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Richer than the prima donnas

These days, it's hard to remember when the world of sports was populated with more than whiners, strikers and the Brats of Summer. Just as we are about to burn the sports page and take up Parcheesi, though, along comes Tampa Bay's resident inspiration, Nicole Haislett.

Haislett crowned her University of Florida sports career recently by being named the nation's top female college swimmer. Before that, she won three gold medals at the 1992 Olympics, was named collegiate All-American 28 times, and won two events at the 1994 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.

Other athletes might relax on those laurels, or complain about not getting a sweet endorsement deal. Instead, Haislett demands more of herself. "I've got to lose some weight and get back on track," she said earlier this week. "I've wanted to swim fast for the past two years; I haven't been willing to make the sacrifices to do it."

Haislett is trying to pump herself up for the training she'll need to beat the world again at the 1996 Olympics. But her words also provide a happy reminder of the athletes who thrive not on fat contracts, but on a solitary standard of excellence.

For years, I've watched Haislett motor through the water at her home pool in St. Petersburg's North Shore park. While some of the young swimmers clowned around during practice, Haislett set her jaw and focused on a goal most of her teammates would never see. Even after winning Olympic gold, Haislett didn't goof off or bask. She dived back in and worked.

Swimming probably won't make Haislett rich, at least not in the way measured by accountants. But she _ and we _ can take pride in the purity of her achievement. While the prima donna pros have some extra time on their hands, they might stop by the pool and take home a lesson.

Jeffrey Good is an editorial writer for the Times.