Peirsol settles for silver

IRVINE — If Aaron Peirsol was upset, he sure kept a great poker face Wednesday night at Irvine High.

Peirsol might not have felt upset, but David Plummer of Minnesota definitely pulled one off.

The 6-foot-4 Peirsol doesn't usually get out-touched in the 100-meter backstroke, or any backstroke race for that matter. But in his former home pool, on a big stage, it was a shocker that had the crowd buzzing at the USA Swimming National Championships.

Plummer took the win, holding off Peirsol's rally to win the national championship in the 100 back in 53.60 seconds. Peirsol, the 100 back gold medalist at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing games, took silver in 53.63.

It was the first time Peirsol, the 2002 Newport Harbor High alumnus who was the defending national champion in the event, had failed to win it at a national-level competition since he finished fourth at the 2000 Olympic trials.

"At nationals in the 100 it's been a long time," Peirsol acknowledged after the race, wearing an orange University of Texas shirt. "I don't know. I'm not sure that fazes me really, losing to Dave, considering how close it was. Dave was due."

Peirsol was a teenager at those 2000 Olympic trials; now he's 27. But the five-time Olympic gold medalist seemed reserved after the race. He congratulated Plummer and said that he was happy for the former University of Minnesota standout.

Plummer was approached by two female swimmers with Minnesota caps as he walked toward the media area. One told him she didn't even need to warm-up for her race now, she was so energized.

Peirsol, meanwhile, went off to warm down. When he came back, the 100 back world-record holder was asked if he was surprised to lose a race that he has "owned," having held that record for six straight years, minus a week last summer.

Peirsol shook his head no.

"I don't own anything, let's put it that way," he said. "Everything's on loan. Actually, I was happy for Dave … It was a good race. Races like that could go either way, and I've been fortunate enough to be on the other end of that more than enough."

Nicholas Thoman of Arizona, who finished third in 53.78, actually held the lead at the halfway point. He swam a 25.80 split; Peirsol was in second at that point and Plummer in third.

Peirsol came on strong at the end and seemed to edge ahead with just meters to go, but Plummer was able to out-touch him. It was a breakthrough win for Plummer, who wasn't even listed in the pre-race media notes for the event but found a way to win his first national title.

Peirsol had qualified first for the finals Wednesday morning by swimming a 54.02; Plummer qualified second in 54.11.

"I made my first national team when I was 16," said Plummer, now 24. "That was eight years ago now, I made the national junior team. I've been working for a really, really long time. To have it pay off like this is huge. It means a lot to me … I had a really, really great finish. Really, that's what was going to have to happen."

Peirsol, swimming in his former home pool as he used to swim for the Irvine Novaquatics, now swims for Longhorn Aquatics in Texas. He trains at the pool at the University of Texas, where he attended college. But he also said it didn't faze him to finish second in Irvine, in front of so many friends and family.

"Not really," Peirsol said. "I don't think I disappointed my parents [Tim and Wella] up there [watching the race]. They weren't looking at me like they wanted to spank me or anything. I was actually pretty happy with that race."

With the second-place finish, Peirsol is virtually assured of making the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, which are back at Irvine High beginning Aug. 18. The national championships and Pan Pacific meets serve as qualifiers for next year's FINA World Championships in China.

"The ultimate point is to qualify, to ensure you're on next year's worlds team," Peirsol said. "I didn't ensure anything. I ensured that I'm on the Pan Pac team. That time, we'll probably end up having to go faster than that at Pan Pacs."

Peirsol has two events left. He's scheduled to swim the 100 butterfly today at nationals; he's seeded third and world-record holder Michael Phelps is seeded first. Peirsol will also be in his other standout event, the 200 back, on Saturday.

Phelps, who won the 200 free and 200 fly gold medals Wednesday, will also be in the 200 back on Saturday, as well as fellow Olympic star Ryan Lochte.

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