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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, August 16, 2000


Olympic Rings

Price was last hope
for Hawaii in trials

By Pat Bigold

Hawaii's absence from Olympic swimming will reach 28 years.

And NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said he doesn't see any excuse for it.

After former UCLA and Mililani High School swimming star Keiko Price failed to make the women's 50-meter freestyle finals at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Indianapolis last night, Hawaii's chances to place a swimmer in Sydney ended.

The last time a locally born and raised swimmer earned a berth for the U.S. in the Olympics was 1976 (Chris Woo) and the last year that a swimming medal was won by an isle swimmer was 1968.

The next time Hawaii swimmers will have a chance to qualify for the Olympics will be at the 2004 trials for Greece.

"It's baffling to me not to see more Hawaiian swimmers vie for position (at the trials)," said Gaines, a three-gold medal winner in 1984 who lived here in the 1990s.

"You're talking about a state where swimming is a way of life. If Lindsay Benko from Elkhart, Ind., can make the Olympic team (200-meter backstroke, 200-meter freestyle), there's no reason why swimmers from Hawaii can't. It is disappointing. You just have to figure out a way to get more kids in Hawaii interested in swimming instead of surfing."

Gaines, speaking by phone from Indianapolis, said that learning how to swim was mandatory when he was going to school in his native Florida.

"You had to swim to survive," he said.

He said that when he lived in Hawaii, he had helped Hawaii Kai Elementary make swimming part of its curriculum.

"That's where you have to start," he said, noting that mandatory swim classes would be a good idea for Hawaii. "What can it hurt? I don't see the harm in it."

Price swam a personal record but failed to make the finals of the women's 50-meter freestyle last night. She finished in 25.75 seconds, bettering her previous personal record of 25.93.

"I saw Keiko's swim tonight and I was really saddened by it," said Gaines.

"Here's Keiko Price, one of the best sprinters in the world, and it just so happens that she's faced with swimmers better than her. You can't sugar-coat it. She just got beaten by better swimmers. Even if she made the finals, she's not going to beat Dara Torres or Amy Van Dyken. But neither is anyone else in that race."

Torres (24.93) and Van Dyken (25.11) led the eight-swimmer field into the finals.

In her only other event, the 100-meter freestyle, Price also made it as far as the semifinals. But she finished last among 16 swimmers at that stage on Sunday.

Price was elated at setting a PR, but she said that's it for her swimming career.

"I feel kind of weird right now because it's the last meet I was ever going to do," she said in a phone interview from her hotel room. "It's kind of a bittersweet feeling. I don't think it has sunk in yet."

Price, 22, who graduated from UCLA in the spring, said she'll stick to her retirement decision, "Unless months down the road I have a really strong urge to come back."

She said she's leaving the sport without regrets.

"I'm definitely not depressed at all," said Price.

Two other locally raised former prep stars competed in the trials.

Former Punahou and Auburn swimmer John Flanagan, a successful ocean swimmer, finished 27th yesterday morning in the 1500-meter freestyle.

"He swam his personal best by about five seconds," said Gaines. "It was sort of an after-thought for John because he really came here to swim the 5-K they're having the day after trials, to try to make the national team in that event. I think if distance swimming ever became an Olympic sport, you might see Hawaii really do something."

Flanagan's younger brother, former Punahou and Florida State sprinter Kevin Flanagan, earlier finished 44th in the 50-meter freestyle prelims on Monday and 51st in the100-meter freestyle prelims on Saturday.

Former Stanford All-American Sabir Muhammad, who had been residing and training in Hawaii since last year, failed to qualify in either of his two events.

The athlete who many expected to become the first African-American on the U.S. Olympic swim team, carried the highest profile of anyone who flew in from these shores.

Muhammad, who appeared as a guest actor on "Baywatch Hawaii" last spring, finished last in the 100-meter freestyle final on Sunday night. On Monday night, he failed to make it through the semifinals of the 50-meter freestyle, his best event.

"He just ran into some guys who were on fire," said Gaines.

Five University of Hawaii swimmers also failed to qualify.

Jeff Stanford missed out in the 100- and 50-meter freestyle events. Melanie Zauder and Morgan Hoesterey didn't make it past the prelims of the 100-meter breast stroke.

Lori Thomas and Sarah Watchorn tried and failed in the 50-meter freestyle.

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