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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | SWIMMING

July 14, 1996|LISA DILLMAN

One of the most widely watched Olympic events, swimming features four basic strokes at various distances: freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke. In the individual medley, one swimmer uses all four strokes. The Russians are expected to dominate the men's competition, and no gold medals are projected for American women. But the Americans Gary Hall Jr. and Janet Evans may pull some surprises.

MEN

What We Know

Three Russian swimmers--sprinter Alexander Popov, butterfly specialist Denis Pankratov and backstroker Vladimir Selkov are capable of taking over the meet.

Popov holds the world record in the 100-meter freestyle, and Pankratov in the 100 and 200 butterfly. Selkov finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke in Barcelona four years ago and took the silver behind Martin Zubero in the 200 backstroke.

But there are reasonable challengers from the United States--Gary Hall Jr. in the 50 and 100 freestyles, David Fox in the 50 freestyle, world-record holder Jeff Rouse in the 100 backstroke and USC's Brad Bridgewater in the 200 backstroke. Rouse, unshaved and untapered, came within one second of his world record in May at a meet in Phoenix. He also has some extra motivation, considering commentator Melvin Stewart called him a "choker" on national television last month.

What We Don't Know

The question isn't whether Charles H. Keating Jr., will show up at the Olympics. Will his grandson, Gary Hall Jr.?

If you judged Hall by his recent lackluster performances--failing to make finals in the 50 and 100 freestyles at meets in Phoenix and Santa Clara, he might appear in major trouble. Then again, that's the Hall way, peak for the majors and look for good rock concerts elsewhere.

Someone You Should Know

Jon Urbanchek, veteran Tom Dolan watcher, has been getting a little nervous on the pool deck at the University of Michigan, and for good reason.

Absolutely nothing is wrong.

Really.

"Tom has had great training the last couple of months. I'm concerned because everything is too good," Urbanchek said. "The status quo with Tom is that something is wrong. We're always running to the doctors and pressing the panic button."

Dolan suffers from an often debilitating form of asthma and fought off a crushing case of fatigue in the months before the Olympic trials. But in between visits to the doctor, Dolan found enough inside him to occupy a very lonely position--the only American favored to win a gold medal, in the 400 individual medley, an event in which he holds the world record.

He also won the 200 individual medley and the 400 freestyle at the trials. Dolan holds the top time in the world this year in all three events he will swim in Atlanta. His race against Finland's Jani Sievinen in the 400 IM could be a classic.

Something You Should Know

How much will an individual Olympic gold medal worth? Well, if you are an American swimmer, the payment from U.S. Swimming will be $50,000. Four years ago, the organization was offering $5,000 for world records.

WOMEN

What We Know

The immense self-imposed pressure has lifted off Janet Evans, and she is never better than when the disrespectful sniping starts coming from rival swimmers and the international press.

U.S. Swimming has projected no gold medals for the women based on international competition, but a victory by Evans in either the 400- or 800-meter freestyle would not be shocking. She is the only American woman to win four swimming gold medals--three in 1988 and one in 1992--and could surpass speedskater Bonnie Blair's record of five gold medals with victories in the 400 and 800.

Evans, 25, and another veteran, 29-year-old Angel Martino, are the only individual medalists from Barcelona to make the 1996 team. Sprinter Amy Van Dyken, ranked No. 1 in the 50 freestyle, is capable of racing with the Chinese.

What We Don't Know

There will be question marks on two fronts. Because the Chinese were kicked out of the Pan Pacific championships in 1995, it is hard to determine what they will do at an international level.

They were a force at the 1994 World Championships, winning 12 of 16 gold medals. But the dramatic fall came when seven of the Chinese swimmers tested positive for steroids in the following months.

The other question is how fast the U.S. youngsters will improve. Two 14-year-olds are on the team, Amanda Beard of Irvine in two breaststroke events and Jilen Siroky in the 200 breaststroke, as well as a 15-year-old, backstroker Beth Botsford.

Someone You Should Know

After breaking Australian Samantha Riley's world record in the 100 breaststroke in March, South African swimmer Penny Heyns was ushered in to meet Nelson Mandela, and they shook hands. "He said, 'I won't wash my hand now,' " Heyns said. "So I said, 'I won't wash mine either.' "

Of course, Mandela was spotted on CNN a couple of months later saying the same thing to actor Sidney Poitier, but Heyns has a better chance of being a guest at dinner after the Olympics.

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