Fresh faces aplenty on US team
Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2008 9:04 pm
By: By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Elizabeth Beisel emerged as a rising star at the U.S. trials, earning a trip to her first Olympics at 15. Garrett Weber-Gale assumed the sprint legacy left behind by Gary Hall Jr.
Then there’s Megan Jendrick, back in the swim of things eight years after winning gold as a teenager.
They are among the fresh faces joining Michael Phelps, Katie Hoff, Natalie Coughlin and Ryan Lochte in the pool at the Beijing Olympics.
Beisel, for one, still can’t quite believe it.
The teenager from Saunderstown, R.I., earned spots in the 200-meter backstroke and 400 individual medley just two years removed from being on the national ‘B’ team, a step below the big-time.
“It’s pretty cool being the rookie,” Beisel said. “There are so many veterans here that will help me out with nerves and stuff. I was not expecting this. I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a little girl and now that it’s true and I’m up here with these guys, it’s pretty sweet.”
Phelps was also 15 when he made his Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000, going all but unnoticed except for his status as the youngest male since 1932. He finished fifth in the 200 butterfly.
He’s not worried about Beisel handling the pressure.
“She’s been on a few national team trips already, which is a few steps ahead of where I was in 2000,” Phelps said. “The biggest thing is just to have fun.”
The bubbly Jendrick is back, this time with a different name after marrying three years ago. She won two gold medals in Sydney under her maiden name of Quann, becoming the youngest medalist on the 2000 U.S. swim team at 16.
Jendrick narrowly missed making the team for Athens and then retired. She’ll swim the 100 breaststroke in Beijing.
“It just feels amazing to be back on top,” she said. “My goal is to definitely break the world record and win the gold again.”
Like Jendrick, Weber-Gale missed out on making the 2004 team. The 22-year-old sprinter from Milwaukee is a veteran of two world championships, but as a relay swimmer.
Now he’ll try to extend the gold-medal legacy of Hall, the two-time defending Olympic 50 free champion who failed to qualify at the trials.
Weber-Gale, whose name is a combination of his mother’s maiden name (Weber) and his father’s name (Gale), will compete in the 50 and 100 freestyles and the 400 free relay.
“If you don’t expect to do well, you’re not going to swim fast,” he said. “I trained hard all year. I was really confident in my swimming and wanted the best times. I want to keep my confidence high going to Beijing and set some goals and expectations of swimming fast and winning some medals.”
Jessica Hardy has been around for a few years, but never in an Olympics. The 21-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., earned spots in the 50 free, 100 breaststroke and 400 free relay.
“I don’t think if you had told me a month ago that I would make it in all three of these events that I would have believed you,” she said. “I’m expecting good things for sure.”
Another newcomer is Elaine Breeden, an 18-year-old from Lexington, Ky., who will swim the 100 and 200 butterflys. Her relatives include cousin Diane Sawyer, co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and actor Johnny Depp, which should make her very popular with her teammates.
Cullen Jones made his first Olympic team, two years after coming to attention as the world’s top-ranked swimmer in the 50 free. He didn’t qualify in any individual events, but he’ll swim the 400 free relay.
Jones helped the U.S. win gold in that event at last year’s world championships. He became the first black swimmer to break a long-course world record in 2006, again on the 400 free relay at the Pan Pacific Championships.
Towering above them all is 6-foot-8 Matt Grevers, the son of Dutch immigrants from suburban Chicago. He will swim the 100 backstroke and the 400 free relay.
Another first-time, Lacey Nymeyer, caught a break Monday when 41-year-old Dara Torres dropped out of the 100 free in Beijing.
Nymeyer was only set to swim the 400 free relay, but now she’ll compete in the 100 free while Torres focuses on the 50 free as her best chance for an individual gold.
Torres will be the oldest American ever to swim at the Olympics — her record fifth — and she could potentially swim two relays.
Lochte is back in his second Olympics, having qualified in three individual events as the runner-up each time, but Phelps is in two of them.
He’ll challenge Phelps in both the 200 and 400 individual medleys, while teammate and defending Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol awaits in the 200 backstroke.
Lochte isn’t fazed by either of them.
“I think that I can win every time,” he said. “I still have another month to correct things. Beijing is going to be a lot different.”