Slow Strokes

Once dominant, U.S. swimmers have fallen back in the Olympic pack. And some observers are questioning whether Gary Hall Jr., the world-class sprinter from Paradise Valley, has the work ethic to find gold in Atlanta.

"We need to really improve to fulfill our potential," Schubert says.
Reaching its potential may not be enough for the U.S. team. U.S. swimmers just aren't cutting through the water as they once did.

Historically, the U.S. Olympic Trials were the most competitive swimming meets in the world. American and world records fell in the preliminaries, only to be broken again in the finals.

But this year, no world records fell at the trials, held in Indianapolis. No American record was broken. That hasn't happened since 1920.

Like most coaches, Schubert is loath to dwell on the negative. He points to a good mix of young athletes and seasoned world-class competitors on the team. He suggests the blend could make for an explosive performance in Atlanta.

The women have three 14-year-olds--backstroker Beth Botsford and breast-strokers Amanda Beard and Jilen Siroky--on the team. Nobody knows how fast they can go. The team also has experience; 400-meter freestyle world-record holder Janet Evans is competing in her third Olympics.

The U.S. men are led by world-record holders Jeff Rouse in the 100-meter backstroke and Tom Dolan in the 400-meter individual medley. Gary Hall Jr. is joined by David Fox and Jon Olsen in the sprints. Any of the men could win gold.

The Speedo Invitational in Phoenix gives Schubert and other Olympic coaches their first look at many of the swimmers since the Olympic Trials. U.S. swimmers have been scattered across the country practicing with their home clubs.

The U.S. swimmers won't come together as a team until ten days before the games. Then, they will meet in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a training camp. At that point, the swimmers will either be ready to win, or they won't.

It is clear that at least some of the U.S. swimmers are ready to respond.
A special race has been added to the lineup at the Speedo Invitational. It is a relay. America's top four female 50-meter freestyle sprinters will race against four men.

The women scorch the pool, edging out the men and setting an unofficial world record for the event.

Schubert says the performance showed a spark he'd been looking for. "That could be a real sign of leadership on this team."

It could be. After all, the swimmers the women have just beaten are Olympians.

But then again, these men haven't been Olympians since the 1970s. Now, one of them is an eye surgeon in Phoenix named Gary Hall. Senior.

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