Few anticipated the oldest world record in swimming would be sunk Sunday at the TYR Swim Meet of Champions. Certainly not Kate Ziegler of Great Falls, Va.
But as she completed one stroke after another in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle at the Mission Viejo Aquatic Center, it became clear that something rare was brewing on the final day of the four-day meet.
By the time Ziegler completed the 15-lap race, the edges of the pool were lined with cheering spectators, coaches and competitors. When she looked at the clock, her mouth fell agape as she saw her time of 15 minutes 42.54 seconds, a mark that easily bettered the previous world record of 15:52.10 set by Janet Evans in March 1988, three months before Ziegler was born.
"I saw I was almost 10 seconds faster," she said of the record. "I thought I looked at the wrong lane."
The longest-standing world record still belongs to Evans, though. She set the 800 freestyle mark in 1989.
Before she took time to dry off or meet with her coach, Ziegler was on the phone with her parents, Don and Cathy, shocking them with the news as well.
"If someone had told me I was going to go 15:42 today, I would have laughed in their face and told them they're crazy," said Ziegler, who turned professional shortly after graduating from high school last year.
After spending 3 1/2 weeks at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., with Coach Ray Benecki, they returned last week confident that the altitude training would allow Ziegler to drop her times. They just didn't know when.
"When you come down from altitude, you really don't know if the effect is going to be instantaneous," Benecki said.
"They always say you get a little jump, and then three weeks later you get a big jump, but the way she trains is so different ... maybe she gets her jump in five days."
She broke the meet record in the 800 freestyle Thursday, took down Evans' meet record in the 400 freestyle Friday and set another meet record in the 200 freestyle Saturday while swimming a leg on the 800 freestyle relay.
But while warming up for the 1,500, she didn't feel as strong.
"I felt horrible," she said. "I barely kept my pace on my 100s. I thought, 'If I have to work this hard on one 100, this is going to be a really rough race.' "
Ziegler opened the race by turning nearly identical 100 splits of about 1:03 and held that pace throughout the race. She zoomed through 800 meters in 8:22.57, three seconds ahead of the world-record pace and faster than the meet record of 8:24.40 she set Thursday. She noticed the pool deck getting crowded and Benecki's signs of encouragement.
"I knew I was going pretty fast," she said. "I actually checked out the clock once or twice to see where I was at, so I knew I was close."