Pretty soon, just about everybody had the world record bug. Neil Walker surprised even himself when he set the first world best in last night's FINA World Cup swim meet at the University of Maryland with a chin-dropping upset of Lenny Krayzelburg in the 50-meter backstroke.
Krayzelburg, arguably the most dominant man in international swimming, got so piqued by his unexpected defeat to the unacclaimed Walker, he muttered one word--"Watch"--to a swimming official before heading out for his final event, the 200 backstroke.
Krayzelburg then set a world record of his own.
Jenny Thompson, meanwhile, observed Krayzelburg's world record celebration from behind a curtain as she prepared for the final race of the night, the women's 50 butterfly. Thompson, seeking her fifth gold medal of the two-day meet featuring 300 swimmers from 38 nations, suddenly found herself feeling that a mere fifth gold wouldn't provide sufficient satisfaction.
"I was jealous of Lenny," said Thompson, a six-time Olympic medalist, with a smile. "I thought: 'I want a world record, too.' "
And so she earned the third of the night in a race that took place a mere 10 minutes after her fourth event of the meet--the 100 individual medley. Thompson didn't have time to put away the gold medal and flowers she received for her victory in that race. She carried them straight to her lane.
Thompson's finale put a massive exclamation point on the meet at the University of Maryland Campus Recreation Center Natatorium, the first stop of a 12-city international tour that featured races in the 25-meter short course (as opposed to 50-meter long course) format. Each world record holder will receive a $4,000 bonus from FINA, the sport's world governing body.
Last night's meet also included a third gold medal victory by University of Virginia sophomore Ed Moses, who won the 100 breaststroke after winning the 50 and 200 breast events Wednesday.
Moses and Barbara "B.J." Bedford each won three gold medals here, second only to Thompson's five-medal tally over two days. Bedford, a '94 University of Texas grad, won hers in the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke events.
After the meet, Moses got in his car and headed back to Charlottesville. He has a 6 a.m. swim practice with his college team and three classes Friday.
"I got three wins, but I still have got a lot to prove," said Moses, a graduate of Lake Braddock High who began swimming seriously at Curl-Burke Swim Club in Burke two years ago. "I didn't break a record, so obviously I have to go home and train harder."
Walker, a self-described "Cheesehead" from Green Bay, Wis., started the world record flurry in the ninth of 17 finals last night. The 23-year-old Walker, who missed making the 1996 U.S. Olympic team by one-hundredth of a second, had no idea he had topped the world record by that same slim margin when he touched the wall in 24.12 seconds. Germany's Thomas Rupprath and Australia's Matthew Welsh shared the previous world best.
In fact, when Walker saw Krayzelburg celebrating his time--the second-place finish for Krayzelburg momentarily pleased him because it topped his personal best by six-tenths of a second--Walker assumed he had won a silver medal.
"I'm kind of in awe that I did that," said Walker, a University of Texas graduate who specializes in short-course events because of his ability to turn around quickly at the wall. "I really wasn't expecting to."
Krayzelburg managed to smile and commend Walker immediately after the race, showing considerable grace in defeat. Clearly, though, the 24-year-old Russian native was steaming inside. Krayzelburg, after all, had set three long-course world records at the Pan Pacific Championships this summer. Since the fall of 1998, he has failed to win only three of countless races he has entered.
"I absolutely never want to lose," Krayzelburg said, "especially when I am swimming so well."
Krayzelburg, who had won the gold in the 100-meter final Wednesday, thus found himself brimming with incentive for his last event of the meet. Just 50 meters into the race, Krayzelburg figured he was on some sort of record pace when he noticed he had a full-body-length lead. His winning time of 1 minute 52.47 seconds topped the eight-year-old world mark held by Spain's Martin Zubero by four-hundredths of a second.
It topped last night's silver medalist Gordon Kozulj of Croatia by 2 1/2 seconds.
"It's fun," Krayzelburg said. "People don't really talk about short-course world records much. But if I hold all the world records in long course, I might as well hold them in short course. I have two more to go."
Those were Thompson's sentiments exactly.
Thompson, who trains in Palo Alto, Calif., with the Stanford swim team, is upstate from Krayzelburg's home base at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She holds several long- and short-course world records, her most recent achievement being the topping of Mary T. Meagher's 18-year-old long-course world record in the 100 butterfly this summer.
After the men's 200 backstroke, Thompson embraced the grinning Krayzelburg as he walked to the side of the pool. After receiving her medal from the 100 individual medley, she lined up for the final event. She was so jumpy, she said, she forgot to breathe over the first 25 meters.
As it turned out, it was the standing-room only crowd of 900 that was left breathless.
"I felt this energy," Thompson said. "I wanted to be a part of it."