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BOYS' SWIMMER OF THE YEAR

Now He's Cutting Loose

With cast on his upper body long gone, Beal shows his talent has no limits

June 16, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Danny Beal's reaction wasn't all that different from other teenagers who have proudly said goodbye to their days of wearing braces.

He quickly emerged from his shell -- in his case, a full upper-body cast -- and felt a newfound freedom to put himself before others.

Beal, a junior at Goleta Dos Pueblos, wore a back brace for 2 1/2 years as treatment to thwart scoliosis, a gradual curvature of the spine. The body cast stretched from Beal's hips to his arm pits and only came off two hours a day during swim workouts.

When the brace was permanently removed midway though his freshman year, Beal had plenty of incentive to train longer and harder. He worked his way up the ladder at the Santa Barbara Swim Club and quickly became a key member on the Dos Pueblos swim team.

"Wearing that back brace and having that limitation made him hungrier as he got older," said Ira Klein, his club coach the last four years. "He wanted to prove that he could do it all."

He nearly did at last month's Southern Section Division I boys' final.

Beal strung together the top individual performance of the meet, winning the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly and swimming with Mike Bowen, Kevin Kuga and Egan Gans on the winning 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams. Those victories produced a large portion of the Chargers' fourth-place point total and cinched Beal's position as The Times' boys' swimmer of the year.

Beal said he wasn't overly surprised to achieve his individual goals but never expected the Chargers to put together such a successful conclusion to their season.

Last year, Dos Pueblos didn't qualify for the Division I final in the 200 medley relay. And in the 400 freestyle relay, the Chargers finished seventh of eight teams. But the addition of Gans and Kuga and the steady improvement of all four members produced different results this spring.

"We kind of went into the season not really sure what we had," said Beal. "But then as we got closer and closer to [the Southern Section finals], we formed this core group of guys and started focusing on the relays."

In individual races, Beal said he was most thrilled with his victory in the 200 freestyle, considering it was the second consecutive season he raced against an Olympic-caliber opponent.

Last year, Beal finished as runner-up, about five seconds behind 2000 Olympian Aaron Peirsol, a senior at Newport Harbor who was also world-record holder in the 200-meter backstroke.

Beal looked forward to winning the event this season, until he learned Larsen Jensen had transferred to Division I power Mission Viejo. Beal knew Jensen was the U.S.-record holder in the 800-meter freestyle and would most likely compete in the 200 freestyle at the section finals, since it's the second-longest freestyle event at the high school level.

"Knowing the caliber of swimmer he is, I had doubts," Beal said. "I thought, 'Do I really want to race him?' "

Klein quickly helped put those thoughts to rest.

"He told me I could beat him," Beal said. "He said, 'You can't let him mentally psyche you out.' "

Not surprisingly, Beal won the race in the last 50 yards, turning a -0.2-second lead into a nearly two-second victory. His winning time of 1:39.15 was nearly four seconds slower than Peirsol's in 2002 but still represented a lifetime best.

Though Beal's premier event is the 200 butterfly, a distance not contested in high school, he and Klein believe the swimmer's best chance at an Olympic berth may be in the 200 freestyle, where more qualifying berths are available to help fill the freestyle relay teams.

Beal has already qualified for the Olympic trials next year and is looking forward to competing for a top-notch college program. He figures he will be entering his prime when qualifying begins for the 2008 Olympics.

"He can take it as far as he wants to go," Klein said.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

BOYS' SWIMMING AT A GLANCE

*--* FINAL RANKINGS

*--*

1. MISSION VIEJO

Won the Division I title behind Larsen Jensen's victory in the 500 freestyle, an event that had two other Diablo swimmers in the top eight.

2. SAN CLEMENTE

Kenny Yamamoto finished second in the 100 backstroke and third in the individual medley and swam the opening leg on the second-place medley relay, helping Tritons finish runner-up in Division I.

3. ANAHEIM SERVITE

Adam Hewko won the individual medley and breaststroke, anchored the second-place 400 free relay and swam second on the fourth-place medley relay, leading Friars to third place in Division I.

4. GOLETA DOS PUEBLOS

Finished fourth in Division I behind Danny Beal, who won the 200 free and butterfly events, anchored the winning 400 free relay and swam third on the winning medley relay.

5. H. BEACH EDISON

Scored big points with third-place finish in the 400 free relay and fourth in the 200 free relay, lifting Chargers to fifth place in Division I.

6. IRVINE

Showed its strength in the breaststroke again this season, placing three swimmers in the top seven, led by runner-up Evan Hsiao, and finishing sixth in Division I.

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