Great Falls' Ziegler Is Fastest in 800 Freestyle Prelims

Kate Ziegler, far left, blows away the competition in the 800 freestyle prelims, finishing in 8:29.39. She is seeking to qualify for her second Olympic event.
Kate Ziegler, far left, blows away the competition in the 800 freestyle prelims, finishing in 8:29.39. She is seeking to qualify for her second Olympic event. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 5, 2008

OMAHA, July 4 -- Kate Ziegler, the Great Falls native who earlier in the week qualified for her first Olympic team by finishing second in the 400-meter freestyle, swam the fastest time Friday in preliminary heats of her better event, the 800 freestyle.

Ziegler, 20, posted a time of 8 minutes 29.39 seconds, half a second better than Katie Hoff of Towson, Md., who is swimming in the last of her six events here. Ziegler and Hoff were the only two of the 54 swimmers entered to swim faster than 8:34. The final is Saturday night.

"I was pretty happy with it," Ziegler said. "It just kind of felt like a smooth swim. I didn't quite get the rhythm I sometimes feel, but we were happy with the prelim time. I can't wait until tomorrow night."

Ziegler has now been here a week, and because she did not advance out of preliminary heats in the 200 freestyle, she has had more time to train -- so much so that she hasn't even gone out to dinner with her parents. "I haven't seen them for more than five minutes," Ziegler said.

Ziegler and her coach, Ray Benecki of the Northern Virginia-based club the Fish, said the goals for the 800 are the same as they were in the 400 -- touch the wall first or second, thus earning the spot in the Olympics. Because Ziegler already did so in the 400 -- finishing only behind Hoff -- Benecki said she has been more relaxed.

"She's already done one best time in this meet, so she can do it again," Benecki said. "The confidence is there, too. I'm not saying she's going to do a best time, but she can relax knowing she already took care of business once, and she can do it again."

50 Freestyle Record Falls

Cullen Jones of New Jersey got Friday off to a swift start when he broke the U.S. record in the 50-meter freestyle. The 24-year-old former North Carolina State standout finished his preliminary heat in 21.59 seconds, and both he and Ben Wildman-Tobriner (21.68) were under the mark set by Gary Hall Jr. at the 2000 Olympic trials (21.76).

Hall, who won gold in the event in both 2000 and 2004, is seeking to become the first swimmer to win the same event at the Olympics three times.

"Everybody anticipated that that record was going down," Hall said. "There's just been too much fast swimming in the world. Records don't last, especially these days."

Wildman-Tobliner's 21.65-second swim was the fastest of the semifinals. He was followed by Jones, Weber-Gale and Hall. The final, in which only the top two will gain an Olympic berth, is Saturday.

"People talk about swimming your own race," Hall said. "The 50 is all about swimming everybody else in the pool."

Beard Clinches 4th Games

Rebecca Soni of Plainsboro, N.J., won the 200-meter breaststroke to earn her way into the Olympics. But the bigger news in the event may have been that 26-year-old Amanda Beard qualified for her fourth Olympics, finishing second.

"I died like a dog on that last 50," Beard said, "but that was all worth it."

Soni trains at the University of Southern California-based Trojan Swim Club that Beard abandoned this year. But Beard spoke highly of her after Soni won in 2:22.60, well ahead of Beard's 2:25.13. "Rebecca's crazy," Beard said. "She's super fast." . . .

Japan's Kosuke Kitajima weighed in on the stunning failure of Brendan Hansen, his arch rival, to qualify for the Olympics in the 200-meter breaststroke. "For a swimmer of his level it shouldn't be that difficult to qualify," Kitajima said Friday on his Web site, according to a translation by the Associated Press. "He didn't seem to set his goals and rise to the challenge just one month before the Olympics."

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