Dara Torres ignored Amy Van Dyken's pre-race ploy and finally got a victory at the U.S. Olympic trials, beating the defending gold medalist in the 50-meter freestyle Wednesday night.
Van Dyken spit in Torres' adjoining lane before they dived in the water a tactic that has been known to intimidate other rivals. It didn't work against the 33-year-old Torres, who won in 24.90 seconds.
"For me, it's not a big deal," Torres said. "Maybe it is with the younger competitors. I'm so focused on what I'm going to do in my race, I don't worry about that."
Van Dyken, who finished second in 24.99, downplayed the incident.
"I always spit in Dara's lane," she said. "It's nothing against her. I think she got upset the first time because she hadn't swum against me before. I told her, `I've got nothing but love for you if I spit in your lane.'"
Torres may have beaten Van Dyken, but the victory was tainted just a bit by the woman who wasn't there.
Jenny Thompson, saying she had a full schedule for Sydney, scratched from the 50 after edging Torres in both the 100 free and 100 butterfly. Minus her chief rival, Torres picked up her first victory and ensured her third individual race at the Olympics.
"I need to be able to go faster," said Torres, who finished short of her American record and more than a half-second off Inge de Bruijn's world record of 24.39. "The times I swam here won't compete in Sydney."
In the final event of the eight-day trials, Erik Vendt of North Easton, Mass., became the first American to go under 15 minutes in the 1,500 free. With a tremendous finishing kick, he went 14:59.11 to break George DiCarlo's 16-year-old national record.
Vendt, who already earned a spot on the team in the 400 individual medley, ripped off his goggles and searched for the scoreboard as soon as he touched. When he saw the time, breaking DiCarlo's record of 15:01.51, the 19-year-old pumped his weary arms in triumph.
"It feels great to win and get an American record in the same race," Vendt said. "It's been my goal ever since I started swimming the mile at age 12. At the 1,100 mark, I could hear the crowd going crazy and I knew I was on pace for something - I figured the American record."
About halfway through the grueling race, Vendt pulled away from favored Chris Thompson, who won a bronze medal at the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships. The 21-year-old native of Roseburg, Ore., took the second Olympic spot in 15:09.16.
"I went out wanting to lead at 600 meters and then try to hold everyone off," Thompson said. "Vendt took off on me and I wasn't able to hang with him."
Vendt will try to end America's drought in swimming's longest event, the last medal coming in 1984.
"A lot of people came to watch Dara swim the 50," he said. "But if we were able to put on a good show for them an generate interest in the mile, all the better."
Torres, the oldest woman ever to make the U.S. swim team, showed the wear and tear of her busy schedule. She'll be the first American swimmer to compete in four Olympics, having been there in 1984, '88 and '92.
"My legs are sore," said Torres, who will probably swim two relays in Sydney as well. "I'm upset with my time but glad to finally get a win."
Van Dyken, who in Atlanta became the first American woman to win four gold medals in one Games, gets a chance to repeat as the 50 champion.
"The 50 free is my baby and I'm excited to swim it," she said. "I would like to have won it. But at this meet, second is fine."
For both women, the race was another chapter in their comeback stories.
Torres left swimming after the 1992 Barcelona Games, spending the next seven years dabbling in modeling and infomercials. But she returned last year and has been swimming even better than she did in her previous life.
Van Dyken underwent shoulder surgery in 1998 and a similar operation in January. She didn't resume training until March, arriving at the trials merely hoping to earn a spot on the relay teams. She wound up challenging her winning time from the Atlanta Games, 24.87.
"To go under 25 seconds is so exciting," she said. "I have a lot more room for improvement. You'll see a lot faster than I was in Atlanta. The more I rest, the better I get."
For the first time, the U.S. men's team is younger than the women. No world records were broken at the trials, but Vendt's performance was the ninth American mark.
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