Thursday, July 15, 2004

Veteran Thompson captures 50 free

Olympic Swimming

The Associated Press

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Jenny Thompson has two more chances for her own Olympic gold medal.

Thompson won the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on Wednesday, giving her a second individual event at the Athens Games. She also qualified in the 100 butterfly.

The 31-year-old Thompson was slowest off the block but caught the field during a furious dash to the opposite wall. She won in 25.02 seconds; Kara Lynn Joyce finished second (25.11) to also claim a second individual spot on the Olympic team.

Thompson will be just the second American swimmer to take part in four Olympics. She has won 10 medals - more than any other woman - but her eight golds have been in relays.

Individually, Thompson has been limited to a silver and a bronze, both in the 100 free. She failed to qualify for that event at these Trials - Joyce was the upset winner - and conceded that her medal chances in the 50 weren't that strong.

Thompson's winning time was only the eighth-fastest in the world this year.

Thompson considered retirement after the 2000 Sydney Games but decided to come back for one more Olympics. She had to cope with the death of her mother, who succumbed to cancer in February after being a major force in Thompson's swimming career.

She insists that she didn't come back to win an Olympic gold.

"It's not what is motivating me," she said. "I just want to end my career on a really positive note."

Thompson said she would be honored to be the swimming team captain, a role that already has spurred lobbying by three-time Olympian Gary Hall Jr.

Natalie Coughlin, swimming in the 50 after qualifying in two other events, finished sixth at 25.31. She was swimming the sprint just for fun, figuring it might help her preparations for the 100 freestyle.

Larsen Jensen closed a record-breaking meet in appropriate fashion: setting an American mark in the 1,500 freestyle. He became just the third U.S. man to go under 15 minutes at 14:56.71, overcoming the mark of 14:56.81 that earned Chris Thompson a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics.

The 18-year-old Jensen is a rising star of distance swimming, though he'll have his work cut out for him in Athens. The Australians, led by Grant Hackett, have long ruled the longest event in swimming.

"I'm looking forward to racing Grant Hackett in Athens," said Jensen, who already had qualified to swim the 400 free in Athens. "I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish it. I was hurting so bad."

Erik Vendt claimed the second spot in the 1,500 at 15:11.96.

Six world records were set during the meet, boding well for American hopes of another big medal haul in Athens. Four years ago, the U.S. team led all nations with 14 golds and 33 medals overall.

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