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SWIMMING

Newport Harbor's Lean Is Good for the Long Haul

April 24, 2001|PAUL McLEOD

In his early years Ryan Lean was never much of a competitive swimmer. He had the stereotypical Southern California upbringing of wistful summer afternoons paddling around in backyard pools and free swims at parks and recreation centers.

He joined a club team at 8 and the results were slow in coming.

"I couldn't sprint at all," Lean said. "I'd just get beat all the time."

But now Lean is going the distance for Newport Harbor High.

An up-and-coming junior, Lean has emerged as one of the best distance swimmers in the Southern Section. His time of 4 minutes 40.34 seconds in the 500-yard freestyle is tops in the county. He's expected to be among the favorites in that event, as well as the 200-yard freestyle, at the section championships next month.

The 500 is the longest high school race. But Lean regularly competes in longer races on the national circuit.

At the recent U.S. Spring Nationals, for example, he turned in career bests in the 800-meter freestyle (8:18) and 1,500-meter freestyle (16:01). That--and a time of 4:03 in the 400-meter freestyle--earned him rookie of the meet honors.

It took Lean five years after he joined his first club team to find his niche. It wasn't until 1998, when he turned 13--the first age in which youth swimmers have an opportunity to enter longer distances--that someone urged him to try the 800-meter and 1,600-meter races.

What the heck, he thought. He wasn't going anywhere fast in the sprints.

Lean soon shocked everyone, including himself.

"Turns out, those were the ones I was good at," he said.

He has only gotten better since.

"He's improved a ton," said Newport Harbor teammate Aaron Peirsol, the Olympic silver medalist and Newport Harbor junior who recently returned to compete for the Sailors and considers Lean to be among his best friends. "He can go far. He's got a lot of potential."

Lean said even he was caught off guard by the way he blasted out of nowhere at Spring Nationals. Overall he finished 10th in the 800, 23rd in the 800 and 25th in the 1,500.

"That [rookie] award was a total surprise. I had no clue," he said. "I didn't think I was close to winning it."

Lean says his immediate goal is to bring his county-leading time in the 500-yard freestyle down to about 4:25, a mark he believes could earn him a section title.

LOOKING AHEAD

This is the last week of dual meets and there are several key matchups as teams prepare for league finals next week. Today at 3 p.m., the No. 8 San Clemente boys will swim at No. 10 Mission Viejo in a South Coast League meet.

On Thursday, Foothill, Santa Margarita and Mission Viejo will compete in a tri-meet at 3 p.m. The boys will swim at Mission Viejo High, the girls at Foothill.

If you have an item or idea for the swimming report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at melanie.neff@latimes.com or paul.mcleod@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SWIMMING TOP 10

Orange County Coaches' Poll

GIRLS

*--*

Pos. School League 1. Irvine (1) Sea View 2. San Clemente (2) South Coast 3. Newport Harbor (3) Sea View 4. Santa Margarita (4) Serra 5. Foothill (5) Century 6. Laguna Hills (6) Sea View 7. Esperanza (7) Sunset 8. Canyon (8) Century 9. Capistrano Valley (9) South Coast 10. Sunny Hills (10) Freeway

*--*

BOYS

*--*

Pos. School League 1. Irvine (1) Sea View 2. Santa Margarita (2) Serra 3. Capistrano Valley (3) South Coast 4. Fountain Valley (4) Sunset 5. Edison (5) Sunset 6. Villa Park (6) Century 7. Newport Harbor (7) Sea View 8. San Clemente (9) South Coast 9. El Toro (NR) South Coast 10. Mission Viejo (8) South Coast

*--*

Last week's rankings in parentheses

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