Remarkable Relays

Petersburg's Gibb part of powerful Auburn swim quartet at national meet

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2004

They call themselves "The Four Horsemen" - four Auburn University swimmers with very different backgrounds teaming up to pursue the same goal.

There's junior Fred Bousquet, who comes from Perpignan, France, a Mediterranean Sea community near the Spanish border. There's sophomore George Bovell, who hails from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. There's junior Ryan Wochomurka, who comes from Columbus, Ind., in the American Midwest.

And then there's 6-foot-9 senior Derek Gibb, who grew up in Petersburg, Alaska, and works as a commercial fisherman when he's not at school pursuing his criminal justice major.

The Four Horsemen led Auburn to its second straight NCAA Swimming Championship this weekend, setting three unofficial relay world records over the three-day meet that ended Saturday in East Meadow, N.Y. Bousquet and Bovell also set individual world records in the meet.

"The Four Horsemen, that's kind of our creation," Gibb said by phone Sunday night as he and his teammates celebrated after arriving back at Auburn. "We kind of set up every individual event and that set up the rest of the team."

Auburn posted a record 634 points to win the title, easily outdistancing runner-up Stanford with 377.5, third-place Texas with 374, Arizona with 322 and Michigan with 271 points. The Four Horsemen scored 340 points in the meet, which would have put them fourth out of the meet's 48 teams. ESPN2 will carry 1 1/2 hours of highlights from the meet at 9:30 a.m. today (GCI Cable Channel 30).

The quartet posted times faster than the listed world records in all three of their relays - the 200-meter freestyle, 200 medley and 400 free relays. But to be counted as a world record, all four swimmers have to come from the same country.

"It meshes really well," said Gibb, whose parents Larry and Kim now live in Juneau. "We came together two years ago and took third in the NCAAs, and last year we got second. ... (We're) the best in the world in the 200 free, 200 medley and 400 free relays. You couldn't put together a better relay team. It doesn't matter if we come from other countries, we still go through the same thing at Auburn."

Gibb said he and Bovell designed Four Horseman sweatshirts for the relay team featuring a guy on a horse with a shotgun. The sweatshirts also feature the line, "Give 'em hell, give 'em hell," which is from a fight song at Auburn.

Auburn won the NCAA title last year, but lost seven swimmers to graduation. So this season, the Four Horsemen had to lead the way.

In Thursday's opening event of the meet, the quartet smashed the record in the 200-meter freestyle relay with a time of 1 minute, 23.75 seconds (in Olympic years, the NCAA meet uses a 25-meter pool instead of the 25-yard pool used in non-Olympic years). Bovell opened the relay with a 21.40 split, followed by Wochomurka in 21.04, Gibb in 20.76 and Bousquet in 20.55.

"You've got three of the guys on the relay getting set up for it, and then you've got the French guy going 20.5. There's no one faster," Gibb said. "It was the first event and the first final, and to break the NCAA and world records, there's nothing that can pump you up like that."

Two events later, Bovell broke the world record in the 200-meter individual medley with a time of 1:53.93, leading four Auburn swimmers into the top six places.

In the next event, Bousquet broke the world record in the 50 free with a time of 21.10, followed by Wochomurka in third at 21.59 and Gibb in fifth place at 21.69. Relay splits after the first swimmer don't count as world records, since swimmers can anticipate their start by watching the previous swimmer.

"That first day, we broke the record in the relay, then George set the record in the 200 IM and in the next event, the 50 free, there's Fred breaking the record. That got the whole team pumped up," Gibb said. "That kind of catapulted us out there and we kept rolling."

On Friday, the Four Horsemen split up and Bousquet and Gibb teamed up with Mark Gangloff and Doug Van Wie to break the world record in the 200 medley relay with a time of 1:34.25. Texas appeared to have the race won, but Gibb's 20.94 split in the anchor 50-free leg erased a 0.57-second lead after the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly legs.

Later, Gibb took eighth place in the 100 back with a time of 53.49. Gibb also took 16th place (eighth in the consolation final) in Saturday's 100 free with a time of 49.78.

On Saturday, the quartet reunited and closed out the meet with a record time of 3:08.85 in the 400 free relay. The team had only been ranked sixth after the prelims, but rallied in the finals.

"Those four guys are always at their best at the relays, and that has characterized my favorite Auburn swimmers, going back to Rowdy (Gaines), Yoav (Bruck) and Nick Shackell," Auburn coach David Marsh said in a press release from the school. "All four of those guys are just like that."

Now that the college season is done, Gibb is headed to Trinidad and Tobago for spring break this week. Then he plans to keep training for the U.S. Olympic Trials, which take place July 7-14 in Long Beach, Calif. He said he may return to Petersburg for the Little Norway Festival in May, with a possible side trip to Juneau. He's four classes short of his degree and expects to graduate in December.

"I had no idea a small, well, a not-so-small kid from Petersburg could compete with guys like this," Gibb said. "Coming to Auburn from Petersburg, where everybody's coming together and kicking (tail). We all have the same dream."

• Charles Bingham can be reached at charles.bingham@juneauempire.com.



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