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Mission Viejo Swim Meet of Champions : 100-Meter Freestyle Won Easily by Bondi; Bentley Pulls Surprise

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Matt Biondi knows what it feels like to be a Steve Bentley. And Steve Bentley is doing everything he can to find out what it feels like to be a Matt Biondi.

Biondi, the world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle, pulled away from the field to win his specialty Sunday in the Mission Viejo Swim Meet of Champions. But the 6-foot 6-inch, 20-year-old wasn’t exactly a big name in swimming two years ago when he made the U.S. Olympic Team.

In fact, he didn’t know anyone on the team when his fourth-place finish in the 100 freestyle during the U.S. Olympic Trials earned him a spot on the squad. A month later, though, he was one of the boys, waving a fist and wearing a gold medal after the U.S. 400-meter relay team was victorious.

Bentley, a junior at USC who trains in the summer at the Golden West Swim Club near his home in Huntington Beach, hopes to make a Biondi-like splash at the World Championship Trials next month in Orlando.

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He at least made a couple of big-name swimmers take notice Sunday when he came from behind to beat Canada’s Alex Baumann and Newport Beach’s John Moffet in the 200-meter breaststroke. Bentley’s 2:23.41 was more than 10 seconds off Canadian Victor Davis’ world record, but it was enough to impress Baumann and Moffet, the former world-record holder in the event.

“I’ve never heard of him before,” Baumann said, “but if he’s not shaved or rested, that’s a very good time for him.”

Bentley won’t argue.

“I haven’t taken a real break from swimming since last September and I think that’s really paying off,” he said. “This was a fantastic time for me, my best untapered time by three seconds. And it’s pretty exciting beating two former Olympians like them.

“I beat John once during a dual meet (Stanford vs. USC) in February, so I came in here knowing he could be beat. Two years ago, I came to this meet rested and shaved, and Baumann wasn’t, and he still beat the (bleep) out of me. If he hadn’t just swum the 200 (individual medley), he probably would have beaten me tonight.”

Baumann, who recently tied his world record in the 200-meter individual medley during Canada’s World Championship Trials, won the event in 2:04.24 Sunday, bettering his old meet mark by four-tenths.

Biondi’s 51.16 in the 100-meter freestyle was less than a tenth of a second off the meet record and more than two seconds slower than his world record, but it was his best unrested time and bodes well for the World Championship Trials.

This time, though, he’ll go in as top dog, not underdog.

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“I don’t know if I’m more hungry or less hungry,” Biondi said, “but I’ll tell you this, there’s a lot more pressure now. When people are aware of you, then people are shooting for you.

“I used to just swim against my own times and try to better my place finishes. Now, I can only go for better times ‘cause you can’t finish higher than first. It’s easier if you’re not No. 1, no doubt . . . but if I wasn’t, I’d still want to be.”

Steve Bentley knows the feeling.

And so does Debbie Babashoff, a 16-year-old from Fountain Valley who won her second event of the meet with a 16:33.64 in the 1,500-meter freestyle. She won the 800-meter freestyle Thursday and both times were personal bests for her, quite a feat considering she wasn’t tapered or rested.

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“I’m pretty happy with the way I swam here,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty good about the trials, too. I think shaving and resting can mean 10 to 12 seconds in the 1,500 and almost eight seconds in the 800.”

In other events, the Netherlands’ Conny Van Bentum, who attends California, established a meet record in the 100-meter freestyle with a 56.63, bettering Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead’s 56.71; Kathy Smith, a senior at Stanford who won the 100-meter breaststroke Friday, hit the wall first in the 200-meter individual medley (2:21.98); Amy Shaw, a 14-year-old from Mission Viejo, went 2:36.61 to win the 200-meter breaststroke, and Jeff Kostoff turned in an impressive 15:32.29 to win the 1,500-meter freestyle.


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