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Baumann Takes Ill, and Woodhouse Takes Berndt in 400 Medley

Times Staff Writer

This showdown turned out to be a letdown--and even a bit of a slowdown.

The much-anticipated meeting between Canadian world record-holder Alex Baumann and East German defector Jens-Peter Berndt never materialized Saturday night. Baumann was ill and did not compete in the Speedo Swim Meet of Champions at Mission Viejo’s International Swim Complex.

“He had a viral infection, and when he woke up this morning, he couldn’t eat or even speak,” said Jeno Tihanyi, Baumann’s coach at Laurentian University. “He had hot and cold spells, profuse perspiration and a high fever during the night.”

So the race went off with only three of the four top-ranked 400-meter individual medley swimmers on the blocks. Australia’s Rob Woodhouse, who won an Olympic bronze last summer in the event, passed Berndt in the final 100 meters to win in a less-than-awesome 4 minutes 25.76 seconds, almost eight seconds slower than Baumann’s record.

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Berndt, ranked No. 3 in the world coming in, was second in 4:27.56, and Brazil’s Ricardo Prado, the Olympic silver medalist who was rated No. 2, was fourth. Mathew Rankin of Portland, Ore., was third.

Tihanyi, trying to express Baumann’s disappointment, told a surprised media corps that Baumann had planned to better his world record in the race.

“We were peaked and would have (body) shaved for this race,” he said. “Alex was going to go for a world record tonight. It’s difficult to see 1 1/2 months of serious preparation go down the drain.”

Berndt, who defected last January and is training in Mission Viejo for the summer, was looking forward to the race--a meeting that he and Baumann had planned since the spring. But he clearly was not in the kind of shape to have competed with a prepared Baumann.

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Berndt started quickly and was under a world-record pace after the first 100 meters (the butterfly leg). He held a modest lead after the third leg (the breaststroke) but could not hold off Woodhouse in the final 100 meters of freestyle.

Woodhouse had jokingly told the media Friday night that after reading all the publicity surrounding the Baumann-Berndt match-up, he had decided to “just make the consos (consolation finals) so I can watch the finals.”

But after the race, he was wearing a subtle, I-told-you-so smile. “I saw him (Berndt) after the backstroke, and he was leading by about a body length and a half,” Woodhouse said. “But I was feeling fairly well and felt I was in a good position.”

Berndt, who said he liked all the build-up around the race because he swims better when the pressure is on, admitted that his performance reflected the kind of training he has done this year.

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“I know I have to realize what I’ve gone through this year, and it’s logical that I’m not swimming my best,” Berndt said. “I was very much looking forward to this race, and even when I found out this morning Alex was sick, I thought there was a little chance he’d go for it, anyway, because of the kind of great athlete he is.

“But you can’t swim with a fever.”

Most of the American swimmers in the meet continue to appear to be performing under par. There have been some pretty sickly swims by the best in the United States, and the Canadians and Australians have been all over the victory stand.

The Commonwealth siege continued Saturday night.

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Canada’s Tom Ponting set a meet record (55.26 seconds) in the 100-meter butterfly; Canadian Sean Murphy, who just completed his freshman year at Stanford, won the 200-meter backstroke in 2:04.26; Australian Olympian Georgie Parkes picked up her second win of the meet, taking the 200-meter backstroke (2:15.56), and South African Gary Brinkman won his second race with a 3:56.27 in the 400-meter freestyle.

Three Americans won in the women’s competition, however:

--Fifteen-year-old Kim Brown, who just finished her freshman year at Mission Viejo High School, took the 400-meter freestyle in 4:14.43.

--Erika Hansen, also 15, touched first in the 400-meter individual medley in 4:52.17. Hansen, who is hoping to replace the retired Tracy Caulkins as America’s premier individual medley swimmer, was almost 13 seconds off Caulkins’ American record and 16 seconds behind East German Petra Schneider’s world record.

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--Seventeen-year-old Jenna Johnson, who gained an Olympic silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly, won that event in 1:01.11.

Johnson appeared slightly taken aback when deluged by questions regarding the Americans’ poor showing here.

“It’s a post-Olympic year, and most Americans are in the middle of heavy training,” she said. “A lot of the Canadians and Australians are rested and shaved.

“You can’t base our whole future on how we do one week. Don’t worry, guys, we’re not dead yet.”

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Maybe just a little ill.


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