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The Stars Come Out for This Preview

Swimming: The Janet Evans Invitational begins today at USC, giving top athletes a perfect tuneup for next month's summer nationals.

July 18, 2002|DAN ARRITT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's called the Janet Evans Invitational, but the four-day swim meet that begins today at USC is actually a dress rehearsal for the national championships in Florida next month.

Most of the top swimmers in the nation are scheduled to compete, including Olympic medalists Erik Vendt, Lenny Krayzelburg, Aaron Peirsol and teenage phenom Michael Phelps, the world-record holder in the butterfly.

The finals begin at 5 p.m. each day through Sunday. The men's and women's 800-meter freestyles are the only finals on today's schedule.

The gap between the Evans meet and the Phillips 66 Summer Nationals is 3 1/2 weeks, making this competition an ideal tune-up. There's enough time to rest and the conditions--both meets are outdoors--will be similar.

"It's going to be a really fast meet," said Vendt, an Olympic silver medalist and the NCAA swimmer of the year last spring for USC. "I was looking at the competition and it's pretty amazing."

Vendt, 21, is hoping to win national titles in the 400 individual medley and 1,500 freestyle, events he won at the NCAA championships last spring. His main competition will come from Phelps in the medley and Chris Thompson in the freestyle and he'll likely race against both swimmers this weekend.

"When I'm in the blocks this weekend, it will be really easy to picture myself at the national championships," said Vendt, who won his Olympic silver medal in the 400 individual medley. "Especially with guys like [Phelps and Thompson] next to me."

USC Coach Mark Schubert said Phelps is on the verge of becoming "all everything" in men's swimming. Phelps, who lives in Baltimore, was only 15 when he competed at the 2000 Olympics, the youngest men's team member since 1932. He was USA Swimming men's swimmer of the year in 2001, setting a world record in the 200 butterfly at the spring nationals, then lowering it at the world championships last summer.

Phelps hasn't raced in Southern California since he was a child. Before arriving Monday, he spent three weeks conditioning at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Phelps, who turned 17 on June 30, has never raced after dropping down from altitude, a common tactic used by elite runners preparing for a big race.

"They say you get faster," Phelps said. "It will be interesting to see what happens."

Thompson, 23, a Roseburg, Ore. native who graduated from Michigan in 2001, won bronze in the 1,500 freestyle at the 2000 Olympics, joining Vendt as the only American to break 15 minutes in the event. More recently, he won silver in the 1,500 at the Short Course World Championships in April, shortly after winning the event at the spring nationals for his sixth national title.

The 400 individual medley is scheduled for Saturday and the 1,500 freestyle will be on Sunday. "It will give me a good chance to race them and see where I'm at before nationals," said Vendt, who would have been the top-seeded swimmer in today's 800 freestyle but won't participate because of a conflict with a summer class.

Another featured match-up will be in the men's 200 backstroke on Friday. Krayzelburg and Peirsol will likely race for the first time since Krayzelburg edged Peirsol to win the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

Krayzelburg, a USC graduate, has since been slowed by shoulder injuries, andPeirsol has emerged as the premier backstroker in the world. Peirsol, who graduated from Newport Harbor High last month, broke Krayzelburg's long-course world record in the 200 backstroke in March.

"I'm pretty excited for the race," Krayzelburg said. "It's about time for me to get back into racing."

Other notable athletes scheduled to compete include national team members Amanda Beard, Lindsay Benko, Adrienne Binder, Maggie Bowen, Greg Busse, Chad Carvin, Natalie Coughlin, Haley Cope, Klete Keller, Tara Kirk, Diana MacManus, Gabrielle Rose, Staciana Stitts, Scott Tucker and Tom Wilkens.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Janet Evans

Invitational

Where: McDonald's Stadium, USC

When: Today through Sunday

Tickets: Admission is $2 for the morning preliminaries, $4 for the finals or $5 all day. Children under 6 are free.

Fast fact: There are 19 top-level national team members scheduled to compete, plus 11 more from the U.S. "B" team.

Scheduled to compete: World-record holders Lenny Krayzelburg (50 and 100-meter backstroke, long course), Aaron Peirsol (200-meter backstroke, long course), Michael Phelps (200-meter butterfly, long course), Lindsay Benko (200-meter freestyle, short course) and Natalie Coughlin (100 and 200-meter backstroke, short course).

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