at the 1992 Olympic Games.

"Although we're a college program, we train to swim optimally at international competition," he said. "We've shifted our attention away from short course and into long course."

Trembly acknowledges that strategy is a risk because the dual meets, conference and NCAA championships are short course.

The coach was criticized for that at the NCAA meet last year when he entered Stewart in the 200 and 500 freestyles, along with the 200 butterfly, instead of events Stewart swam the previous year, the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.

Trembly's thinking was that the longer freestyle training would help Stewart's 200 butterfly, his specialty.

"I was criticized for not getting as many NCAA points, and Melvin was castigated a bit," Trembly said.

Stewart finished sixth in the 500 freestyle at the NCAA meet.

"That training base from last spring, summer and fall is what got him through the last 100 meters," Trembly said of Stewart's duel with Gross in the World Championships.

"We see a debate raging in swimming now between sprint-oriented and base-oriented training. We buy into the latter, but unfortunately, some of our top athletes are buying into the former.

"You could see that in the World Championships. They were a disappointment, I would assume most coaches feel that way. But our administration in U.S. Swimming is moving forward positively despite the fact that many coaches and athletes are not behind what Dennis Pursley is trying to accomplish."

Pursley, the U.S. team director, has been criticized for selecting the World Championship team early (last summer), making indoor nationals long course (50-meter pool instead of 25-yard pool) and insisting on a team concept that resulted in team camps before the World Championships and a team vote not to swim in the exhibition sprint races.

Matt Biondi was critical of the sprint-race decision because he wanted to give himself and the sport exposure on network television. Team members voted against the sprints because they feared shorter races would tire them for future races in which medals would be awarded.

Some of the older athletes also did not like the curfew imposed by Pursley, a reaction that irritated Trembly.

"For an athlete to be concerned about what time to be in a room seems trivial in my mind," Trembly said.

Despite winning both the men's and women's titles, as Pursley had predicted, the Americans were not dominant, and only a few swam well.

Pursley said before the meet that, short of a spectacular performance, it is difficult to determine what affected the U.S. team--the time of year the meet was held (usually a quiet time for U.S. swimmers) or the early selection process, which was tried for the first time.

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