Craig Stevens was back where he wanted to be -- in the pool, racing, and, racing out of the spotlight.
Well, sort of.
The 23-year-old Australian went from a relatively low-profile life to a leading role in the Ian Thorpe 400-meter freestyle disqualification controversy in March. He eventually stepped aside for Thorpe, making way for the world-record holder to swim that race at the Olympics in Athens. But the full-scale scrutiny did not end until just before Stevens left for high-altitude training in Flagstaff, Ariz.
"Just to have nothing about it. Just to get on with it. I mean, it's finished with, all done with, and now it's time for Ian to get on with what he has to do, and me with what I have to do," Stevens said.
He said this after phase two of the return to normalcy, at the Janet Evans Invitational meet in Long Beach on Thursday night. Stevens won the men's 800-meter freestyle, swimming a personal best and meet record, 7 minutes 54.47 seconds. Erik Vendt of the Trojan Swim Club was second in 7:55.10.
"I guess usually I try to leave it to the last 50, but then I was just trying to pick it up with 100 to go. I knew Erik was a strong finisher," Stevens said. "He always is in the 1,500. So I stayed in front of him, so I'm pretty happy about that."
Said Vendt: "I wasn't too happy. I felt like I could swim away in the middle. I kind of backed off right till the end. I shouldn't have done that, because he's got a lot more speed than I do. I should have take advantage from 300 to 600."
Stevens was pleased he was able to do this during heavy training, saying it was his personal best by two seconds. He previously said he had many sleepless nights during the 400 controversy, which started when Thorpe accidentally fell off the starting block at the trials in Australia and false-started.
Before that, Stevens was rarely recognized in Australia.
"I've been on the team for a while and gone about my own thing," Stevens said. "It's a bit of a different situation, having the media spotlight. I had a lot of people help me deal with it. I got through it. As I said, it's all done with."
Kalyn Keller of Trojan Swim Club took the women's 800 in a meet-record 8:31.97, and Hayley Peirsol finished second in 8:35.06. Peirsol, who went to Newport Harbor High, just finished her freshman year at Auburn.
The event marked the debut of the temporary facility in Long Beach. Vendt talked about the wave action.
"The waves were pretty big, especially around the 25-meter mark; you push off the wall and you swim and all of a sudden you get hit by a wave," he said. "For me, it's not going to bother me that much because you know there's seven other guys in the pool dealing with the same conditions. It's not too much of a hassle."