Sandeno wins and lends a helping hand

Times Staff Writer

Kaitlin Sandeno did the things you usually do after touching the wall following a swim race.

Look at her time (4 minutes 42.13 seconds) in the 500-yard freestyle on the scoreboard, her second title Saturday after earlier winning the 200 butterfly at the Toyota Southern California Grand Prix of Swimming in Long Beach. Look at her family and friends in the stands.

Instead, all eyes were fixed on 20-year-old Courtney Eads of Upland, who needed to be pulled out of the Belmont Plaza Olympic pool by lifeguards and Sandeno went to help. Eads started having physical problems near the end of the long-distance race and her coach thought it looked as though she was having a seizure in the water.

Though paramedics arrived, Eads did not need medical assistance beyond that and walked out of the facility with her coach, John Ries of the Claremont Club. Eads told him and others that she had felt tightness in her chest before the race.

"By the way she couldn't catch her breath and was hyperventilating, I thought she was having an asthma attack," said Sandeno, who tried to help Eads by taking deep breaths in tandem. "It helps when somebody else slows down their breathing with you.... It was scary."

Said Ries: "I was going to jump in the water, but the race was going on. They [the lifeguards] got there in plenty of time. She just couldn't get her breath. I've coached her since she was about 5 years old. I've never had that happen."

Meet referee Mary Jo Swalley said she had never seen it happen during a race in her 30 years as a swim official. Nor had swimmers Aaron Peirsol or Michael Phelps.

Peirsol had a rare second-place finish in the 200 backstroke, losing to Ryan Lochte, though it was in short-course yards and it didn't appear to concern him. Peirsol was speaking during the women's 500 and asked reporters why it had fallen so quiet in the building.

Phelps was warming up for his 500 freestyle and he noticed the eerie quiet settle over the facility. He said the air quality was not too good in the pool and found it hard to breathe.

"All of sudden it was totally silent," he said. "The stretcher coming out and someone getting pulled out of the water.... I had no clue what had happened. Hopefully, she's OK."

Phelps was pleased with his first two individual races of the year, both wins, starting with the 100 freestyle (42.43 seconds) and finishing with the 500 freestyle (4:14.57). He is swimming his usual ambitious schedule in preparation for the world championships in March at Melbourne, Australia. On Monday, he will compete in the 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and 100 breaststroke.

"Bob had always wanted me to try to do that triple," Phelps said of Coach Bob Bowman. "It works out they're all on the same day and they're all back-to-back-to-back. It's going to be hard. I tried to get out of the 100 free and he reminded me that I have 17 swims in Melbourne."

The first final of the night nearly resulted in an American record in the 100 freestyle. Natalie Coughlin, who holds the mark of 47.00, finished in 47.03. "Not surprised," she said. "I was happy. I definitely think I can go faster than that. I just don't have that many opportunities to race this anymore."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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