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Swim Meet of Champions : No-Names Surprise Favorites at Mission Viejo

Times Staff Writer

If there’s one thing you can count on about the Speedo Swim Meet of Champions at the Mission Viejo International Swim Complex, it’s that you can’t count on anything at all.

Take Thursday’s 800-meter freestyle for men, for instance. Mike O’Brien, a USC sophomore who won the Olympic gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle, was entered. And so was Placentia’s John Mykkanen, who won a silver in the 400-meter freestyle.

Gary Brinkman was competing, too. Now, Brinkman’s is certainly not a household name in sports. It’s not really a bellwether name in swimming circles, for that matter. However, it was Brinkman who hit the wall at 8:08.70 to edge Mission Viejo High School junior Dan Jorgensen (8:08.93) and win the 800, a non-Olympic event. Mykkanen was 13th and O’Brien finished 21st.

The surprising result may be explained by the fact that everyone competing in the meet seems to show up in a different state of preparedness.

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Brinkman, a South African who swims for Southern Illinois, sat home in Durban, South Africa, last summer, watching the Olympics on TV and getting depressed.

“I’m South African, you know,” he said, “so I’ve kind of had the door slammed in my face internationally. I’ve known where I stood for a long time, but actually watching the Olympics did get me down.”

Brinkman felt considerably better after Thursday’s swim, his fastest time ever despite the fact that he is in the middle of heavy training and was “tired and unrested.”

South African Jonty Skinner, who broke the world record in the 100-meter freestyle two weeks after the 1976 Olympics, is coaching Brinkman this summer at San Jose Aquatics and he was very pleased with the performance.

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“We swam a hard workout yesterday and flew down just today,” Skinner said.

Brinkman wasn’t the only foreign swimmer making waves Thursday. Denmark’s Pernille (it rhymes with vanilla) Nimb emerged from nowhere to win the women’s 800-meter freestyle.

Nimb’s 8:40.44 was almost 20 seconds better than her previous best time and she not only beat Mission Viejo teammate Kim Brown (who finished second at 8:44.48), but she also established a Danish national record.

Unlike Brinkman, Nimb was shaved and rested for this meet. Her intent was to go faster than 8:50 and qualify to compete in this summer’s European championships. But Nimb, who has been training with the Nadadores since September, said she was “surprised a lot,” at her time.

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“We work harder and much more here,” said the 18-year-old from Copenhagen. “That’s why I can improve so much.”

Mission Viejo Coach Mark Schubert admitted he was pleasantly surprised, too.

“Her best two events are the 200 and 400 (freestyles),” he said. “I’d say now that she’s a threat to win them both.”

Swimming Notes

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Rick Carey, world record-holder in the 100-meter backstroke and double-gold medal winner in the Olympics, decided not to compete at Mission Viejo this week. He dislocated a kneecap while stretching three weeks ago, and recovery has been slow. “He’s only been back in the pool about a week,” said John Collins, Carey’s coach at Badger Swim Club in Larchmont, N.Y. “We’re hoping he’ll be ready for long-course nationals (Aug. 5-9 at Mission Viejo). He had a back problem last fall and now this. It’s been one thing after another.”. . . . Tiffany Cohen, who won both the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events in Olympic-record time last summer, is concentrating on shorter events these days. She’ll be swimming the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events, the 200-meter butterfly and the 400-meter individual medley this weekend. “We’re just changing things around a little and concentrating on building speed right now,” Mission Viejo Nadadore Coach Mark Schubert said.


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