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Schwenk Reaches High Amid Many Lows : Swimming: Tennessee star sets American record in 200-meter backstroke as prominent competitors falter and times suffer.


A swimming pool full of the biggest U.S. stars discovered Tuesday at the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships what it is like to fall as flat as a tortilla, ushering in a new generation of youngsters one year before the Summer Olympics.

The face of U.S. swimming looked strikingly different at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena after such big-time players as Tom Jager, Melvin Stewart, Summer Sanders and Anita Nall failed to win national titles on a day of moribund performances.

If not for Tripp Schwenk, 24, of the University of Tennessee, Tuesday's eight final events would have been inexplicably slow.

Schwenk, who has lost 25 pounds since joining the U.S. resident team in Colorado Springs, Colo., last October, set the U.S. record in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 1 minute 58.33 seconds. It was the sixth fastest time ever.

But even Schwenk's event was symbolic of the sudden changes in swimming. Former U.S. record-holder Royce Sharp failed to qualify for the final after finishing 17th in the morning preliminaries. And Tom Dolan, the world-record holder in the 400 individual medley, who was considered a mediocre backstroker, took second in 1:59.28, becoming the eighth American to break two minutes in the event.

"The changing of the guard is bad for guys like me who are a little bit older," Schwenk said.

But not so bad for Annemieke McReynolds, 17, of Wildwood, Ga., who upset a quality field to win the women's 200-meter breaststroke in 2:28.92. Amanda Beard, 13, of Irvine, was second, followed by Kristine Quance, 20, of USC and Nall, the former world record-holder making a comeback at 19.

It also wasn't bad for Ray Carey, 22, of Stanford, who after six years of trying, finally defeated Stewart in the 200 butterfly by overcoming the former world-record holder in the final 10 meters. Stewart was attempting to win his 13th consecutive national title, the most of any American in one event.

"I feel terrible," he said. "A 1:59.4 [his time] is unacceptable."

Carey won in 1:59.17, almost four seconds off Stewart's American record. It represented only one of the pedestrian winning times.

Nall was unimpressed with McReynolds' time as well.

"I don't want to put anyone down, but someone needs to step out there," she said. "Someone needs to take control."

Perhaps there was an explanation. At least two old faces attempted to give one.

Olympians Angel Martino and Jenny Thompson, who finished first and second, respectively, in the 100 free, said the juxtaposition of this year's summer nationals simply does not fit the training schedule of those seriously thinking about making the 1996 U.S. Olympic team.

With only two from each event making the Olympic team, next March's U.S. trials will be fierce.

Thompson, 22, from Stanford, agreed. But she also thinks some are holding back this week.

"You see a lot of new people winning, a lot of rookies," she said. "People who traditionally win are training more and aren't rested."

So, this week's meet has been trivialized by next year's schedule.

"In the big picture, it doesn't mean much," Thompson said.

Stewart's second place illustrated the kind of day it was. When he finished and saw his place and time, he grimaced.

He wasn't alone among swimming's big names.

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