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WORLD SPORTS SCENE : U.S. Swimmers to Be Challenged in Atlanta

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The NationsBank Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, Thursday through Sunday at the Olympic pool in Atlanta, might be a signpost for the United States. With 500 swimmers from 30 nations expected to compete, U.S. swimmers will have a chance to prove last week’s mediocre performances at the outdoor national championships in Pasadena were not the disaster they seemed.

U.S. swimming’s supremacy has been deteriorating over the last decade to the point where the rest of the world has caught up.

The 52 men and women who will represent the United States this week had varying reasons for their average results. But most of the swimmers and coaches blamed the timing of the meet, which falls too close to next March’s all-important U.S. Olympic trials.

Coach after coach claimed his or her swimmer was not shaved and tapered (read: rested) for the nationals. Were these simply excuses?

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“Our sport is far from perfect,” said Chris Martin, the women’s Pan Pacific coach, who added that times should be markedly improved this week.

“I feel the pressure to put up some times, only because these kids are capable of doing that.”

It will be interesting to see how Martin’s troika of young distance stars, Brooke Bennett, 15; Trina Jackson, 18; and Cristina Teuscher, 17, react to a strong Australian contingent that includes Haley Lewis.

“A lot of these kids don’t know any better,” said Martin, the University of Florida’s coach. “Hopefully they beat whoever we put in front of them.”

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In a meet devoid of quality times, Tripp Schwenk in the 200 backstroke and Amy Van Dyken in the 50 freestyle set U.S. records, illustrating the success of Coach Jonty Skinner’s U.S. resident national team in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The resident team concept has not been well received by all the club coaches, perhaps because they see a loss of control.

“I don’t understand where the problem is,” Schwenk said. “Maybe it is a little bit of jealousy. People are going to [complain] about things when it comes to U.S. swimming.”

Schwenk, who has resurrected his career in Colorado after floundering for three years at Knoxville, Tenn., considered his record swim vindication for the resident program.

“There are coaches who don’t want to see us swim fast,” he said, adding that his old Tennessee coach, John Trembley, has supported his efforts.

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A tribute dinner for Olympic runner Kim Gallagher will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday Aug. 18 at the Riviera Country Club. Gallagher, 31, is suffering from stomach cancer. The woman who won medals in the 1984 and ’88 Summer Olympics in the 800-meter run must use a walker to get around. Donations from the $100-a-plate-dinner and silent auction will go to a trust fund for Gallagher’s 5-year-old daughter, Jessica Smith. Some of the sports items being auctioned are a Joe Montana helmet, Dan Marino football, Michael Jordan basketball and baseball and Wayne Gretzkyhockey stick. Reservations: Sandra Luther at 310-479-0944.

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Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrasilassie is motivated to win his second 10,000-meter championship Tuesday in track and field’s World Championships at Goteborg, Sweden. For his victory two years ago at Stuttgart, Germany, he won a Mercedes-Benz. But he believes he needs another.

“I keep the one I have in the garage because I don’t know how to drive,” he said. “I’m afraid to practice because I might have an accident. But if I win another Mercedes, I can wreck the first one and still have another in the garage.”

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There is discussion at Goteborg that the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which governs track and field, might change the timetable again for the 1996 Summer Olympics at Atlanta to give Michael Johnson even more time between 200 and 400-meter races so he can compete in both events. No man has won both in the Olympics.

But even if the IAAF does not relent further, Ollan Cassell, USA Track & Field executive director, believes Johnson will try the double.

“He’s got to try it if he wants to be up there with Jesse Owens and all the other greats of the sport, Cassell said. “I know he’s reluctant now, but he’ll figure it out.”

World Scene Notes

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The Phillips 66 national diving championships are Wednesday through Sunday at Bartlesville, Okla., with 13 divers defending national titles. Mark Lenzi and Scott Donie, 1992 Olympians, will continue their comebacks at the meet. David Pichler, Mark Bradshaw, Kent Ferguson and Melisa Moses are expected to lead the competition. Dick Kimball, University of Michigan coach, said the meet will serve as a steppingstone toward the ’96 Olympics. “To some extent, this meet gives us some indication of where we are,” he said.

Even before Hurricane Erin hit the Georgia coast during last week’s test event, the International Yacht Racing Union was unhappy with the Savannah site for the sport in the ’96 Olympics. It would be easy to blame some of the problems on IYRU chief Paul Henderson, who might hold a grudge after leading the Toronto bid that lost to Atlanta in voting for the ’96 Games. But that’s not fair to Henderson. Even U.S. sailors are complaining about the one to two hours that it takes for boats to be towed to the offshore race course. . . . Israel withdrew from archery’s World Championships last week because the host country, Indonesia, feared demonstrations, perhaps even violence, directed toward the Israelis. Indonesia is a heavily Muslim country that does not recognize Israel. If the Israelis had decided to compete at Jakarta, Indonesian officials recommended that they do so without marching behind their flag in the opening ceremony or wearing uniforms that would make them easily identifiable.

Times staff writer Randy Harvey contributed to this report from Goteborg, Sweden.


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