Van Dyken makes swimming comeback bid

Posted: Tuesday, August 08, 2000

U.S. Olympic Swim Trials

At Indianapolis Aug. 9-16


Saturday, Aug. 12 -- 100-meter freestyle

Monday, Aug. 14 -- 50 freestyle


Tuesday, Aug. 15 -- 50 freestyle


Friday, Aug. 11 -- 200 butterfly

Monday, Aug. 14 -- 100 butterfly


Monday, Aug. 14 -- 50 freestyle

INDIANAPOLIS -- Add four-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken to the growing list of swimmers making a comeback at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Unlike fellow sprinters Dara Torres (retirement) and Angel Martino (baby), Van Dyken wasn't out of the sport by choice. She lost precious chunks of time to shoulder injuries the last two years.

The 6-foot asthmatic, known for such psychological tactics as spitting in opponents' lanes, grunting and staring down rivals on the blocks, brings her act to the trials that begin Wednesday at the Indiana University Natatorium.

``If me jumping up and down and grunting helps me feel like I can win, that's definitely something I'm going to do,'' she said Monday.

Van Dyken, who became a star for beating the Chinese in the 50-meter freestyle and 100 butterfly at the 1996 Olympics, figured her career was over once she had shoulder surgery in June 1998.

Doctors repaired cartilage that holds her right shoulder in place. Seven months ago, she had scar tissue cleaned up and a bone spur that was rubbing on her rotator cuff removed.

``I'm surprised I can even put on a swimsuit, let alone train and try to make the Olympic team,'' she said. ``It's been such a crazy road. If I do make this team, it's going to mean more to me than it did in '96.''

Four Alaskans will compete at the U.S. Olympic trials, including 1999 Petersburg High School graduate Derek Gibb, whose family just moved to Juneau. The other Alaskans are Andrew Tainter of Anchorage, Robert Roosa of Anchorage and Maria Reeves of Fairbanks. A feature on Gibb will run later this week.


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Van Dyken will swim the 100 free Monday and the 50 free next Wednesday against former Olympians Torres, Jenny Thompson and Martino. The top two finishers earn trips to Sydney.

Van Dyken finished third behind Torres and Thompson in the 50 free at a meet in Los Angeles last month.

``She's hurt her shoulder and had to deal with that,'' Torres said. ``That can be very tough.''

Torres has predicted the top two in the 50 free will have to swim faster than the American record of 24.73 seconds she set in June, bettering Van Dyken's mark of 24.87 from the '96 Olympics.

``It's the most competitive it's been in quite a few years. We've got a lot of younger girls who are viable to make this team,'' Van Dyken said. ``You make one little mistake and you're not going. It's going to be a lot of fun.''

Not so fun were the 22 months of weekly rehabilitation that Van Dyken completed Monday. Nearly every day, she thought about ditching swimming, and simply being happy with her four Olympic gold medals and three golds from the '98 world championships.

``A lot of people said you should have just stopped,'' she recalled.

But the notoriously stubborn Van Dyken ignored all but her inner voice.

``There was something I just wanted to do, something I feel is unfinished,'' she said. ``Once again, like the asthma, I'm not supposed to be doing this.''

After the initial surgery, her goal was simply to be able to move her shoulder normally and carry things.

``It's cool to say it's over,'' she said of rehab. ``My right shoulder is more flexible than my left and stronger than my left.''

Van Dyken said she knew she was ready for the trials when her fiance, Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, described her as irritable and hard to get along with.

``Some people get real serious and try to get in people's faces,'' Thompson said without mentioning Van Dyken's name. ``I'm focused and I have a mission, but also it's fun for me.''

Van Dyken insists her prerace tactics are all in the name of good competition.

``Before the race, I look at these girls and say, `Ooh, I just want to beat them so bad,''' she said. ``After the race, I think they're great. Jenny and Dara as people, I really do like.''

A lack of likability was a major issue during Van Dyken's high school days in suburban Denver. The tall, skinny girl who wore self-described ``big, thick Coke bottle glasses'' and walked with her head down proved an irresistible target for the popular crowd.

``I wasn't the homecoming queen, I wasn't the prom queen, I wasn't any kind of queen in high school,'' she said.

After she won her gold medals in Atlanta, Van Dyken dedicated them to anyone who was ever labeled a nerd.

``Those girls gave me a push I don't think I could've gotten anywhere else,'' she said. ``As much torture and humiliation as I felt in high school, everyone feels that to a certain extent and that's why I wanted to tell people.''

She hopes to send a new message to those she met while going to rehab weekly with people who were trying to walk normally again.

``Hopefully, they'll see me at the trials and swimming really well. If I don't, at least I made it there,'' she said.

``The only thing I wanted to get out of it is to have a love of the sport. I've gotten a love of swimming back, so even if I lose, I win.''

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