At the Olympic swimming trials in Long Beach, Calif., last week
Eddie Reese, the veteran University of Texas coach who will lead
the men's team in Athens, sized up his squad by equating it to
"presents under the Christmas tree." The gifted team, which
produced five of the six world records set in Long Beach, should
eclipse the 17 medals the American men won at the Sydney Olympics
(though it has no chance of challenging the men's record of 27
set in Montreal in 1976, when teams could send three swimmers per
event rather than two).
Much of the hardware should come from Michael Phelps, the first
U.S. athlete in any sport to qualify for an Olympic team in six
individual events. Phelps, 19, won four events, and if not for
world-record swims by Aaron Peirsol in the 200-meter backstroke
and Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly, he might have won six.
After the trials Phelps said he wouldn't swim the 200 backstroke
in Athens, leaving him with eight Olympic events, three of them
His quest to break Mark Spitz's single-Games record of seven gold
medals (and tie Soviet gymnast Aleksander Dityatin's mark of
eight total medals) won't be the team's only story line in
Athens. Gary Hall Jr., who takes as many as eight daily insulin
injections to combat type 1 diabetes, will make history just by
jumping into the pool. Hall, a qualifier in the 50 freestyle and
400-free relay, and his father, an Olympian in 1968, '72 and '76,
are the first father-son duo in any sport to compete in three
Another swimmer to watch will be Brendan Hansen, a 22-year-old
Texas grad who startled even himself by setting world records in
the 100 and 200 breaststroke in Long Beach and becoming the first
American in 30 years to hold both of those marks. The
performances atoned for Hansen's near misses at the 2000 trials,
where he finished third in the two breast events by less than a
second combined and was left feeling, in his words, "like someone
ran over my dog." Now he'll be expected to duel Japanese star
Kosuke Kitajima (whose records he broke) for gold in Athens.
The outlook isn't as hopeful for the U.S. women's team, which
won't match the 16 medals brought home by the 2000 squad. Two
members who should wind up on the medal stand are former Cal star
Natalie Coughlin, in the 100 backstroke, and three-time Olympian
Amanda Beard, who broke the world record in the 200 breaststroke
at the trials.
The team's freshest face is also its youngest: Katie Hoff, 15,
who trains in Harford County, Md., at a satellite pool run by
Phelps's North Baltimore Aquatic Club, made the team in the 200
and 400 individual medleys, events Phelps is favored to win on
the men's side in Athens. The Olympic berth had only one drawback
for Hoff. "I'm not sure," she said, "if I can still ask [other
swimmers] for autographs."
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Hoff, 15, was the youngest qualifier, winning the 200 and 400individual medleys.