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Larsen Pulls Away in 1,500 : Swimming: Her 16:51.63 is 12th-fastest time in the world this year.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At this time last year, Alexis Larsen didn’t qualify for the National Junior Olympics West.

On Tuesday night, the 14-year-old from Pacific Palisades was crowned National Junior Olympics West champion in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the Mission Viejo International Swimming Complex.

Since moving to Coach Bud McAllister’s distance program at Calabasas-based CLASS Aquatics last September, Larsen has gone from a zone-level swimmer to a world-ranked swimmer.

Her time of 16 minutes, 51.63 seconds is the 12th-fastest time in the world this year. It is also four seconds under the qualifying time for Senior Nationals, Aug. 12-16 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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At the U.S. Olympic Festival at USC last month, Larsen qualified for Senior Nationals in two other events, with a first in the 800 freestyle and a second in the 400 freestyle.

Because her expectations have changed as dramatically as her swimming, Larsen was disappointed Tuesday when she did not break the NJO West record of 16:50.10.

“I think, maybe, I should have started my kick a little sooner,” said Larsen, who passed Dee Brown at the 200 mark and steadily pulled away from the field, earning a 10.8-second margin of victory.

Taking the lead from Brown, the 6-foot-3, 12-year-old from St. Louis, set Larsen’s mind at ease.

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“She’s a really good swimmer,” Larsen said. “She has a lot of power. I saw her in the other races and she goes out really fast. I was hoping she would slow down in a longer race like this.”

Brown, who won the 200 and 400 freestyles on Sunday and Monday, respectively, did drop off the pace, finishing in fifth place at 17:07.26.

In the men’s 1,500 freestyle, Jim Sullivan of Golden West Swim Club in Whittier prevailed in 15:58.85.

Sullivan, who will be a freshman at Utah in the fall, knocked nine seconds off his best time and qualified for Senior Nationals.

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“I thought I might be able to win,” Sullivan said. “I pretty much swam my own race, although the competition helped.”

The third Southland champion on the last of five days of competition was Becky Thompson, 14, of Industry Hills Aquatics.

She edged Kim Johnson of Richardson, Tex., 26.91-26.98 in the 50 freestyle.

“I wanted to win the 50 so bad I had to do everything right,” said Thompson, who took only one breath, with 15 meters left.

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Justin Smith of Aquatex Swimming in Spring, Tex., shaved his head for the men’s 50 freestyle and won in 23.90.

In the men’s 200 individual medley, Walter Soza, 18, of Alamo Area Aquatic Assn. in San Antonio, clipped five seconds off his best time with a 2:07.67, a Senior National qualifying time.

Renee Gamboa, 14, of Menomonee Falls Swim Club in Brookfield, Wis., used a strong third leg, the breaststroke, to win the women’s 200 individual medley in 2:21.56.

Two National Junior Olympic records were set in the meet, both by Amy Durfee of Bend, Ore., in the 100 breaststroke (1:12.66) and the 200 breaststroke (2:36.22).

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Three National Junior Olympic West records were posted: the women’s 200 freestyle by Brown (2:03.38), the men’s 100 backstroke by Wiseman (58.36), and the women’s 400 medley relay (4:25.94) by the City of Plano, Tex., team of Pam Harwood, Cathy O’Neill, Wendy Cuthbert and Amanda Le Grow.


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