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AN EXPERT'S VIEW FROM THE POOL // NICOLE HAISLETT

St. Petersburg native Nicole Haislett, who won three gold medals at the 1992 Olympics, retired from competitive swimming last summer. She is living in Gainesville while finishing her degree at the University of Florida. Here are some of her thoughts on the trials, as told to Times staff writer Sharon Ginn:

I don't think there will be one big story to come out of the Olympic Trials. I think every race has one.

There's the Janet Evans vs. Brooke Bennett story in the distance freestyle. The women's sprint freestyle events, with lots of newcomers, will be very wide open. It will be exciting to watch 14-year-old Amanda Beard in the breaststroke, and the comeback of Summer Sanders.

On the guys' side, Tom Dolan can swim just about anything. It will be interesting to see what events he enters. Sprint freestylist Gary Hall, who swam well at the 1994 World Championships but has been inconsistent at times, will be challenged by Jon Olsen, David Fox and Joe Hudepohl.

I don't think there's any doubt Bennett will make the team. I think she has a chance to medal at the Olympics. When she swam the 800-meter freestyle in 8 minutes, 30.54 seconds at last month's U.S. Championships in Orlando, that was amazing. I'm sure she wasn't rested for that meet. That's a swim that will put you in medal position right now, and I'm sure she's going to go faster.

It's hard to say how Evans will do. She's been having a tough time of it the past few months. I've roomed with her several times; we're pretty good friends. I know swimming has been a struggle off and on since 1992. But she's so tough. I think she's going to be right in there.

I don't think it's going to be easy for Sanders to make the team, since she's had less than a year to get ready. It will be especially hard for her in the 200 butterfly. That field is really wide open. I think she has a better chance in the 200 individual medley, because behind Florida's Allison Wagner, there's kind of a gap.

Allison, whom I trained with in preparation for the 1994 World Championships, is one of the most amazing workout swimmers I've ever seen. She's so lean and mean. She hardly ever gets tired. She's been preparing for this year all along. It doesn't seem like she's ever really rested. Hopefully she will this time and she'll really blow some people away.

One swimmer who might emerge is Catherine Fox of Kansas City, Mo. She's really versatile _ she can swim the sprint freestyles, the backstroke and the 200 individual medley. She's been doing some pretty interesting cross-training, including gymnastics. She has been working on her starts and turns, and they're some of the best around right now.

I think the guys' side is made up of more veteran swimmers, and it's a question of whether they can pull off what they've been training for.

The sprint freestyles, with David Fox, Hall, Olsen and Hudepohl, are the most wide-open events and should be some of the most exciting to watch. But in the Olympics, I think Dolan probably will be our best shot at an individual gold medal.

Jeff Rouse, the world record holder in the 100 backstroke, often seems to fall through at the big meets. We'll have to see if he can stand up to the pressure. Also in the backstroke, Sarasota's Tripp Schwenk, the American record holder in the 200 backstroke, is looking good.

In the butterfly, it will be interesting to see if 1992 gold medalist Mel Stewart has been training hard enough to make the team. The two male newcomers that I think might surprise people both swim the butterfly. Jason Lancaster of the University of Michigan kind of came out of the woodwork last summer. Sabir Muhammed of Stanford has turned into quite a strong athlete.

In the breaststroke, Kurt Grote and Eric Wunderlich _ who is still trying to make his first Olympic team _ appear to be the favorites. In general, there are a lot of people who have never made the Olympic team that I would love to see make it.

I miss swimming, though I don't really miss the training. I know it's going to be really hard for me to watch the Olympic Trials. But it may be sort of a closure for me. I'll probably be jealous _ I'm not going to deny it.

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