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SWIMMING NCAA MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS : UCLA’s Cecchi Pulls Off an Upset in 100 Breaststroke

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andrea Cecchi’s legs were suffering from oxygen debt as Eric Wunderlich closed in from one side and Mike Barrowman drew near from the other.

But when the threesome reached the finish, Cecchi, a UCLA junior, slammed his hands against the wall to win the 100-yard breaststroke in the biggest upset of the NCAA Division I men’s championships Friday night at Texas Swim Center.

Cecchi touched in 53.50, to 53.52 for Michigan’s Wunderlich and 53.54 for his teammate Barrowman, the world record-holder in the 200-meter breaststroke.

“He (Cecchi) is the greatest finisher I’ve ever seen,” UCLA Coach Ron Ballatore said. “Thank God for electrical timing.”

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While Ballatore had an inkling that Cecchi could win based on his meet-leading relay splits, Cecchi based it on lack of intimidation.

“You never know if you can win or not, but I didn’t feel anyone was so strong that they couldn’t be beat,” said the native Italian.

Cecchi’s improvement bodes well for his Olympic dreams that weren’t realized in 1988, when he was removed from the Italian team because of a heart arrythmia.

“I’ve never had any problems with my heart,” said Cecchi, who has since been cleared by the Italian federation. “I am lucky.”

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Three-time defending champion Texas was also lucky--and fast--in winning three of the eight events on the second day of competition to push its first-place total to 342. Stanford is in second with 290 points, followed by USC (221), Florida (220), Tennessee (168) and Michigan (150).

While Texas has scored 152 points on relays, Stanford’s four second-place finishes have resulted in 136 points, and USC has virtually eliminated itself from title contention with only 106 relay points. The Trojans got a lift, however, when Dave Wharton won the 400 individual medley and became the only swimmer to win four consecutive national championships in that event.

Wharton passed Michigan’s Eric Namesnik on the last 50 of freestyle to win in 3:43.28, a time that is shy of his 1988 American record of 3:42.23, but the third fastest ever.

Iowa’s Artur Wojdat won his second gold, rallying to beat Arizona State’s Troy Dalbey, 1:33.71 to 1:33.73, in the 200 freestyle.

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