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Thorpe, Home Pool Give Australian Men Big Advantage; Netherlands' de Bruijn Welcomes Her Shot at Redemption

September 10, 2000|LISA DILLMAN


* OVERVIEW--The highest-profile female swimmer in 2000 once walked away because of a lack of motivation. One small detail. It was shortly before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands qualified but did not compete. Instead, she watched the Olympics on television, tears in her eyes, and later called it the biggest mistake of her life. Now de Bruijn gets a shot at redemption.

The 27-year-old--whose twin sister Jakline was once a member of the Dutch national water polo team--went on an astonishing world-record spree in 2000. Most notably, there was the 50-meter freestyle (24.39 seconds) at Rio de Janeiro in June, the 100 freestyle (53.80) at Sheffield, England, in May and 100 butterfly (56.64) at Federal Way, Wash., in July.

What changed between 1996 and 2000?

She found a new coach, Paul Bergen, who once coached such luminaries as Tracy Caulkins and Jill Sterkel. He introduced de Bruijn to a tougher form of training, increased dry-land workouts in Oregon, as she split time between the Tualatin Swim Club in Beaverton, Ore., and working out with her coach and boyfriend in the Netherlands.

After de Bruijn's sensational series of times, Australian Susie O'Neill, defending gold medalist and world-record holder in the 200 butterfly, called the performances "pretty suss," (as in suspect) but later apologized to the Dutch swimmer via e-mail.

The other world-record holder in the spotlight will be Penny Heyns of South Africa, the defending Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events. Heyns, who holds the world record in both races, has struggled with motivation at times.

She trains far from home, in Calgary, Canada, and had thought about quitting but was convinced by her coach and friends to continue. Still, she has been up and down since Atlanta. She was up again in 1999, breaking seven records in five weeks.

This apparently didn't impress American youngster Megan Quann, who will swim against Heyns in the 100 breaststroke. Quann, 16, has lowered the American record four times since December 1999, bringing it down to 1:07.12.

At the trials, she predicted she would eventually break the world record (1:06.52) and that Heyns was "going down" in Sydney. Heyns responded recently in Australia, saying: " . . . These young ones that come through, you see them once and never hear from them again."

* OTHERS TO WATCH--Amazingly, the U.S. trials passed and the competitive threat of the Chinese swimmers was a non-issue for the first time in years. Wu Yanyan, the world-record holder in the 200 individual medley, tested positive for steroids in May and won't be in Sydney.

Closer to the Games, the Chinese National team dropped 40 athletes from the roster, and some were expected to be swimmers. The Chinese had also been embarrassed internationally in Australia in 1998, when a female swimmer was caught with human growth hormone in her luggage by customs officials at the Sydney airport.

In addition to the Australians and the Swedes, the Japanese field a strong team. Mai Nakamura has the fastest time in the world in the 100 backstroke this year (1:00.78), as does Masami Tanaka in the 200 breaststroke (2:24.12) and Yasuko Tajima in the 400 individual medley (4:39.13).

Among returning individual medalists from Atlanta are Sandra Volker of Germany, Claudia Poll of Costa Rica, Franziska van Almsick of Germany, Agnes Kovacs of Hungary, Petria Thomas of Australia and Marianne Limpert of Canada.

As for the Americans, a year ago, Jenny Thompson seemed about as much a lock for multiple gold medals as Lenny Krayzelburg on the men's side. This was before the emergence of de Bruijn and her rush of world-record performances. Thompson, still searching for an individual gold medal, will go head to head against the Dutch swimmer and teammate Dara Torres in the 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly.

Other Americans with legitimate gold medal shots include Brooke Bennett in the 800 freestyle and Diana Munz in the 400. Bennett has the fastest time in the world in the 800 in 2000 and third fastest in the 400 (4:08.76). Munz has the second fastest time behind Hannah Stockbauer of Germany, 4:08.56 to 4:06.55.

There is Quann in the 100 breaststroke, and Kristy Kowal is not far off in the 200 breaststroke. She has the second-fastest time in the world (2:24.75) this year to Tanaka.

Kaitlin Sandeno, who will be competing in her first Olympics, has an ambitious schedule, qualifying for three individual events. Her best shot for gold appears to be the 400 individual medley. She went 4:40.91 at the trials, which is third fastest in the world this year.

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