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Surgery Has Brewer Eyeing Olympics

May 02, 2000|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bobby Brewer has his eye, or eyes, on the Olympics. And he is leaving nothing to chance.

Brewer is ranked eighth in the world in the 100-meter backstroke. He has the third-fastest time among American swimmers this year.

Hoping to eliminate a possible hurdle in his quest to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this year, Brewer underwent LASIK eye surgery Thursday to rid him of the contact lenses that could set him back.

His fears were not unfounded. During a March meet in Long Beach, Brewer's lens popped out at the start of a race. He lost.

"When it happens, the race is gone," the 26-year-old Brewer said. "Once the contact starts moving around in the eye, it's a distraction. You can't see the backstroke flags, you hit the lane lines. Your race is pretty much over when it happens. With the Olympic trials this summer, I didn't want that in the back of my mind."

Brewer returned to the pool Monday for his first workout since the outpatient surgery. He went through a moderate workout, pausing to apply eye drops.

"It's amazing, but I can see better than I did with contacts," Brewer said. "The only thing I can't do is dive into the water for seven to 10 days. The chlorine burns my eyes a little."

There are 98 days before the Olympic trials.

And Brewer has been this close before.

In 1995, he was ranked sixth in the world in the 100-meter backstroke. But at the World University Games, his left leg went numb during the race and he finished a distant third.

Brewer had ruptured a disk in his back, requiring surgery.

The Newport Beach resident never made it to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he had grown up. Instead, Brewer watched the 100-meter backstroke competition on TV with friends in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

When American Jeff Rouse won the event, Brewer felt a bitter mix of frustration and happiness.

"I'm from Atlanta, but I didn't want anything to do with the Olympics at the time," Brewer said. "I went to stay with friends.

"My best time in 1996 would have been the bronze medal. I was really happy for Jeff. He had struggled during the trials. I remember the amazing look on his face. There was almost as much relief as there was happiness."

It's a look that Brewer has sought ever since.

His competition, even in the upcoming trials, will be stiff.

There is Lenny Krayzelburg, the world record-holder. And Neil Walker and Newport Harbor's Aaron Peirsol, who finished first and second at the National Swim Championships last month. Brewer, the 1998 national champion, finished third in that race.

In a sport where even the hair on your arms can cost you a race, Brewer turned to eye surgery to get that extra edge.

"I thought it was a great opportunity," said Irvine Novaquatics Coach Dave Salo, who trains Brewer. But Salo was also apprehensive about surgery so close to the trials.

"The doctor didn't want him in the pool for 10 days," Salo said. "With less than 100 days to go to the trials any time out of the water can hurt. We altered his training so he will only miss three days."

Brewer's first race will be in late May in Ann Arbor, Mich. For the Olympic hopeful, peace of mind has made the risk of surgery worthwhile.

"In the beginning, I was a little nervous about the surgery," Brewer said. "But the timing was right and just thinking about a contact lens coming out can take your mind off a race."

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