U.S. nationals electrify U’s Aquatic Center

by David La

In what was a convincing mask of weariness the Gophers founders of the feast Dennis Dale and Jean Freeman, coaches of the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, saw Tuesday night pass with a collective breath of relief.
The University Aquatic Center has been the epicenter of arguably the premier swimming event on U.S. soil for the last five days, and though understandably tired, Dale and Freeman both perked up as they recalled the championships that were and the athletes that made them memorable.
“Lenny Krayzelburg’s American record and his meet record in the 200 and 100 meter backstrokes,” Dale mentioned when asked of his take on the most memorable moments. “Normally there is Jenny Thompson on the women’s side, and now Lenny has stepped up to the plate and demonstrated that he is probably the best male swimmer in the U.S.”
Krayzelburg and Thompson are the two reasons that the 1999 national swimming championships might be remembered as the “Lenny and Jenny Show”.
A 23-year-old USC graduate and Russia native, Krayzelburg was responsible for giving the most to cheer about during the event, as he nearly made good on the pre-meet speculations that he could capture the world record in the 200-meter backstroke.
Krayzelburg took a commanding lead in the race, swimming sub-record time for the first 150 meters. His arms churned like a Mississippi river boat as he came down the stretch, and the “Oh” resonating from the history anticipating crowd was as painfully deafening as the cheers preceding it.
“After 150 (meters) it felt like it might be a little bit tough coming home,” Krayzelburg said. “I’m not really rested yet, and my tempo was faster than it should have been.”
He ended up with a time of 1:56.68, only .09 seconds off the record. Krayzelburg also won the 100-meter backstroke competition.
Thompson, while not giving chase to any world records, took first in three events (100-and 200-meter freestyle, and 100-meter butterfly) to give her 23 career U.S. national titles, good for 10th all-time.
While the aforementioned standouts were building on their already prolific careers the Gophers athletes were busy adding to their resumes as well. Especially Jenny Hennen, who swam more meters and garnered more notable finishes than any of her teammates.
Representing Minnesota Aquatics, Hennen finished in the bonus or consolation finals of three individual events, and was a member of all three relays, two of which that finished in the top eight.
“We’ve always had a strong summer nationals team,” Hennen said, “and we showed that again.”
Minnesota also showed that its facilities were among the nation’ finest, and coach Freeman felt proud playing host to the elite swimming community.
“It’s fun to have this many good people in our building on our campus,” Freeman said.
Following the last award ceremony, a look around the University Aquatic Center left the question of what transpired here that was so special.
The natatorium was now devoid of the cheers from the near capacity crowds, the athletes were no longer in the pool powering their way toward their goals, all that was left was an empty awards stand and colorful swim club banners whose representatives were now in the showers or in the parking lot boarding a bus for home.
But as the athletes leave, the legacy begins, and the 1999 championships were again special. Even more so for its hosts.