Eric Shanteau heading home to fight cancer

BEIJING -- Eric Shanteau, his bid to win a medal in the men's 200-meter breaststroke finished, will head home to the United States to begin his fight against testicular cancer.

The diagnosis came in June, and doctors said that the cancer was not spreading. So Shanteau decided to continue with his pursuit of a spot on the U.S. Olympic swimming team.

"Now, I've got a much bigger battle to win and I know I'm going to win that one," Shanteau told reporters in Beijing after finishing 10th in the semifinals, two places out of a spot to swim in the 200 breaststroke finals.

Read more about the remarkable 24-year-old swimmer.

-- Dan Loumena

Photo: Eric Shanteau enters the Water Cube in Beijing for a practice session. Credit: Julian Abram Wainwright / EPA

A bottle of bubbly at the end of Phelps' gold rush?

Michael Phelps laughs during a June 27 press conference in Omaha.

BEIJING -- While working out on an elliptical machine Monday morning, I watched Mark Spitz do an interview on CNN International about Michael Phelps' quest for eight gold medals, which would break Spitz's Olympics record of seven.

The night before, I had bet a bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne with my good friend Vicki Michaelis of USA Today that the 400-freestyle relay would end -- relatively quickly -- Phelps' chances of winning eight.

I said the French would beat the United States.

And while I don't like to count on the French for anything in sports, given their history of being notorious chokers (OK, I know they won the 1998 soccer World Cup, but it was at home and Brazil's Ronaldo swooned from some illness and was a shell of himself in the final), I noted that Spitz also had mentioned the free relay and the French as a formidable challenge.

This is a roundabout way of bringing up Matt Biondi and the amount of hope NBC has invested in having Phelps' quest for this holy grail continue for a week so casual U.S. viewers remain interested.

Biondi undertook the Spitz quest in 1988, and NBC also staked a lot on his being to do it.  But Biondi won only silver and bronze in his first two races, bursting that balloon, and his eventual five gold medals went almost unnoticed.

So NBC will be holding its breath for the first three competition days of these Olympics, when Phelps faces his biggest challenges.

The first comes from teammate Ryan Lochte in Phelps' opening event, the 400 individual medley on Day 2. Lochte stayed with Phelps the whole way at the U.S. Olympics trials before losing the 400 by less than a second.

The next comes in what is expected to be the second Phelps event, the final of the 400 free relay on Day 3. While U.S. coaches have not publicly named relay lineups, Phelps is expected to be on that team.

U.S. men won the 400-free relay the first seven times it was held in the Olympics, but they have lost the last two, finishing second to Australia in 2000 and third to South Africa and the Netherlands in 2004.

Even if the U.S. team seems stronger this time, there is also the matter of starts. While they are hardly as perilous as relay baton exchanges in track, false starts do occur.  To wit: butterflyer Ian Crocker jumped too soon in the heats of last year's world championship and cost Phelps an eighth gold medal in that meet.

If the U.S. does win the free relay, I will be giving Vicki some champagne.  And maybe we will use it to toast Phelps, because his gold rush will reach historic proportions if he gets past Day 3.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Michael Phelps laughs during a June 27 news conference in Omaha, where the U.S. Olympics swim trials were held. Credit: Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Tara Kirk offers her view of the world

Tara Kirk has posted on her wcsn.com blog in the wake of Jessica Hardy's decision to withdraw from the U.S. Olympics swim team -- and USA Swimming's decision not to add another swimmer (Kirk) to the team.

Here is part of what she had to say:

I’m frustrated and disillusioned. But most of all, I am saddened that the people and organizations that I gave a huge part of my life to couldn’t bring themselves to do the right thing. To make this situation right.

Kirk also delivers this message to the swim hierarchy:

I’m not sure what I can do for myself. But I think that it is vitally important to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. I don’t think that change can occur without the acknowledgement that mistakes happened. But since no mistakes are being admitted to, that means that my fight is not over.

-- Greg Johnson

USA Swimming indifference sinks Kirk

Tara Kirk

BEIJING -- USA Swimming should be ashamed of itself.

And the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn't look good on this one, either.

The swimming federation decided to hide behind bureaucracy rather than give Tara Kirk a chance at the Olympics.

Sure, somebody might have sued if USA Swimming had not followed Olympic selection guidelines set in February, when it assumed (in swimming's holier-than-thou way) it wouldn't have to deal with a situation like the Jessica Hardy doping case.

But the procedures still allowed for giving Kirk a place she missed by 1/100th of a second with a third-place finish during the Olympic trials. USA Swimming decided that no additional team members would be added if a place became vacant after July 21. (The full text is below).

But the federation's leaders knew on July 21 that Hardy, who won the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympic trials, had a positive doping test. (Why it took them that long to get results from trials that ended July 6 is another issue.)

At that time, they could have added Kirk as an alternate. Other federations, like USA Gymnastics, routinely do it to provide replacements in case of injury.

Rosters did not need to be submitted to the International Olympic Committee until July 23. On Friday, Hardy agreed to drop her appeal of the suspension for use of the banned substance clenbuterol, meaning she had taken herself off the OIympic team.

Through her attorney, Howard Jacobs, Hardy admitted the testing was accurate, denied ever taking the drug intentionally and said she would now try to find out how it got into her system (a tainted supplement seems a likely source).

Which leaves Kirk without the chance to compete, a chance that USA Swimming should have given her, or that the USOC should have forced USA Swimming to give her.

"The fault now lies on many shoulders and I fear that incompetence, laziness and deceit may have played a role,'' Kirk wrote on her wcsn.com blog. "That is much harder to take. Regardless of intent, mistakes were made and I am paying for them. People I trusted to do their jobs and to ensure the working order of the system we put in place for our sport failed me."

All these sports organizations talk about the Olympics being about the athletes.

Which makes their inaction in the Kirk case all the more inexcusable. Just like all that blather from swimmers (except Gary Hall Jr., bless him) about their sport being free of the doping that besets track and field.

-- Philip Hersh

The USA Swimming text follows:

If, for any reason, an additional Team position or an additional event position shall become vacant after July 21, 2008, (entry deadline), no additional members shall be added to the Team. If USA Swimming is permitted to fill a vacant event position, such vacant event position shall be filled with the swimmer already on the Team who has recorded the fastest time in such vacant event during the period beginning January 1, 2006 through July 6, 2008, provided, however, that the replacement swimmer must agree, after consulting with the Head Coach and National Team Head Coach and General Manager, to compete in the additional event. If the replacement swimmer does not agree to swim in the additional event, then the replacement swimmer shall not be considered an Available Swimmer for that event. This process shall repeat until the event is filled.

Photo: Tara Kirk after winning a March 26, 2007, breaststroke semifinal in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

A late Jessica Hardy update

Jessica Hardy after finishing the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha on July 1.

Jessica Hardy's lawyer, Howard Jacobs, sent over a statement Friday night that outlines their plan of action. Here's what it says:

Jessica Hardy has cooperated fully with USADA since its notice to her on July 21 that she tested positive for a very low level of clenbuterol, a banned substance, during the Olympic Trials. Based upon information obtained as recently as today, August 1, she accepts the fact that the testing was properly done and the results properly reported. She sadly accepts the fact that this necessarily means she will not be able to compete in the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, and faces a possible two-year suspension of eligibility.

Jessica did not knowingly or intentionally take any banned substances. Active investigations are being conducted to determine the source of this very low level of clenbuterol. Following completion of this investigation, Jessica will seek to have her period of suspension reduced substantially. It is anticipated that a hearing on this issue will take place within the next several months.

Jessica is heartbroken at this turn of events, as making the U.S. Olympic Team was her cherished dream and proudest moment. She intends to resume her swimming career as soon as possible, and to again fulfill her Olympic dream in 2012. She thanks her many teammates, fans, and friends who have been so supportive during this difficult time. Their faith in her was justified and she will soon give them more reason to be proud of her and her accomplishments.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Jessica Hardy after finishing the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha on July 1. Credit: Armando Arorizo/Bloomberg News

Walking the plank

Inspired By Diabetes I remember saying to a reporter in Omaha a few weeks before the Olympic Trials were set to begin: “I feel like I’m walking the plank, that any second I’m going to fall.”

In life, a few of us manage to age gracefully, fade away, putting up the good fight that none of us can win. Father Time takes us all. For an Olympic athlete, there is no setting sun, no twilight of a long career.

At a certain age you make the Olympic team or you’re done. Eventually you aren’t going to make it. It’s a walk on a not-so-long plank of wood, followed by a fall and a final splash.

It’s so morbid.

At 33 years of age, I was far past being a veteran in the sport of swimming. I knew the end was coming. Frankly I was surprised that “the end” hadn’t come sooner.

It’s not the confidence one might expect from a guy who won the last three Olympic Trials, who is a two-time defending Olympic champion, the guy who occasionally wears a red, white, and blue cape with sequins.

My body had changed. I was older and I felt older. I had always been in the habit of listening to my body, and lately my body was telling me a lot more than it ever had before, especially in the morning.

Recovery time after training had become as important as the training itself.

I was still swimming fast. Very fast. It just hurt more. I knew that I was going to have a great swim at Olympic Trials. I had trained really hard, made so many sacrifices. The work was done. I was as prepared as I could be.

21.91 seconds.

My time at Olympic Trials in the 50-meter freestyle was fast enough to win any previous Olympic Games.

That’s something to be proud of, particularly at the advanced age of 33.

I placed fourth.

The top two swimmers qualify for the Olympics. My time of 21.91 seconds placed me 12th in the world for 2008, and I can expect to be bumped quite a few more slots by the time they extinguish the Olympic torch at the Closing Ceremony.

This sport of swimming has gotten a lot faster.

When Tom Jager, the world-record holder in the 50 meters freestyle for close to 10 years, retired from the sport in 1996, he bowed gracefully saying, “It is better to try and fail, than fail to try.”

That line stuck with me. It’s probably the reason why I was still in the pool at the 2008 trials racing against younger and faster swimmers. We won’t know what we’re capable of until we try, all the while knowing that one day, we’ll dig deep and it won’t be enough, or it won’t be there at all.

It takes courage to try, to lay it all on the line. If you’re able to do that, well, that too is something to be proud of. I am able to say that I tried. I really gave it everything I had, and I came up short. There is no shame in that.

Even though I didn’t make the team, I’m going to Beijing. I will be writing and reporting on the events and atmosphere, the good and the bad, the triumph and tragedy that come with every Olympics. I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to have a great time.

In the interview with that reporter, I told her that I was happy, really happy. Olympic Trials have come and gone and I didn’t make the team. I’m still really happy. Life is what you make it. I have a new chapter to look forward to.

I walked the plank, and, after making a bit of a splash, I’ve found that the water’s not too bad after all.

-- Gary Hall Jr.

Inspired by Diabetes is a global campaign that encourages people touched by diabetes to share their stories with others around the world. The program is a collaboration between Eli Lilly and Co. and the International Diabetes Federation’s (IDF) Unite for Diabetes initiative. In the U.S., the American Diabetes Assn. is the program’s national advocate. For more information, visit inspiredbydiabetes.com

New kid on the blog

Gary Hall celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2004 Athens Games.

Ticket To Beijing's newest blogger was on the phone the other day. We had just started a conference call to discuss story angles and plans for our upcoming Beijing Games coverage.

"Welcome to the L.A. Times," I told him.

"I'm the king of the world," Gary Hall Jr. responded with a laugh.

So, with much pleasure, here's an introduction to our newest blogger in Beijing.

Gary Hall Jr. will be providing commentary on the races from the perspective of a three-time Olympian. He can take you behind the scenes in and around the Games.

I first met Gary in 1996 at a pre-Olympic meet hosted by the Phoenix Swim Club and wondered if his slacker reputation was a bit one-dimensional. It truly was.

Since then, he's gone from rebellion to marriage and fatherhood and managed to win swimming's  marquee Olympic event, the 50-meter freestyle, at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games.

The first Olympic victory wasn't long after he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Hall has made it his mission to serve as a role model for those with diabetes. He wants to educate the public and prove that a diabetes diagnosis does not mean the end of an athletic career.

We had lunch last winter in Irvine when he was taking time away from his training to do some work for BD Medical, including a motivational appearance at the Children's Hospital of Orange County, where he met with 50 or so diabetic children.

He told me stories about giving out his cellphone number to newly diagnosed people, and also calling someone recently diagnosed with diabetes. Many times, the youngster on the other end doesn't believe it's Hall on the line.

A couple of us met up again with Hall in June in Omaha. Again he spoke about his efforts. And when someone asked whether he was going to go into politics, he said that he leaned "slightly left."

"The extent of my politics today is stem cell research, and so I’ll put forth efforts to allocate more funding for diabetes research and stem cell research," Hall said. "Those are the political issues I’ve been involved in for a very long time."

He did get off a good line about presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, who was closely tied to Hall's grandfather -- former S&L executive Charles Keating Jr.

"I remember his comb-over most vividly when I was a kid," Hall said. "It was like this huge sea fan attached to the side of his head when he’d go underwater. We always kind of laughed about that."

Just a slice of the Hall humor. We've often joked that Gary has been a headline-making machine, and hopefully he'll be making (and writing) a few for us.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Gary Hall celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2004 Athens Games. Credit: Mark Baker/Associated Press Photo

Note: Each of Hall's columns will carry a logo for Inspired by Diabetes, a global campaign that encourages people touched by diabetes to share their stories with others around the world. The program is a collaboration between Eli Lilly and Co.mpany and the International Diabetes Federation’s (IDF) Unite for Diabetes initiative. In the U.S., the American Diabetes Assn. is the program’s national advocate. For more information, visit inspiredbydiabetes.com

End of the (Hardy) Affair

Jessica Hardy (left) hugs fourth place finisher Kara Lynn Joyce after the final of the 50-meter freestyle during the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials on July 6 in Omaha.

Updated at 7:00 p.m. on Friday with USA Swimming statement on which swimmers will take over Jessica Hardy's races.

In a surprising twist, the Jessica Hardy case ended.

Sort of.

Hardy, the 21-year-old Long Beach swimmer who tested positive on July 4 for a low level of the banned substance clenbuterol, opted to withdraw from the U.S. Olympic squad in "the best interests of the team," according to a release late this afternoon from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

"While it is an unfortunate circumstance for an Olympian to come this far only to lose a coveted position on the Olympic team, Ms. Hardy is working expediently and agreeably to resolve the situation with as little impact to the U.S. Olympic team as possible," said USADA chief executive Travis Tygart. "While some might have chosen to exhaust their legal options to try to force their way into the Games, Jessica instead chose to put her team's interests ahead of her own."

She does have the opportunity to come back to the arbitration panel with evidence which "could reduce her period of ineligibility." The ban, as it stands now, is for two years.

-- Lisa Dillman

Rebecca Soni Here is how USA Swimming will deal with Jessica Hardy's decision on Friday to withdraw from the U.S. Olympic Team:

"As a result of Jessica Hardy's withdrawal from the U.S. Olympic Team, USA Swimming will follow the published U.S. Olympic Team selection procedures, which were approved by the USOC, and posted in their final format on February 22, 2008. According to the pre-approved procedures, swimmers from the existing roster will be placed in the open events. Rebecca Soni will swim the 100m breaststroke and Kara Lynn Joyce will swim the 50m freestyle."

Top Photo: Second place finisher Jessica Hardy (left) hugs fourth place finisher Kara Lynn Joyce after the final of the 50-meter freestyle during the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials on July 6 in Omaha. Credit:  Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Bottom Photo: Rebecca Soni poses for a portrait during the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Media Day at Stanford University on July 12 Palo Alto. Credit: Ned Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Hardy is off of the Beijing-bound U.S. swim team

Jessica Hardy

Swimmer Jessica Hardy has agreed to withdraw from the U.S. Olympic team after testing positive for a banned substance at the trials. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Hardy’s decision Friday, saying she did so “in the best interests of the team.”

The 21-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., could have contested the drug test results, which would have kept her Olympic berth in doubt until the eve of the games that open Aug. 8.

Here is some of what USADA said on its website:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – August 1, 2008 – The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced today that U.S. Swimmer, Jessica Hardy, of Long Beach, CA, tested positive for the prohibited substance clenbuterol at the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 4, 2008, and has agreed to withdraw from the 2008 United States Olympic Team in the best interests of the team. While Ms. Hardy could have contested the drug test results before the American Arbitration Association (AAA)/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (NCAS) and thereafter potentially filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport thereby keeping her Olympic berth in doubt until the eve of the Games, Hardy instead agreed to step aside to allow her teammates to put their focus on their performances.

“While it is an unfortunate circumstance for an Olympian to come this far only to lose a coveted position on the Olympic Team, Ms. Hardy is working expediently and agreeably to resolve the situation with as little impact to the U.S. Olympic team as possible,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart. “While some might have chosen to exhaust their legal options to try to force their way into the Games, Jessica instead chose to put her team’s interests ahead of her own.”

A panel of AAA arbitrators issued an arbitration award today that was jointly agreed to by Hardy and USADA after Hardy had a full opportunity to review the laboratory test results and to have those results analyzed by independent experts. Hardy did not contest the laboratory findings and was granted additional time by the AAA Panel to investigate possible causes of her positive drug test. The award provides for a two-year period of ineligibility but allows Hardy to come back to the Panel to present evidence which could reduce her period of ineligibility.

Hardy, 21, tested positive for a low level of clenbuterol, an anabolic agent, during the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska on July 4, 2008. Clenbuterol is prohibited as an anabolic agent and as a beta-2 agonist.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Jessica Hardy celebrates winning the semifinal of the 50-meter freestyle and setting a new American record of 24.48 during the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials on July 5 in Omaha. Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

Cone of silence

Jessica Hardy There will be an arbitration hearing for Jessica Hardy, the Long Beach swimmer who tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol. But she is racing against the clock, so to speak, in her appeal to swim at the Beijing Games.

Hardy remains on the team and will stay on the roster until the appeal process runs its course.

So what's the arbitration process?

Her lawyer Howard Jacobs responded promptly on Wednesday to an e-mail query: "The Panel has stated that under the rules, the date and location of the hearing are confidential, sorry."

He also declined to discuss defense strategies "for now."

So all we know is that the hearing will be this week. Or it could very well being going on right now.

Time to go dig out a most-appropriate CD, "Sounds of Silence."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Jessica Hardy listens to the U.S. national anthem after winning the 100-meter breastroke during an April meet in England. Credit: Leon Neal / AFP/Getty Images

U.S. swim teams name captains for Beijing

Dara Torres, right, hugs Natalie Coughlin after a July 3 race during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

Five-time Olympian Dara Torres, four-time Olympian Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin, who won five medals four years ago in Athens, are the newly elected captains of the U.S. Olympic women’s swimming team.

Three-time Olympians Erik Vendt and Jason Lezak, along with two-time Olympian Brendan Hansen, will captain the men's team in Beijing.

The captains were announced Wednesday after team members voted. The U.S. swimmers are training in Singapore and will leave on Monday for Beijing. The Olympic swim competition begins on Aug. 9.

Photo: Dara Torres, right, hugs Natalie Coughlin after the women's 100-meter freestyle semifinal at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha on July 3. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press Photo

All Shook Down

Mark Spitz places a medal on Michael Phelps during the U.S. Olympic swim trials on July 4.

Never conducted an interview during an earthquake, but it was bound to happen after living in Southern California for 22 years ... simply couldn't miss every single other one because of hockey road trips.

Rich Foster, president of U.S. Aquatic Sports and former president of USA Water Polo, was in his Long Beach office. I was a few miles away in my house. We had been talking by telephone about his newly released book, "Mark Spitz: The Extraordinary Life of An Olympic Champion."

"We're having an earthquake," Foster said at 11:42 this morning.

Seconds later, the shaking started at my house. But we kept on talking, and the telephone line didn't cut out, even though my house kept moving. "Uh, maybe I better get under a doorway," I said to Foster, half-remembering the one thing that you are supposed to do in these circumstances.

Equilibrium was restored. We went back to Spitz, who will most certainly be in the glare of the spotlight in Beijing as Michael Phelps tries to equal or surpass the seven gold medals Spitz won in the 1972 Olympics -- and rekindles the debate over who's the best-ever swimmer.

"The 'who was better' question is like comparing Mark to Johnny Weissmuller," Foster said.

His book project was hatched a couple of years ago during a long conversation with Spitz in an airport in Milan, Italy. Spitz started telling stories from his career, and Foster told him that he'd like to read his autobiography. Spitz replied that there wasn't one.

Foster tracked down almost all of Spitz's key rivals and teammates (sometimes they were one and the same) and wrote about his strengths and warts. The one elusive interview was Don Schollander (who won four gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics) and who did not respond to Foster despite six or seven phone messages.

The relationship between Spitz and Schollander was tense back in their days at the storied Santa Clara Swim Club. Spitz was driven to study Schollander, and all but stalked him in the pool. Here's how he tells it in the book:

Sometimes he would get irritated if I was swimming in the lane next to him and would move over a lane. I would quickly move over, too. If he moved to another lane, I would follow. I got a secret charge knowing I had the capacity to exasperate him.

For Foster, one of the more satisfying aspects of the project was tracking down Steve Genter in Switzerland. Genter, of UCLA, was Spitz's main rival in the 200-meter freestyle and finished second to him during the Munich Games despite suffering a collapsed lung a few days earlier.

His story and remarkable recovery are in Chapter 11, which is titled "What If?"

The night after the surgery to repair the collapsed lung, Genter stayed up and worked on exercising his right arm in five-minute intervals and could move his arm with no pain by the next morning.  Foster told him that long night of exercise must have been boring.

Foster recalled the conversation on Tuesday: "He said, 'Don't tell me about boring. I'm a swimmer.' "

(Foster's publisher is Santa Monica Press, which is retailing the highly entertaining book for $24.95.)

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Seven-time Olympic gold medal winner Mark Spitz places a medal on Michael Phelps after the 200-meter individual medley during the U.S. Olympic swim trials in Omaha on July 4. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press Photo



Some names in the Beijing Games

Michael Phelps signing autographs at Stanford University on July 12. Alan Thompson, Australia's head swim team coach, tells Reuters that Michael Phelps is the kind of swimmer who could rise to the occasion as he tries to win eight Olympic golds.

Thompson, speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur, where his team is practicing, described Phelps as a "sensational swimmer. ... He thrives on the more events and the more success he has. It'll be tough to do, a tough program. But he's a very capable young man."

Mountain bike rider Klaus Nielsen on Tuesday was selected to replace banned cyclist Peter Riis Andersen on Denmark’s Olympic squad. Riis Andersen was barred from the Beijing Games after admitting that he'd taken a banned blood booster. The 28-year-old Nielsen finished second to Riis Andersen in the Danish mountain bike championships July 20.

Former Italian pole vault world champion Giuseppe Gibilisco is threatening to pull out of the Beijing Games because Coach Vitaly Petrov is spending too much time with women’s world and Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva.

"At this moment I’m behind in my preparation," Gibilisco told an Italian newspaper. "I don’t want to go to Beijing just to make up the numbers."

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Michael Phelps signing autographs at Stanford University on July 12. Credit: Tony Avelar / Associated Press

Torres' coach diagnosed with rare blood disorder

Swimmer Dara Torres looks over at her coach, Michael Lohberg, during a July 1 news conference in Omaha.

Updated: 4:55 p.m.

Six-time Olympic coach Michael Lohberg of the Coral Springs Swim Club has been diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease. Lohberg was supposed to be on his way to Singapore to help swimmers -- including 41-year-old Dara Torres -- prepare for the Beijing Games.

Instead, he is fighting for his life.

Lohberg, 58, is seeking care at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., with doctors who specialize in the disorder. Sun-Sentinel.com quoted Lohberg as saying: "The NIH is specialized in the disease and treatment. I don't think I can say what the prognosis is until they do the tests. The prognosis of these doctors [in Florida] is very bleak. There isn't much to say until I see these specialists."

Lohberg's comments as reported on MiamiHerald.com on Thursday night were equally bleak: "It's really, really bad. They told me I might last only weeks, or maybe even days. It's bad. I knew something was wrong because I was very tired and out of breath, but I thought it was from my herniated disk and all the stress. Turns out it's a disaster."

Torres, who says she has been emotionally drained by the experience, first noticed something was wrong with her coach and said he had a bad back before they left for the Olympic trials, and that he was becoming more and more tired in Omaha, saying, "He barely could walk 10 meters without having to sit down."

Lohberg learned of the rare blood disorder while preparing for a relatively common back procedure last weekend. Doctors performed routine blood tests that uncovered aplastic anemia, a condition in which the bone marrow stops producing new blood cells.

Torres, a five-time Olympian who has trained with Lohberg for two years, told McClatchy Newspapers  that she is devastated: "It's so awful, really, really terrible. I can't even talk about it right now. I haven't stopped crying."

Lohberg has been coaching Torres and six other Beijing-bound swimmers.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Swimmer Dara Torres looks over at her coach, Michael Lohberg, during a July 1 news conference in Omaha. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press Photo

Hardy turns to television to proclaim her innocence

Jessica Hardy reacts after winning the women's 100 meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha on July 1.

U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy took to the airwaves this morning to proclaim her innocence after a positive doping test that is threatening to derail her Beijing Olympics bid. Speaking on CBS' "The Early Show," the 21-year-old swimmer from Long Beach described the past few days as "heartbreaking and devastating....It's literally a nightmare."

Hardy, who tested positive for a prohibited drug, told the show's hosts that "in my heart I know I'm 100% clean and I've never done anything different my whole career. I've been clean my whole career and to have this huge setback...it's just heartbreaking."

Hardy’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, said Thursday that the swimmer tested positive for the stimulant clenbuterol after her second doping test at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials. Her first and third doping tests that same week, Jacobs said, both came back negative.

“I have my attorneys and my experts looking into it, but honestly we have no idea how this positive test happened,” Hardy said.

Hardy qualified to compete in the Olympic 100-meter breaststroke and the 50 freestyle. She told CBS that she heard the bad news when she awoke on Monday at the U.S. training camp in Palo Alto: "I was actually napping when I got the phone call. USADA, the U.S Anti-Doping Agency, called and said that I tested positive and I had never even heard of this drug before.

“I was taking notes right when she called, to write down my information and everything and I spelled the drug name wrong even....I was devastated."

Hardy holds out hope that she'll be able to clear herself and compete in the Beijing Games. "We’re going to have a hearing before the start of the Olympic Games, and as soon as possible to try to make sure that I can compete, because I know that I’m innocent and we just have to prove this.”

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Jessica Hardy after winning the women's 100 meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha on July 1. Credit: Armando Arorizo / Bloomberg News

Advo-Cate?

Jessica Hardy swims the women's 100-meter breaststroke semifinals on June 30 at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha.

The message boards, understandably, are going wild on the Jessica Hardy case -- in particular, boards at swimmingworldmagazine.com.

There was plenty of discussion about her positive drug test for the banned substance clenbuterol, and numerous theories about what may have triggered the positive test on July 4.

As of 10 p.m., Hardy had drawn 127 comments; in contrast, an Olympic preview of the men's 100-meter butterfly had drawn just five comments.

Some of those making comments noted that Hardy has endorsed the Carrollton, Texas, company AdvoCare, which offers nutritional supplements for weight loss and sports performance.

More often than not in recent years, athletes have raised the tainted supplement defense in the aftermath of testing positive. To be clear, there has been no suggestion that strategy is being planned for Hardy at this early stage.

But it was interesting to note that Hardy is now harder to find on AdvoCare's website.

The company's home page still has a testimonial from New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Sixteen other NFL players are listed, along with athletes from many other sports. Some Olympic swimmers also are among its "world-class endorsers" -- among them, newly minted Olympic swimmer and distance star Larsen Jensen.

But not Hardy.

Though she's been on the website in the past, she's pretty much vanished. But not entirely, because nothing ever seems to completely vanish on the Internet.

Swimmingworldmagazine.com offered this link to Hardy's AdvoCare page.

That web page includes this quote from Hardy: "Because of AdvoCare, I have increased energy and better mental focus, and it has made me an all-around better athlete."

As they say, stay tuned.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Jessica Hardy swims the women's 100-meter breaststroke semifinals on June 30 at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press

Sequence doesn't make sense*

Jessica Hardy poses for a portrait during the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Media Day at Stanford University on July 12.

Among the odd things -- and there are many about the Jessica Hardy case, in which the swimmer from Long Beach allegedly tested positive for a banned substance that is believed to be a stimulant -- is the specific sample in question.

This is from an e-mail from Hardy's agent, Evan Morgenstein, which hit bright and early this morning: "The sequence is negative, positive, negative I am being told..."

The three results are in reference to the three times Hardy was tested for drugs at the U.S. Oympic swimming trials earlier this month in Omaha.

Her three individual finals were on July 1 (the 100-meter breaststroke, in which she took first); July 4 (the 100-freestyle, in which she finished fourth and secured  a place on the 400-free relay team); and  July 6 (the 50 free, when she finished second to Dara Torres).

Last night, Morgenstein emailed me around 11:30 p.m., with an impassioned defense of Hardy:

Jessica Hardy is a friend and someone I have the utmost faith has NEVER done
anything other than the right way. I don't know enough about the
allegations to determine the veracity of the claim, but as far as I am
concerned Jessica is Innocent.  PERIOD.

As of 7:15 this morning, the team (which is training at Stanford University) hadn't been told anything officially about Hardy's status, according to one swimmer. Since yesterday afternoon, information has been filtering in via text messages and e-mails, according to the coach of one Olympian.

*USA Swimming now has issued a statement:

USA Swimming has been notified of the anti-doping proceeding involving a U.S. athlete. The matter is being handled by USADA and we are hopeful that the matter will be resolved expeditiously. Out of respect for the hearing process, USA Swimming will have no further comment at this time.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Jessica Hardy poses for a portrait during the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Media Day at Stanford University on July 12. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Fun with numbers, Olympic edition

Left to right, Mark, Steven and Diana Lopez. All three will compete in taekwondo.

For the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Beijing Games is all a numbers thing.

But first a trivia question:

3: The number of states that do not have a representative on the U.S. Olympic team headed to Beijing. Name them (answer at the end).

Now for the real numbers.

596: The number of athletes on the U.S. team, 310 men and 286 women.

30: The number of sports, including the newest Olympic disciplines of BMX, open-water swimming and women's steeplechase.

2= 0: The U.S. will not compete in men's field hockey and team handball.

5 x 41 = 9: There are three five-time Olympians, including 41-year-old Dara Torres of L.A., who will swim at an Olympic Games for her third consecutive decade (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2008). Torres will also enter the Games as the most decorated U.S. Olympic athlete, with nine Olympic medals to her name (four gold, one silver and four bronze).

12: The number of athletes who will be competing in their fourth Olympic Games.

8: The number of gold medals Michael Phelps is after as he looks to make history by surpassing Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in 1972.

1 + 3: Sheila Taormina (modern pentathlon) already made sports history when she became the first woman to qualify for the Olympics in three sports (swimming, triathlon and modern pentathlon). This will be her fourth U.S. Olympic team (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008).

47: The number of states that will have athlete representatives competing in Beijing, based upon athletes' listed hometown affiliation.

175: The number of Olympic athletes who are from California, the most of any state.

4 > 50: Four members of the team competing in Beijing next month are over 50 years old. Distinction as the oldest goes to sailor John Dane III, who is 58. Libby Callahan (shooting) will become the oldest U.S. female Olympian of all time, at 56.

15: The age of the youngest team members, part of the women's 10-meter synchro team in diving. Mary Beth Dunnichay edges partner Haley Ishimatsu (of Seal Beach) as the youngest U.S. athlete.

3 + 1: Olympic history is being made as Steven, Mark and Diana Lopez (all taekwondo) become the first three siblings on the U.S. Olympic team since 1904. They will be coached in Beijing by their eldest brother, Jean.

20: The number of U.S. Olympic athletes who are mothers. Among them is Torres, as well as three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie (Sparks) and 2004 Olympic champion Jennie Finch (softball/La Mirada).

Trivia answer: Montana, North Dakota and Vermont.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Left to right, Mark, Steven and Diana Lopez. All three will compete in taekwondo. Credit: Pat Sullivan / Associated Press

Shanteau cleared to compete

Olympic men's head coach Eddie Reese, center, talks with his coaches at Stanford University earlier this month. Nothing but positive news emerging from the training camp for U.S. Olympic swimmers at Stanford University.

Everyone is looking great, swimming faster than ever and there's plenty of team bonding.

But the most promising development emerged late in today's conference call with men's coach Eddie Reese, women's coach Jack Bauerle and Mark Schubert, the team's head coach and general manager.

They were asked about breaststorker Eric Shanteau, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last month, shortly before the swim trials in Omaha, and then made the team in the 200-meter breaststroke event.

"Eric has handled this whole situation better than our coaching staff," said Reese, Eric Shanteauwho is also Shanteau's personal coach at Longhorn Aquatics in Austin, Texas. "We were more worried than he was. He just got his last blood work taken here at Palo Alto, and he's in great shape.

"They've given him the go-ahead to go on to Singapore and Beijing. And basically with no worries."

Also involved and consulting on the matter is one of the top doctors in the field, from Indiana University, who was closely involved in Lance Armstrong's case. Reese called the situation "one of the toughest he had been involved in during his long career."

Distance has helped Shanteau, the coach said. "He's further away from the discovery of his cancer," Reese said. "The heat of the moment, so to speak, has been diminished. So he's focusing more on his swimming than ever before. He's in great shape."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Olympic men's head coach Eddie Reese, center, talks with his coaches at Stanford University earlier this month. Credit: Tony Avelar / Associated Press

Inset:  Eric Shanteau. Credit: Larry Kolvoord / Austin American-Statesman / Associated Press

Play-Doh playmates

Allison Schmitt acknowledges the crowd at the awards ceremony for the 200-meter freestyle. With her are fellow youngsters Katie Hoff, left, and Julia Smit and Caroline Burckle, far right.

PALO ALTO -- Really, it shouldn't be surprising that someone was putting Play-Doh on Dara Torres.

After all, she has a toddler, 2-year-old Tessa.

But it wasn't young Tessa putting it on her leg; it was one of her newly minted Olympic teammates, 18-year-old Allison Schmitt, who wasn't even born when Torres competed in her first Olympics in 1984.

Schmitt, who trains with Club Wolverine and Michael Phelps in Ann Arbor, Mich., under coach Bob Bowman, made her first U.S. Olympic team by finishing second in the 200-meter freestyle behind Katie Hoff at trials. Torres, 41, will be competing in an unprecedented fifth Olympics.

On Saturday, Torres was asked about generation divide on the team, certainly more than a gap.

"How do I explain this?" she said at a media gathering on Saturday at Stanford. "They're all really nice. I've really enjoyed being around them. You can definitely tell there's an age barrier.

"We were at a team meeting and Allison Schmitt had Play-Doh and was spelling my name out on Play-Doh on my leg."

Presumably, Torres didn't return the favor.

"Oh, no.  I'm like, 'You're a bad influence,' " Torres said. "She was so funny. Then they rolled it up  and made the Olympic rings and put it on my leg."

Torres joked about the youngsters, saying, "I think they have to baby-sit me."

From all accounts, Schmitt has been a burst of fresh air at this training camp. Phelps and Bowman were telling stories from Ann Arbor.

"She's always a character," Phelps said. "She has her little underwater camera that she brings, and we're taking pictures underwater and we're messing around. The one thing she loves is telling jokes. Sometimes they're not that funny. But she always laughs really hard at them. It's fun."

He wasn't sure about her best joke, and so Bowman jumped in: "She actually had a good one, one day. I was so shocked I think I forgot."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Allison Schmitt acknowledges the crowd at the awards ceremony for the 200-meter freestyle. With her are fellow youngsters Katie Hoff, left, and Julia Smit and Caroline Burckle, far right. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Eye On Eric

Eric Shanteau poses for a portrait during the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Media Day at Stanford University. PALO ALTO, Calif. -- From one media obligation to another this morning at Stanford University, Eric Shanteau carried this pink handmade sign:

NBA Supports Eric Shanteau.

NBA is not that NBA. Shanteau, who made the U.S. Olympic team in the 200-meter breaststroke, thought it was a local swimming club.

There was another message, three simple words in cursive writing: Get Better Soon!

This public outreach at an open training session at Stanford was a second important prong of support for the 24-year-old, who found out on June 19 -- just days before the swim trials in Omaha -- that he had testicular cancer. He broke the news to the U.S. swim team -- after first telling his Texas teammates Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker, among others -- on Thursday night, and the room fell silent.

His girlfriend Jerri Moss, who had been a swimmer at Auburn, urged him to go to the doctor when he first noticed something was wrong. He could have easily delayed it until after Omaha but followed her advice, calling it "powerful persuasion." And, sadly, there was family experience with cancer, all too recently, as his father Richard was diagnosed with lung cancer last year.

The doctor, not knowing Shanteau was about to swim in the Olympic trials, advised immediate surgery.  But Shanteau said they caught it "crazy early" and that the cancer had not spread. So Shanteau went on to the trials and kept his diagnosis a secret from his teammates, though he told his coaches.

Then came an unexpected development in the 200 breaststroke final. Former world-record holder Brendan Hansen faded badly in the final stretch, finishing fourth. Scott Spann and Shanteau went one-two and are going to Beijing in that event.

But Shanteau's joy was muted for someone who had missed making the Olympics four years ago with two third-place finishes at the trials. Some thought it was out of respect to his teammate Hansen. But even their coach Eddie Reese, usually a larger-than-life presence, looked strangely out of sorts in the mixed zone.

Everyone understood why after Thursday's meeting.

Shanteau will delay surgery until late August, after the Olympics. He spoke today about making that tough call and disclosed there was disagreement in some quarters about waiting.

"Trust me, I have been very, very careful about making this decision," Shanteau said. "I haven't taken it lightly whatsoever. I've gotten all the facts, all the opinions, all the information from a lot of people. Just because I'm here now training doesn't mean I'm going to be here in two weeks training.

"I'm basically living week-to-week. That's my situation right now. I'm having tests and scans done on a weekly basis, and if anything shows signs of rapid progress or I see some abnormalities, I'm going to have to reevaluate my position here, possibly move swimming to the back burner."

He will be seeing doctors at Stanford and then in Singapore when the team shifts its training base at the end of this month. He calls swimming "my escape. Instead of thinking about cancer all day, I get to go to practice and have fun with my friends. One of the sayings I've picked up over the last month or so: I've got cancer. Cancer doesn't have me."

There were blood tests for the first time at trials, and his HCG levels -- an indicator for cancer --  "were elevated but were extremely low," he said.

His roommate at trials, Ian Crocker, did not have an idea anything was amiss in Omaha.

"Everyone gets so wrapped up in swim meets, and I think it really put it into perspective for him," Crocker said. "Since we all found out about everything, it puts it in perspective for us. What this is in the grand scheme of things and how important and fragile we are.

"Everybody kind of acts a little different around trials time. A little stressed. They tend to turn inward."

As anyone knows, the weight of holding such a personal secret was a difficult burden, growing tougher by the day.

"Harder than most people know," Shanteau said. "People started to suspect something was wrong, and then they start flying around with rumors and obviously no one was even close to being dead on yet. Aaron [Peirsol] could have sworn I was engaged. I was, 'Aaron, I'll tell you the story. Just give me some time.' Of course he was a deer in the headlights when I told him."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Eric Shanteau poses for a portrait during the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Media Day at Stanford University. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

Drug questions dog Dara

Dara Torres during a workout at Stanford University on Saturday. Dara Torres this morning was dogged by questions about steroid use. She talked with Lisa Dillman about it at Stanford University, where the swim team worked out.

Though Torres had heard questions about drug use before, they've increased in number and volume since the 41-year-old mother qualified for an unprecedented fifth Olympics.

Torres, who hadn't competed in Olympic trials in eight years, can understand the nature of sport in this post-Barry Bonds, post-Marion Jones world.

"Unfortunately, you can't look someone in the eye and say, 'I'm not taking drugs,' " Torres told Dillman. "You have to take action. I've really tried everything I possibly can to take action and prove that I'm clean." Read the rest of what Torres -- who has won nine Olympic medals -- had to say.

Plenty has been written about Torres, including an online story for The Times by our blogger Philip Hersh a few days ago, and a column by Kurt Streeter that looked at athletes who seem to defy belief. Drugs certainly have devastated the sport of track and field, which Helene Elliott wrote about during the trials. And after the Tour de France became enmeshed once again in a drug problem, Hersh weighed in with a blog item today about Lance Armstrong's teammates, while Diane Pucin tackled the subject in a commentary in today's Times.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Dara Torres during a workout at Stanford University on Saturday. Credit: Tony Avelar / Associated Press

Read on »

Shanteau says he has testicular cancer

Eric Shanteau at last year's world championships. Swimmer Eric Shanteau, who qualified for the U.S. team in 200-meter breaststroke, revealed that he has testicular cancer. In an interview with the Associated Press, Shanteau said he learned about the cancer a week before leaving for the U.S. Olympic trials.

"I was sort of like, 'This isn’t real. There’s no way this is happening to me right now,' " he told the AP by phone.

"You’re trying to get ready for the Olympics, and you just get this huge bomb dropped on you."

His doctors have cleared him to swim at the Beijing Games.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Eric Shanteau at last year's world championships. Credit: Mark Baker / Associated Press

Swim Wars heat up

Eric Vendt swimming the breaststroke leg en route to winning the 400-meter individual medley final during the Janet Evans Invitational in Long Beach on June 12.

A cease fire in the swimsuit legal battle proved temporary today, as Olympian Erik Vendt filed a counterclaim in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana against TYR Sport for breach of contract and slander.

Vendt, who qualified during the recent Omaha swim trials for his third Olympics team, was sued in May by TYR for breach of contract. TYR's antitrust lawsuit also names Speedo's parent company, USA Swimming and its head coach, Mark Schubert. TYR alleges that the defendants conspired to steer swimmers to the Speedo suits.

“This lawsuit, we think, was timed to disrupt his training for the Olympic swim trials,” Vendt’s attorney, Richard Foster, said today in a telephone interview. “They’re taking shots at Erik and they’re not telling the whole story … It’s really bothering Erik. We’re not going to sit here and take shots. We’re going to tell the true story.”

At issue is a clause in Vendt’s TYR contract that allowed him to wear a competitor's suit “without forfeiting compensation, if TYR’s swimsuit was not reasonably comparable.”

Vendt alleges that the TYR suit failed to meet that standard.

“And we think we did,” TYR attorney Larry Hilton countered today during a telephone interview. “Our position was that we did offer a comparable suit, so he was not entitled to wear a competitor’s suit and be paid.”

Court papers allege that Hilton’s previous comments about Vendt to The Times and others wrongly portray the Olympian as "disloyal to a sponsor, greedy, unconcerned about fulfilling contractual obligations, dishonest, and illogical.”

Vendt, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, finished a disappointing fourth in the 1,500-meter freestyle race in Omaha. Vendt did qualify for Beijing, and could swim on the 800 freestyle relay, but won't compete in an individual event.

Vendt's court filing claims that TYR's suit cut his back and tore at the seams and zippers. Foster said that Vendt tested Speedo and TYR suits, and found that TYR's model absorbed water faster and had less constriction than the Speedo product.

According to the court papers, Vendt’s annual base compensation from TYR was $80,000. Potential bonuses ranged from $7,500 for a first-place finish at the trials to $50,000 for an Olympic gold.

--Lisa Dillman

Photo: Eric Vendt swimming the breaststroke leg en route to winning the 400 individual medley final during the Janet Evans Invitational in Long Beach on June 12. Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Janet Evans will make her pitch

Olympian Janet Evans swimming last year with daughter, Sydney.

Five-time Olympic swimming medalist Janet Evans will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Wednesday night before the Dodgers go against the Atlanta Braves at Chavez Ravine.

Evans grabbed five Olympic golds, six U.S. record swim times, 45 national titles, 17 international titles and five NCAA titles.

Other Beijing-bound athletes who will merit similar honors before upcoming Dodgers games include:

July 12: U.S. Cycling's Adam Duvenbeck and U.S. Shotgun and Shooting's Jeff Holguin and Brenda Shinn.

July 13: Members of the Beijing-bound U.S. women's water polo team.

July 25: Members of the U.S. beach volleyball team.

Olympian Lisa Leslie (basketball) was scheduled to throw out tonight's ceremonial first pitch.

--Helene Elliott

Photo: Olympian Janet Evans swimming last year with daughter, Sydney, as part of the LA84 Learn-to-Swim Program. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

Kara Lynn Joyce off to Beijing

USA Swimming has added Kara Lynn Joyce to the Beijing Olympics roster. Joyce, the seventh-place finisher in the 100-meter freestyle in the recently completed U.S. swim trials, is now a 4X100 free relay alternate. Joyce moved onto the squad after Dara Torres withdrew from the 100 free event to focus on other races in Beijing.

The top six finishers in both the men’s and women’s 100 and 200 free event qualified for the Olympic team.

All members of the U.S. Olympic swimming team are eligible to compete on relays, and the relay teams are selected by the coaching staff during the Olympic Games.

USA Swimming also reported that Emily Silver, the fifth-place qualifier in the 100 free, underwent outpatient hand surgery at Stanford University Medical Center earlier today. Silver broke her hand during a race over the weekend. Silver is expected to recover and compete in Beijing, according to USA Swimming.

--Lisa Dillman

Broken hand? No problem

Emily Silver celebrates with second place finisher
Natalie Coughlin after the final of the 100 meter freestyle during the
U.S. swimming trials.

First-time Olympian Emily Silver will need surgery after breaking her right hand at the end of a 50-meter freestyle qualifying race during the U.S. Olympics trials in Omaha on Saturday night.

Silver, 22, broke her hand when she slammed into the wall to finish the race, Associated Press reported.

"She was really scared right away," Mark Schubert, head coach of the U.S. team, told AP. "She got out and said, 'I think I broke my hand again."

Silver, who swims for Cal, had broken the same hand twice before -- once during practice and once during a meet.

Though Silver failed to advance to Sunday night’s final, she did qualify for a spot on the 400 free relay. Schubert told AP that he is "confident she'll be able to compete in Beijing and do well."

Kara Lynn Joyce, who swam for the U.S. during the Athens Games in 2004 will swim if Silver isn't able to compete.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Emily Silver celebrates with second place finisher Natalie Coughlin after the final of the 100 meter freestyle during the U.S. swimming trials. Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

Torres won't swim 100 free

Dara Torres celebrates on July 6 after winning the 50 free in a U.S. record time.OMAHA -– Dara Torres had been leaning against swimming in both the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle at the Summer Games. She made it offical today, dropping the 100 from her Beijing program.

The beneficiary of her decision was Lacey Nymeyer, who finished third in the 100 free behind Torres and Natalie Coughlin, and now moves into the second slot.

Relays became a factor in the decision. Torres was eager to participate in both the 400 freestyle relay as well as the 400 medley relay. She was facing perhaps as many as three preliminary and final swims in the 100 free, and three more in the 50 free.

That, and the relays, would have been too much, even for the ageless Torres, who is 41.

This was her first Olympic trials in eight years, and Torres became the story in Omaha, if not the United States, by winning the 100 free and 50 free, the latter in an American record time on Sunday night.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Dara Torres celebrates setting a U.S. record on July 6 in the 50-meter free. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Morning wrap-up

Tyson Gay holds his left leg after tumbling on Saturday.

Track trials make the tough on U.S. Olympic team even tougher

Mary Decker Slaney bounces back after nightmare moment

Digital technology to play major role in the Olympics

Lopez Lomong's long journey will continue in Beijing

Dara Torres sets it up at age 41

Brendan Hansen struggles as Garrett Weber-Gale soars

Venus and Serena Williams eye Beijing

U.S. Olympic trials were full of surprises

Photo: Tyson Gay holds his left leg after tumbling during the 200-meter dash on Saturday. Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

 

Swim team turns focus to Beijing

Left to right, Hayley McGregory, Elizabeth Beisel and Margaret Hoelzer compete in the final of the 200-meter backstroke. McGregory later faded and Hoelzer won, setting a world record.

In case you missed it, the swimming roster is now set for the Beijing Games.

The men’s team: Michael Phelps, Larsen Jensen, Brendan Hansen, Peter Vanderkaay, Ricky Berens, Klete Keller, Aaron Peirsol, Scott Spann, Garrett Weber-Gale, Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones, Nathan Adrian, Ryan Lochte, Mark Gangloff, Matt Grevers, Gil Stovall, Eric Shanteau, Ian Crocker, Ben Wildman-Tobriner, Erik Vendt, David Walters and Mark Warkentin.

The women’s team: Natalie Coughlin, Katie Hoff, Christine Magnuson, Jessica Hardy, Allison Schmitt, Julia Smit, Caroline Burckle, Elaine Breeden, Kathleen Hersey, Elizabeth Beisel, Margaret Hoelzer, Megan Jendrick, Kate Ziegler, Rebecca Soni, Amanda Beard, Dara Torres, Lacey Nymeyer, Kim Vandenberg, Christine Marshall, Emily Silver and Chloe Sutton.

Eight world records were set at the Olympic trials, and one was tied. There were 21 U.S. records broken.

This morning, the entire Olympic swim team will head to Palo Alto, Calif., for training camp prior to its departure to Beijing. The Olympic pool competition will take place Aug. 9 through Aug. 17 at the Beijing National Aquatic Center, perhaps better known by its nickname, The Water Cube.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Left to right, Hayley McGregory, Elizabeth Beisel and Margaret Hoelzer compete in the final of the 200-meter backstroke. McGregory later faded and Hoelzer won, setting a world record. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

One last shock

Peter Vanderkaay reacts to his winning time in the the final of the 1,500 freestyle.

OMAHA -- So much for predictability.

The last race of the swimming trials tonight hardly went to form. Peter Vanderkaay of Club Wolverine (Mich.) won the 1,500-meter freestyle in 14 minutes 45.54 seconds, well below his personal best of 14:52.56. Taking second was Larsen Jensen of USC's Trojan Swim Club in 14:50.80.

Erik Vendt accounted for the biggest shock as he placed fourth in 15:07.78, a whopping 23 seconds off his personal best. He came out of retirement for one last push and won't be swimming in any individual events in Beijing but will be on a relay.

He was asked about his level of disappointment.

"Oh, yeah, this is what I've been training for all year," Vendt said. "I just didn't get it done today."

Said Jensen: "I figured going out a little quicker really wouldn't be that difficult and it really didn't feel that difficult. I don't know why I really faded at the end. That's the race I can second-guess, I suppose."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Peter Vanderkaay reacts to his winning time in the the final of the 1,500 freestyle. Credit: Donald Miralle / Getty Images

Torres sets U.S. record in 50m freestyle

Jessica Hardy, right, hands her stuffed dolphin to Dara Torres' daughter, Tessa, during the awards ceremony for the women's 50-meter freestyle.

Dara Torres, an ever-younger 41, set a U.S. record in the 50-meter freestyle today with a time of 24.25 seconds. Jessica Hardy of Long Beach was second in 24.82.

"I was hoping to go somewhat fast," Torres said. "Because there are girls in the world that are going 24.1's and 23.9. I have five more weeks to drop a couple of tenths to hopefully be in competition with those girls. So I'm very happy with my time. But I've got a lot of work to do."

Torres earlier won the 100 freestyle, putting her on the 400 freestyle relay and perhaps the 400 medley relay. She said she has not decided whether to swim the 100 freestyle at the Olympics. If she skips that individual race, Lacey Nymeyer would take her spot.

"I need to sit down with [U.S. coach] Mark Schubert and talk about the 100," Torres said. "I don't know what I'm going to do with that."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Jessica Hardy, right, hands her stuffed dolphin to Dara Torres' daughter, Tessa, during the awards ceremony for the women's 50-meter freestyle. Torres won and Hardy placed second in the event. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Kosuke's smackdown, Schubert responds

Brendan Hansen, center, looks down at the lane marker as Scott Spann, left, and Eric Shanteau look up at the timing clock after the 200-meter breaststroke final Thursday night.

OMAHA -- Kosuke Kitajima reacted in an interesting way to Brendan Hansen's failure on Thursday night in the 200-meter breaststroke.

He wrote about it.

And Kitajima, the longtime rival of Hansen, was harsh in his post-race analysis. Of Hansen's fourth-place finish, he wrote on his own official website that Hansen basically choked. The language was more polite ("for a swimmer of his level it shouldn't be that difficult to qualify"), but the message was clear.

You could practically hear Kitajima sniff from his training base in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he is doing some high-altitude training.

Suddenly, these guys are getting really interesting -- and a little testy. Hansen is vowing to do what he can to help his former understudies -- Scott Spann and Eric Shanteau -- beat Kitajima in the 200.

Of course, there still will be one Hansen vs. Kitajima showdown in China, the 100 breaststroke.

In 2004, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima won the gold but was later accused of using an illegal dolphin kick. Brendan Hansen took the silver. The animosity goes back to 2004 when Hansen's buddy, Aaron Peirsol, accused Kitajima of "cheating" at the Olympics in Athens by using an illegal dolphin kick in winning the 100 breaststroke.

This all resurfaced during a chat with USA Swimming's head coach, Mark Schubert, during the drawn-out preliminary heats of the men's 1,500 freestyle. He was asked about Kitajima's comments and whether he had gotten to Hansen.

"I think the only time Kitajima got to Brendan was when we had definitive [video] evidence of cheating in the 100 breaststroke in Athens," Schubert told The Times. "That got to him, but not in a negative way.

"Brendan's been around a long time and he's a great champion. He did everything he needed to do in the 100. He kind of came into this meet a little bit under-rested. He hopes to have a lot more in the tank in Beijing. I don't think it at all indicates he was overconfident.

"But I do think it indicates he was confident. It was one race he was unsuccessful. It happens to everybody. It's so unfortunate that it happens to a great champion at a meet like this because there's no second chances."

-- Lisa Dillman

Top photo: Brendan Hansen, center, looks down at the lane marker as Scott Spann, left, and Eric Shanteau look up at the timing clock after the 200-meter breaststroke final on Thursday night. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Inset: In 2004, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima won the gold but was later accused of using an illegal dolphin kick. Brendan Hansen took the silver. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Out, but not forgotten

Gary Hall Jr. walks off the pool deck after finishing fourth, and out of the Beijing Games.

OMAHA -- Gary Hall Jr. put it all out there tonight, as only the two-time Olympic defending champion in the 50 freestyle could do.

He came out onto the deck for the marquee race, wearing a cape of blue with red trim, and the words "The Godfather of Swimming."

Gary Hall Jr. walks on to the pool deck wearing a full length robe before the final of the 50 meter freestyle. "That was my tribute to James Brown," said Hall, who finished fourth, in 21.91 seconds, ending his bid to make the U.S. team.

The 33-year-old was asked if this was it for him. He joked about going into pro wrestling or politics. Or both?

"This is my last race until I race again," Hall said, smiling. "Look, if Dara [Torres] is 41. In 2016, I'll be 41. I'll probably still be taking time off. The seven-year extended break seemed to work for Dara."

This would have been Hall's fourth Olympics. He competed in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.

Said Michael Phelps: "He's one of a kind. I've never seen a person like Gary."

Hall looked at a lot of familiar faces in the mixed zone and thanked the media for raising the level of awareness and interest in the sport.

"You aren't thanked enough from athletes," Hall said. "Thank you."

-- Lisa Dillman

Top photo: Gary Hall Jr. walks off the pool deck after finishing fourth, and out of the Beijing Games. Credit: Donald Miralle / Getty Images

Photo at left: Gary Hall Jr. walks onto the pool deck wearing a full-length robe before the final of the 50-meter freestyle. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Torres erases Hardy's just-set record

OMAHA -- Jessica Hardy of Long Beach predicted that her freshly minted American record in the 50-meter freestyle, of 24.48 seconds, would not have a long shelf life at the U.S. swimming trials tonight.

"It's going to go down right now," she said after her semifinal swim in which she set the record.

And wouldn't you know it. Forty-one-year old Dara Torres, sufficiently motivated, lowered it in the next heat, to 24.38.

"I'm very competitive and I saw her time," Torres said. "I felt pretty good. I didn't feel like I was hit by a freight train like I was this morning."

Torres, who on Friday night qualified for her fifth Olympic team by winning the 100-meter freestyle, said she got about four hours of sleep because of a series of crank calls. An afternoon nap, though, was rejuvenating.

There is speculation Torres could drop the 100 freestyle and not swim it in Beijing. She said she would make the decision after the final of the 50 free on Sunday night.

"I'm just worried about the 50 and we'll see what happens then," she said.

-- Lisa Dillman

Weber-Gale wins 50-meter freestyle; Hall is 4th

OMAHA -- Garrett Weber-Gale won the 50-meter freestyle in 21.47 seconds at the U.S. swimming trials tonight, an American record. Ben Wildman-Tobriner was second, Cullen Jones third and Gary Hall Jr. fourth.

The old mark, of 21.59, was set by Jones on Friday in the morning prelims.

Coming in fourth means Hall will not be part of the U.S. swimming team in Beijing. He was attempting to go for what would have been his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 50.

-- Lisa Dillman

Phelps wins 100 butterfly, will go for 8 in Beijing

Phelps_fly

OMAHA -- Michael Phelps gets another chance to go after Mark Spitz’s Olympic record in Beijing after locking up his eighth event by winning the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. swimming trials here tonight.

He easily beat world record holder Ian Crocker with a time of 50.89 seconds, just a tad slower than Crocker’s 3-year-old mark of 50.40. Crocker finished today's race in 51.62.

It was Phelps' fifth individual win at these trials, and he will be on three relay teams in Beijing.

"I knew about two, three strokes out, I wasn't going to have the finish I wanted," Phelps said. "There are a few little things I can work on between now and the Olympics: being able to nail the finish and have better turns."

He was, as always, the master of understatement.

"As a whole, a pretty decent week," Phelps said. "This week turned out how I wanted to. I'm excited. At the Olympics, I think I'm going to be better than I was here."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Michael Phelps en route to winning the final of the 100-meter butterfly.  Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images

Hoelzer sets world record in 200m backstroke

OMAHA -- Margaret Hoelzer set a world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the U.S. swimming trials, in 2:06.09, breaking the 2:06.39 mark set by Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe.

Elizabeth Beisel was second and Hayley McGregory third in the race.

"I'm just so excited right now," Hoelzer said. "This is my first world record. Elizabeth (Beisel) actually helped me out a lot, to be honest. I just thought, 'Don't go 2:06 high, get a little lower.' "

-- Lisa Dillman

Torres makes it into 50m semis

Dara Torres made it into the semifinals of the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. swimming trials today.

The 41-year-old, who was coming off last night's crowd-stirring victory in the 100-meter freestyle, had the third-best time today -- 24.72 seconds. Lara Jackson had the top time and set an American record with 24.50, trimming .03 seconds off the old mark set last year by none other than Torres.

-- Debbie Goffa

Morning wrap-up

Jordan Hasay set a national high school record on Friday when she qualified for the 1,500 meter.
Jordan Hasay goes the extra metric mile

At 41, Torres rules the pool

Sprinter John Capel gets his life back on track

Highlights of Day 6 at U.S. Olympic swim trials

The best of Friday's blog

Kitjajima weighs in on Hansen's failure

Elliott responds to comments on Morgan Hamm

Orange County, all the time

Let's hear it for the 40-plus set

Photo: Jordan Hasay set a national high school record during Friday's 1,500 meter race in Eugene. Credit: Paul Buck/EPA.

Torres wins 100m free, is headed to fifth Olympics

A smiling Dara Torres is hugged by Emily Silver after winning the final of the 100-meter freestyle.

Dara Torres, 41, is headed to her fifth Olympics after winning the 100-meter freestyle in 53.78. Natalie Coughlin was second in 53.83.

"I was very surprised that I won, but I was happy. If this was her first event, it probably would have been as different story," Torres said of Coughlin’s busy event schedule.

They played "American Woman" over the public-address system after Torres won and she spoke of her reaction about going to the Olympics, saying, "I started crying."

Then she added, "I’m ecstatic. I can’t believe it ... it’s sort of bittersweet for me. I made my fifth Olympic team, but I’m going to be away from my daughter for a month and that’s really hard emotionally."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: A smiling Dara Torres is hugged by Emily Silver after winning the final of the 100-meter freestyle. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Phelps sets world record, assist goes to Lochte

OMAHA -- Michael Phelps broke his second world record of the swimming trials, this time in the 200-meter individual medley Friday, and it had striking similarities to his first one in Omaha, in the 400 IM.

On both occasions, he was pushed to the limit by runner-up Ryan Lochte.

Phelps won in 1 minute 54.80 seconds, under his mark of 1:54.98, set at the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, last year. Lochte was second in 1:55.22.

-- Lisa Dillman

All Orange County, all the time

Second-place finisher Amanda Beard, right, prepares to embrace winner Rebecca Soni after the final of the 200-meter breaststroke.

OMAHA -- Two Orange County kids who used to train with one another at the Irvine Novas ruled the swimming world tonight.

Amanda Beard, 26, made her fourth Olympic team, finishing second in the 200-meter breaststroke in 2:25.13, finishing behind her former Trojan Swim Club teammate Rebecca Soni, who went 2:22.60.

The OC bookend came a few minutes later when Aaron Peirsol tied the world record in the 200 backstroke, winning in 1:54.32, holding off Ryan Lochte's bid of 1:54.34. Lochte had held the record until tonight.

Peirsol was asked if this was revenge for losing his title to Lochte last year at the World Championships.

"No, I wanted to get my hand on the wall first," said Peirsol, who will be competing in his third Olympics. "If I was seeking revenge, I probably would have beat him by a second."

A thrilled Beard blew kisses to the crowd after she climbed out the pool. She hugged her coach, Cyndi Gallagher, of UCLA. They have had a short but successful partnership.

"I was hoping for this, I didn't expect it," said Beard, who only started training with Gallagher in April.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Second-place finisher Amanda Beard, right, reaches out to embrace Rebecca Soni after the final of the 200-meter breaststroke. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Peirsol ties world record

Aaron Peirsol tied the world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic trials, beating rival Ryan Lochte in 1 minute 54.32 seconds.

Peirsol, of Irvine, surged to the wall a split second ahead to equal the mark set by Lochte, who upset him at the World Championships last year. Lochte came in at 1:54.34.

-- Debbie Goffa

Beard makes the team

Rebecca Soni won the 200-meter breaststroke a few minutes ago at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, but Lisa Dillman reports that gold medalist Amanda Beard is going to Beijing too. It will be Beard's fourth Summer Games.

Soni won with a time of 2 minutes 22.60 seconds — just off Beard’s U.S. record of 2:22.44, which was set in 2004. Beard finished second in 2:25.13, holding off Caitlin Leverenz by less than a second.

-- Debbie Goffa

Food, Glorious Food

Lisa_alan OMAHA -- Hopefully, memories aren't long around here in Nebraska.

Otherwise wearing a press credential with the words Los Angeles Times on it might qualify as a dangerous assignment. It hasn't even been a year since Times' sports columnist T.J. Simers dissed the local population (now there's an upset) and, in particular, described some Nebraska women as "big-butted."

Not going near that one. After all, doesn't everyone know that are two polite rules of behavior.

1) Never mention a hair loss to a guy.

2) Never mention weight to a woman.

Never mind my family routinely violated rules one and two in our otherwise wonderful Minnesota household, the latter was certainly worth remembering during this long stay in Omaha.

Am hoping that others will remember it too after a recent pancake-fest. The goal was to eat pancakes and find the best ones. It was ice cream (helado) at the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain in 2003, and pancakes at these U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

Vicki Michaelis from USA Today, Kelli Anderson from  Sports Illustrated and former LAT colleague (and now NBC correspondent and blogger) Alan Abrahamson hit the breakfast mecca, the Farmhouse Cafe, and were stunned into submission by the amount of food crowding our table. Especially intriguing was the size of the cinnamon bun, somewhere between a hockey puck and a plate.

Yes, size matters. Of the food, that is.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Lisa Dillman and Alan Abrahamson show off a cinnamon bun at the Farmhouse Cafe. Credit: Vicki Michaelis

Trading places (oh, and another U.S. record)

Cullen Jones celebrates setting a U.S. record time of 21.59 in the men's 50-meter freestyle preliminaries this morning.

OMAHA -- Changing a coach less than three months before the Olympic trials?

It used to be unthinkable. Swimmers are creatures of habit in terms of diet, training sets and sleep patterns. These athletes aren't like tennis players, who could sack a coach for forgetting to place a wake-up call or not picking up the racket bag fast enough. Where IS my non-fat latte?

But now there is Amanda Beard, who in April moved across town, from Dave Salo at USC to Cyndi Gallagher at UCLA. Cullen Jones, who lowered the American record this morning in the 50-meter freestyle, and backstroker Margaret Hoelzer also made last-minute moves.

Jones moved from North Carolina State to join Dave Marsh in Charlotte, N.C., and Hoelzer left Marsh's program to swim for Sean Hutchinson in Seattle.

"Maybe there's a little formula in that, maybe you go there and somebody fine-tunes you nicely," Marsh said this morning. "But there needed to be some fine-tuning [with Jones]. And Margaret's in a happy place and very dangerous, as you'll see in a few minutes in the 200 back. That's good stuff."

Jones was not in a bad place, either. He went 21.59 seconds in the preliminaries, breaking Gary Hall Jr.'s long-standing American record of 21.76, set in 2000. Last year's world champion Ben Wildman-Tobriner (21.68) and Hall (21.89) were the next-fastest qualifiers.

"I definitely put my head down when I was going into the wall," Jones said. "But I think there's a lot more in the tank, so we'll see what happens tonight.

"There's a lot of weird things that go into a 50 freestyle. One of the things is that you have to be perfect, or at least try to. There's never the perfect race. You always mess up something, and my coach can find something. That's what I love about the sport. You never swim that perfect race. You keep trying. They'll probably say my breath was too slow."

Hall, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 50, was pleased with his first step and didn't seem bothered by losing the record.

"That record was going down," he said. "Records don't last, especially these days."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Cullen Jones celebrates setting a U.S. record time of 21.59 in the men's 50-meter freestyle preliminaries this morning. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Rivalry heats up: Kitajima weighs in on Hansen's failure

Brendan Hansen at the end of the 200 breaststroke.

After Brendan Hansen failed last night to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team in the 200-meter breatstroke -- an event in which he held the world record up until a month ago -- Japanese rival and double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima had some analysis to offer today.

"For a swimmer of his level it shouldn’t be that difficult to qualify," Kitajima said on his web site, the Associated Press reports. "He didn’t seem to set his goals and rise to the challenge just one month before the Olympics."

Kosuke Kitajima when he set the world record last month. Kitajima, of course, is the one who shattered the record a month ago, and Hansen hasn't been the same since, as Lisa Dillman reported.

"His timing was off," said Kitajima, who apparently watched the trials on TV. "He didn’t swim in his usual powerful style."

Hansen finished fourth in 2 minutes, 11.37 seconds — nearly 3 seconds slower than his American record, which also stood as the world’s fastest time until Kitajima broke it June 7 with a 2:07.51.

Hansen secured a spot on the Olympic team in the 100 breaststroke and will face Kitajima in that event. AP also said that Kitajima plans no change in his Olympic Games strategy. It should be a well-watched 100-meter breaststroke come August.

-- Debbie Goffa

Top photo: Brendan Hansen at the end of the 200 breaststroke. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Inset: Kosuke Kitajima when he set the world record last month. Credit: STR /AFP / Getty Images

Read on »

Morning wrap-up

LaShawn Merritt, on the left, defeated Jeremy Wariner for the second time this year in the 400 meters.

Jeremy Wariner doesn't handle losing with grace

Surprise in the 400

It's a day of upsets at U.S. Olympics swimming trials

The NBA and the Olympics

Chris Kaman, Germany's newest citizen

The best of Thursday's blog:

Diane Pucin talks about Morgan Hamm, the Tour de France and the drug question

Helene Elliott says Morgan Hamm should be off the U.S. team

Paul Hamm's hand is nearly healed

Lisa Dillman tells of too many pancakes (for herself) and talks with Amanda Beard

Bush will attend opening ceremonies

Save Darfur Coalition isn't happy about Bush's decision

Swimmer Dara Torres, at 41, may be ageless

Putin is worried about 2014 Winter Games venues

Photo: LaShawn Merritt, on the left, defeated 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner for the second time this year in the 400 meters. Credit: Eric Gay/AP

Brendan Hansen comes up short in 200m breaststroke

Former world record-holder Brendan Hansen has failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 200-meter breaststroke.

Hansen, a bronze medalist in the event at the 2004 Athens Games, finished fourth at the swimming trials tonight, fading to finish in 2 minutes, 11.37 seconds -- for him, a shockingly slow pace. Only the top two finishers make the team.

-- Debbie Goffa

Good Morning, Omaha

Amanda Beard at a news conference last week

OMAHA -- It was getting almost dull, almost sleepy in the mixed zone this morning. Could have been the rote quotes for the fifth straight morning ("I tried to take it a little easy") or the byproduct of eating the biggest breakfast in recent years (note to self: hold the side of pancakes next time).

Then Amanda Beard came through and stepped up to the microphone. Or tried to do so.

"What happened to this thing?" she said, examining the microphone, which towered above her head. "A boy backstroker?"

OK, on to the prelim swim. Beard, of UCLA's Team Bruin, had the third-fastest qualifying time in the 200-meter breaststroke, 2:26.86, trailing two of her former Trojan Swim club

Read on »

Truth or Dara

Dara Torres moved fast this morning despite her age -- 41.

OMAHA -- So the moment of truth, or at least one of them, came this morning for 41-year-old Dara Torres when she hit the water in the 11th heat of the 100-meter freestyle preliminaries.

This was the first U.S. Olympic swimming trials for Torres since she greatly unnerved the competition, most notably Jenny Thompson, in 2000 at Indianapolis. This time, however,

Read on »

Coughlin sets trials record in 100m freestyle prelims

Natalie Coughlin qualified fastest in the 100-meter freestyle preliminaries, with Dara Torres third-quickest at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials today.

Coughlin’s time of 53.64 seconds set a trials record but was off her American mark of 53.39. Torres, at age 41, won her heat with 54.57.

-- Debbie Goffa

UCLA's Vandenberg going to Beijing

Kim Vandenberg, seen here in the 200-meter butterfly preliminaries, made the Olympic team. The men's final 100 free at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials was missing Ryan Lochte. So it became a swim-off between Alex Righi and Nathan Adrian, which Adrian won in 49.01.

Watching their swim-off in the mixed zone on a TV was none other than Michael Phelps. Any sort of competition intrigues him and he was impressed by the Katie Hoff-Natalie Coughlin-Ariana Kukors contest in the 200 IM final, won by Hoff.

Kim Vandenberg "I thought, 'Oh, oh, a photo finish,' " Phelps said. But Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, were moved by Kim Vandenberg’s double effort. Vandenberg, of UCLA’s Team Bruin, made her first Olympic team by virtue of her fifth-place finish in the 200 freestyle in 1:58.02, putting her on the 800 freestyle relay and about 25 minutes later she recorded the fourth-fastest qualifying time in the semifinals of the 200 butterfly.

Vandenberg sometimes trains with Phelps and Bowman in Ann Arbor, Mich., because her boyfriend Erik Vendt swims for Bowman.

"It's so relieving," she said of making the Olympics. "Now I’m just so excited for tomorrow and the 200 fly, not having to do a 200 free right before it. The whole plan was just to get a lane for the 200 fly tomorrow night."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Kim Vandenberg, seen here in the 200-meter butterfly preliminaries, made the Olympic team. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Small inset: Kim Vandenberg during a news conference before the trials began. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press

Hoff beats Coughlin, sets U.S. record in 200IM

Katie Hoff, right, reacts to her winning time as Natalie Coughlin looks on after the women's 200-meter individual medley final.

Katie Hoff had one last race tonight at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha and finished it in record fashion.

She rallied past Natalie Coughlin to win the 200-meter individual medley final in two minutes, 9.71 seconds, breaking the American record of 2:09.77 set by Coughlin less than a month ago.

Coughlin was under world-record pace after the butterfly and backstroke but couldn’t quite keep up that pace to the end. Hoff then was able to rally in the last two legs — the breaststroke and freestyle — to win it.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Katie Hoff, right, reacts to her winning time as Natalie Coughlin looks on after the women's 200-meter individual medley final. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press

And more records fall....

OMAHA -- The back-and-forth exchange of American records between Jason Lezak of Irvine and Garrett Weber-Gale of Longhorn (Texas) Aquatics continued tonight in the 100-meter freestyle in the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

It may not be the last word in this event, or close to it, but Lezak reclaimed his American record in the semifinals tonight, going 47.58 seconds. Earlier, in the morning prelims, Lezak lowered his own mark and then Weber-Gale bested it one heat later.

No such problem in the semifinals. Lezak's mark held up, and the second-fastest qualifier for Thursday's final is Nick Brunelli (48.29), followed by Weber-Gale (48.35) and Cullen Jones (48.58).

"I didn't think it was actually attainable, but for me to come within hundredths of that, I can't believe it," said Lezak of the world-record mark, of 47.50, held by Alain Bernard of France.

The march of American records continued in the next final with Katie Hoff winning the 200-meter freestyle, in 1:55.88, holding off a late surge from Allison Schmitt, who went 1:55.92. Hoff lowered her own American mark of 1:56.08, which she set in February.

Michael Phelps, who tonight won his third individual event, confirmed that he will not be swimming in the 200-meter backstroke, opting to drop the event from his busy program. Phelps won the 200 butterfly in 1:52.20

-- Lisa Dillman

Hoff breaks U.S. record in 200-meter freestyle

Katie Hoff set an American record while winning the 200-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha.

She locked up her third event with a time of 1 minute, 55.88 seconds, breaking her own mark of 1:56.08 but falling short of Laure Manaudou’s world record 1:55.52 set last year.

-- Debbie Goffa

24 Up

Megan Quann after winning the women's 100 breast stroke in Sydney. Have enjoyed watching the British documentary "Up" films, which checks in with the lives of about a dozen children every seven years. The series reached "49 Up," in 2005.

Thought about this on the warm morning walk to the Qwest Center, and concluded that covering swimming is a lot like the sports version of the "Up" series, albeit on a much-shorter timetable. One charm of being poolside all these years is getting to watch the athletes' long and winding journey, turning from unfiltered teens into mature adults.

Eight years ago, the world was introduced to 16-year-old Megan Quann. She predicted that the reigning Olympic champion in the 100-meter breaststroke, Penny Heyns, was "going down" and that Quann would win the gold medal in that race at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. This all happened at the spring nationals, and I remembered sitting with her mom and other family members at the pool in Federal Way, Wash., not far from their home, and they were trying to explain that young Megan was not cocky, just honest.

And dead accurate.

Quann won the 100 breaststroke and then grabbed another gold medal in the 400 medley

Read on »

A cap malfunction

Tripp Mickle of SportsBusiness Daily reports that Michael Phelps "inadvertently" found himself in hot water last night at the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha.

Moments after winning the 200-meter freestyle, Phelps pulled off a plain black swim cap to reveal a second swim cap emblazoned with a Visa logo. The "wardrobe malfunction" put Phelps at risk for disqualification from the event because it broke a USOC and USA Swimming rule that forbids swimmers from wearing caps featuring corporate logos.

Prior to the trials, swimmers were told that breaking the rule would result in immediate disqualification. But Phelps, already viewed as the face and story of the Beijing Games, was not disqualified.

-- Debbie Goffa

Broken record, broken record

From Left, Neil Walker, Jason Lezak and Nick Brunelli dive in for the preliminary heats of the 100 meter freestyle. In the next heat, lezak broke the American record in the event.

OMAHA -- It's getting to be a familiar scene. Someone lowers a record time, and about two minutes later, it gets dropped again.

That's what happened to Jason Lezak of Irvine, who went 48.15 seconds in the preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials here today in the 100-meter freestyle, bettering his own American record -- 48.17 set at the 2004 trials.

Jason Lezak after setting the record. No sooner had Lezak walked up to the microphone in the mixed zone to talk to reporters did someone else take it away in the next heat.

It was Garrett Weber-Gale of Longhorn (Texas) Aquatics, who went 47.78.

Lezak shrugged, saying: "Records are made to be broken."

Said Weber-Gale: "I knew I had to do something. I knew it was going to be really fast in there."

Michael Phelps also went under the old American mark, going 47.92, which was the second-fastest qualifying time. But he won't be swimming in the semifinals of the 100 later tonight, according to his coach, Bob Bowman. They merely wanted Phelps to put up a time so that there would not be controversy about the 400-meter relay, the way it unfolded in Athens.

Garrett Weber-Gale celebrates breaking the record just set by Lezak. Bowman was not tempted to have Phelps do a difficult double tonight: the semifinals of the 100 freestyle and the final of the 200 butterfly with less than half an hour between the events.

"That double tonight is cruel and unusual," Bowman said. "I wouldn't ask anybody to do it."

Phelps said he wished the Olympic schedule was longer than eight days so that he could swim more events. He didn't seem to be joking, either. But even he has limitations.

"That was my goal this morning, to post the time that allows me to swim the relay," he said of the 400-meter relay.

He thought the fast times in the preliminaries boded well for the relay, particularly against the formidable French team.

"Two guys went under 48 [seconds]," he said, speaking of himself and Weber-Gale. "It's a good sign for our relay."

Brendan Hansen was the fastest qualifier in the preliminaries of the 200-meter breaststroke, going 2:11.29.

Hansen's roommate here is Aaron Peirsol, who lowered his own world record in winning the 100 backstroke on Tuesday night.

"He came back on cloud nine, maybe even 10," Hansen said. "I think that's the most nervous he's ever been for a race."

-- Lisa Dillman

Top photo: Neil Walker, left, Jason Lezak and Nick Brunelli dive in for the preliminary heats of the 100-meter freestyle. Lezak broke the American record and held it for a few minutes. Credit: Donald Miralle / Getty Images

Top inset: Jason Lezak after setting the record. Credit: Al Bello /Getty Images

Lower inset: Garrett Weber-Gale celebrates breaking the record just set by Lezak. Credit: Mark Terrill/ Associated Press

Coughlin, Peirsol set world records

Aaron Peirsol after setting world record.

OMAHA — Two more world records went down tonight in the U.S. Olympic swim trials, in back-to-back finals, no less.

Natalie Coughlin in the 100-meter backstroke became the first woman to drop under 59 seconds, winning in 58.97. Margaret Hoelzer (59.21) was second and Hayley McGregory (59.42), who briefly took the world record from Coughlin on Monday in the prelims before Coughlin grabbed it back, was third.

Minutes later, Aaron Peirsol rewrote his own world record in the 100 backstroke, winning in 52.89, and made his third Olympic team. Matt Grevers was second in 53.19. Ryan Lochte’s bold gamble backfired, as he finished third, in 53.37. He had been the fastest qualifier in the 200 freestyle but withdrew to concentrate on the backstroke.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Aaron Peirsol celebrates after winning the final of the 100-meter backstroke, setting a world record of 53.68. Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images

Amanda at the Improv

Amanda Beard stretches before her semifinal heat of the 100 meter breaststroke on Monday. OMAHA -- Giddy on Monday, joking around with reporters. Goofy on Tuesday morning, clowning around on the pool deck with old Orange Country friend Kaitlin Sandeno before their morning heat in the 200 individual medley, almost treating the U.S. Olympic swim trials like an age-group meet.

Clearly, Amanda Beard is enjoying life in Omaha, despite an active schedule, the final of the 100-meter breaststroke tonight and then the semifinals of the 200 individual medley. This trials is where she will sink or swim.

"You know what's funny. I'm 26, so I'm not an old lady," Beard said. "But walking around the pool deck, I'm an old lady. I look at [17-year-old] Caitlin Leverenz and she was like five when I was swimming in '96. That makes me feel old."

Relief arrived in the form of 41-year-old Dara Torres, who showed up at the trials.

"I know, 'Dara, finally you're here,' " Beard said, joking.

Said Torres, on Tuesday: "And I was wondering why she gave me a long hug and was happy to see me."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Amanda Beard stretches before her semifinal heat of the 100 meter breaststroke on Monday. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Crack the case: find swim, track trials on TV

Natalie Coughlin swims in the women's 200-meter individual medley preliminaries Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

Darn hard to find out when and where track and swimming trials are televised.

You'd think a big TV network like NBC would make this easier. Instead they've made it a test of how badly you want to watch. Pretty badly it turns out. I first stumbled on the Universal Sports station while scrolling channels and coming to the diving trials a few days after

Read on »

Time Warner picks up Universal Sports' WCSN

NBC is making 3,600 hours of Olympic-related action (trials and the actual games in Beijing) available via its television networks, websites and mobile devices. If you're at work and can't access a television without causing problems with the boss, NBCOlympics.com is streaming live, online coverage of track and field from Eugene, Ore., and swimming from Omaha.

And if you can't catch the action live on television or online? NBC is making track and field and swimming trials -- as well as trials for such Olympic sports as rowing, indoor volleyball and whitewater canoeing -- available on a delayed basis through its new Universal Sports arm.

Universal Sports is a joint venture with LA-based WCSN, which offers a wide array of Olympic-style sports through cable systems and online. WCSN is in the process of being rebranded as Universal Sports. It now can be seen in about 13 million homes nationwide.  Universal Sports today announced that its programming is now available on Time Warner Cable's channel 226.

USA Swimming is offering what it describes as "live results" from the Olympic trials in Omaha, and USA Track and Field offers daily schedules, updates and quotes from athletes.

-- Greg Johnson

The Hall Truth

Gary Hall Jr. comes up for air during a practice run a few weeks ago.

OMAHA –- Had a chat in the mixed zone this morning about the man of the hour -- no, not birthday boy Michael Phelps -- but Gary Hall Jr., who managed to steal the spotlight on Day 1 without even hitting the water.

Hall, in an understatement, is a one-man headline machine. Those of us who have covered him since 1996 consider that a good thing … mostly. But my colleague, a person I consider an expert on all things Gary, was pointing out that Hall is practically a full-time beat by himself.

We were trying to think of an apt comparison and he came up with an excellent one: Charles Barkley.

Leave a media scrum involving Gary, or Sir Charles, at your own peril.

Hall stirred the pot in a long media session on Sunday, asserting that doping in swimming was on the rise (his gut feeling) and assailed the anti-doping agencies as inadequate. He then took aim at swimmer Amy Van Dyken, a multiple gold medalist and drew a comparison to imprisoned sprinter Marion Jones.

Amy Van Dyken as she won the gold in 1996."She's inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and Marion Jones goes to jail," Hall said at a news conference. "The only difference was that Marion Jones admitted it, but they were both on the same list."

He was speaking about the BALCO investigation, in which Van Dyken appeared before a federal grand jury in 2003 but was not charged by authorities. Her testimony has never been revealed.

Beth Harris of AP contacted Van Dyken for a response to Hall’s comments and received an e-mail from her, calling the accusations "ridiculous" and "slanderous, outrageous, and unfounded!!!"

You might say the only thing she has been convicted of is bad behavior, often spitting into an opponent’s lane as a psych-out gesture before races.

But Hall can’t be completely ignored. He voiced his suspicions about Jones at the 2004 Olympic swim trials in Long Beach and spoke about the ensuing firestorm in an interview in Omaha earlier this month with The Times and USA Today.

"I got hate mail from the article you wrote," Hall said. "People accused me of being a racist. It was terrible. I felt horrible. It seemed pretty obvious to me. Maybe because I spent my entire life really paying attention to athletic performance.

"I’ve seen first-hand incredible performances from clean athletes and from dirty athletes. With enough time, as many years as you have, you can start to sense the difference. You’re not always right. But I have been right many times before and people seem to forget that."

He even took a joking shot at himself. Hall tested positive for marijuana, not a performance-enhancing substance, and was asked how he approached the issue of supplements.</p>

"Since I tested positive for marijuana, I’ve completely been paranoid, which is strange since it seems to be the opposite effect," he said. "I was completely paranoid because that was a case where I didn’t know what the rules were….Ever since then, I’ve been so cautious about everything I put in. Before the last Olympics, I was taking protein and Vitamin C and that was it."

-- Lisa Dillman

Top Photo: Gary Hall Jr. comes up for air during a practice run a few weeks ago. Credit:  Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau via Getty Images

Inset: Amy Van Dyken as she won gold in 1996. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Morning wrap-up and what's ahead

Michael Phelps swims to victory in the men's 400-meter individual medley finals.

The U.S. Olympic trials Sunday became a day of broken records, over and over and over.

It started in track and field with Tyson Gay, who ran like the wind in the 100 meters and, in a wind-aided time of 9.68, did it faster than any human in history. As Philip Hersh reports from the scene, nothing could diminish what Gay accomplished, wind or no wind.

Helene Elliott also was at the race and thinks the top three finishers -- Gay, Walter Dix and Darvis Patton -- in this marquee event could

Read on »

Swim trials: record, record, record

Katie Hoff reacts to her first place finish in the women's 400-meter individual medley finals.

OMAHA — Michael Phelps got these U.S. Olympic swim trials off to the same start he did four years ago, uncorking a world record in the 400-meter individual medley on the opening night.

His riveting stroke-for-stroke duel with runner-up Ryan Lochte unleashed the crowd of 12,316 at the Qwest Center here Sunday night, and then thrilled them with the stunning time, 4 minutes 5.25 seconds. Lochte himself, at 4:06.08, was under Phelps’ previous world record (4:06.22), which was set in 2007. The early crowd noise signaled to Phelps that "something special is going to happen."

He tried to temper his enthusiasm in the opening lap.

"I can’t get too excited, it’s only the first 50," Phelps said. "... I definitely started the meet off on the right foot. I’m happy to go 4:05."

There would be another world record and one American record for good measure before the opening session concluded: the world record coming from Katie Hoff, who went 4:31.12 in the 400 individual medley, and the American record coming from Larsen Jensen of Trojan Swim Club, who won the 400 freestyle in 3:43.53, edging Peter Vanderkaay’s 3:43.73.

Both went under Vanderkaay’s American mark of 3:43.82, set in May at Santa Clara, Calif.

Said Hoff: "This one’s definitely a shock for me."

That pretty much summed up an electric night of swimming.

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Katie Hoff reacts to her first-place finish in the women's 400-meter individual medley finals. Hoff set a world record. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

More swim records fall with Hoff, Jensen

Katie Hoff set a world record in the 400-meter individual medley, while Larsen Jensen set an American record to win the 400-meter freestyle, both at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

Katie Hoff clocked a time of 4 minutes 31.12 seconds to eclipse the old mark of 4:31.46 set by Australia’s Stephanie Rice this year.

Jensen won in 3 minutes 43.53 seconds, beating Peter Vanderkaay’s mark of 3:43.82. Vanderkaay was second in 3:43.73. Erik Vendt finished in 3:43.92.

-- Debbie Goffa

Phelps sets world record in 400 IM

Michael Phelps competes against Ryan Lochte in the final of the 400 meter individual medley.

Michael Phelps set a world record today in his first event of the U.S. swimming trials, winning the 400-meter individual medley with a time of 4 minutes 5.25 seconds. He beat his own mark of 4:06.22, set at last year’s world championships. His rival, Ryan Lochte, who came in second, also went under the previous mark, finishing in 4:06.08.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Michael Phelps competes against Ryan Lochte in the final of the 400-meter individual medley during the U.S. swimming Olympic trials. Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images

The Wedding Planner

Klete Keller, seen here at last year's world championships, is about to tie the knot. OMAHA -- None other than that lovable, quirky Klete Keller will be headed down the aisle, getting married in September.

At least there will be a comforting face nearby in this time of possible stress -- though Keller seems immune to such conditions. Erik Vendt, a teammate of Keller's at USC and later at Club Wolverine, will be his best man.

But the big question is whether the best man will prevent Keller from making his third Olympic team.

Vendt called the situation "weird." What happened was Vendt, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 400 individual medley, opted for the 400 freestyle, which is the same day as the 400 IM. An already stacked field became that much stronger.

The top five qualifiers for tonight's final are the new American record holder Peter Vanderkaay of Club Wolverine, in 3:48.06; Vendt, also of Club Wolverine, 3:48.25; Larsen Jensen of USC's Trojan Swim Club, in 3:48.28; 19-year-old Chad LaTourette of Mission Viejo, and the former American record holder Keller, now back with Trojan Swim, in 3:49.92. Keller won bronze in this event at the 2004 Olympics.

Vendt thinks it will "definitely" take going under the American record to win, adding, "I wouldn't be surprised to see four guys under it."

He hasn't quite lost his affinity for the 400 IM, though. Vendt admitted to keeping an eye on the morning heats before saying, " 'Eric, you're not swimming this race.' It's kind of hard to detach."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Klete Keller, seen here at last year's world championships, is about to tie the knot. Credit: Vladimir Rys / Bongarts/Getty Images

   

Morning wrap-up and what's ahead

Michael Phelps swims in the men's 400-meter individual medley preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha this morning.

Amanda Beard talks with Lisa Dillman about Playboy and trying to make the Beijing Olympics team. Watch the video of Beard. The swim trials began today in Omaha with preliminary heats and Dillman is there. Michael Phelps, seen above during today's preliminaries, will be in the men's 400-meter individual medley tonight. Follow the action live. Here's a TV schedule.

Muna Lee, winner of the women's 100 meter final, does some low fives with fans.Muna Lee, right, may not be a household name yet, but after her blistering sprint to win the women's 100-meter final, Philip Hersh reports that all she could say was, "I'm very surprised."  Looking ahead to today, one of the key events is the men's pole vault final. Brad Walker is in it and holds the American record, set June 8. Will he break his own record? USA Track & Field has posted an event schedule.

Helene Elliott looks at the also-rans at the U.S. Track and Field trials going on in Eugene, Ore. As she points out, the difference between making the team and missing out can be 100th of a second.

Kevin Baxter reports on U.S.-born Mexican athletes playing for their parents' -- or sometimes grandparents' -- homeland, and why.

And Susan Spano reports for the Travel section from Qingdao, China, the old colonial city by the Yellow Sea that will host the Olympic sailing events.

-- Debbie Goffa

Top photo: Michael Phelps swims in the men's 400-meter individual medley preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha this morning. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Photo: Muna Lee, winner of the women's 100-meter final, does some low fives with fans. Credit: Charlie Riedel /Associated Press

For Michael Phelps, nine is the number

Michael Phelps swims in the final of the 100 meter breaststroke at the Mutual of Omaha Swimvitational two weeks ago

This week, American Michael Phelps made it clear that he's ready to take on Olympic history, full force.

He is entered in nine individual events at the upcoming U.S. trials, the first step in his attempt to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at a single Games. The Baltimore native will swim the 100, 200 and 400 meters freestyle, the 200 and 400 individual medley, the 100 and 200 backstroke and the 100 and 200 butterfly.

Phelps, who came up one short of the record at the 2004 Athens Games, winning six gold and two bronze medals, will have to qualify alongside other hopefuls in Omaha for each event in which he hopes to compete at the Beijing Olympics in August. The trials run from June 29 through July 6.

If anyone can beat Spitz's record, set at the 1972 Munich Games, it's Phelps, who will turn 23 on June 30. He knows time is not on his side, though, as he told The Times' Lisa Dillman last August: "London will be my last one -- 2016 is a long way away. Nine more years. I couldn't do it. ... I will not swim when I'm 30 years old."

Photo: Swimmer Michael Phelps hopes to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at a single Games this summer. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images