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Golden Night // From kiddie meets to top of the world

If Rachel and Keith Bennett could have held their collective breath for 8 minutes, 27.89 seconds Thursday night, they would have.

"It's like someone took a refrigerator off my back when it was finally over," Brooke Bennett's father said. "It's been a long time coming."

Her mother said she never felt comfortable watching her 16-year-old daughter slice through the water en route to the Olympic gold medal in the 800 meters. "Confident, yes," she said above the cheers of the flag-waving crowd. "But it always tears me up inside.

"I was excited when she got off to a good start. But the German girls were staying close. And you never take anything for granted."

What about when Brooke touched the wall first, 2.02 seconds ahead of Dagmar Hase? Surely she relaxed then.

"I worried," Rachel Bennett replied, "until I saw Brooke's time flashed official on the scoreboard. I'm glad it's over. All the years, all the practices.

"It seems like yesterday we were at age-group meets and she was this little-bitty, curly-headed kid splashing around in the pool. And suddenly she's standing up there all alone and you wonder where the time went. It seems like she's always gotten everything she's ever wanted and now I think she's got what she wanted more than anything."

Well, she's got a few more things in mind. A car, for starters. She and Rachel have done a lot of Jeep shopping in the 4{ months since the Olympic trials.

And then there's the matter of a tattoo. A couple of months ago she was thinking about a ladybug, maybe a frog. Now she's leaning toward the Olympic rings on the inside of her right ankle."

"She'll get the car," her mother said. "I'm still probably holding out on the tattoo." Rachel may have a problem. She has a tiny rose tattooed next to her belly button.

Keith Bennett, a pony-tailed biker, said he'll probably let his daughter take the Harley out for a victory ride _ "when her mother's not around."

Brooke Bennett's parents are separated, but they cheered her on together and celebrated together after the race.

The free-spirited, freckle-faced kid from from Plant City, outspoken to a fault, inherits the mantle of greatness Janet Evans wore for more than a decade.

"I don't think it's going to change her," said her coach, Peter Banks. "She's now recognized as the greatest in the world and she's not the kind of kid to sit back and leave it at that. The only thing this will do, I believe, is reinforce what she's done for the last four years."

Banks said he and his star pupil will savor this for a while back home, then will begin concentrating on world championships and the long road toward the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

"The torch was handed on tonight," he said, "and it doesn't stop here. She has proved herself, but there's more to be done. There's the 400 (meters). And there's world records to be broken (both the 400 and 800 owned by Evans). That's a big thing in her mind. She wants those before it's all over."

THE 800m FINAL

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 1. Vlieghuis, Neth. 1:02.80 2:07.29 3:11.59 4:16.25

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:20.63 6:24.79 7:29.01 8:30.84 (3)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 2. Dalby, Nor. 1:02.46 2;06.92 3:11.10 4:16.03

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:21.21 6:27.41 7:33.66 8:38.34 (5)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 3. Kielglass, Ger 1:02.41 2:06.83 3:11.15 4:15.52

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:19.89 6:24.36 7:29.21 8:31.06 (4)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 4. Bennett, USA 1:01.90 2:05.89 3:09.18 4:12.78

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:15.90 6:19.68 7:23.94 8:27.89 (1)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 5. Hase, Ger 1:02.22 2:06.13 3:09.74 4:13.57

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:17.42 6:21.77 7:26.20 8:29.91 (2)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 6. Hardcastle, Brit. 1:03.17 2:08.18 3:13.39 4:18.99

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:24.47 6:30.68 7:37.03 8:41.75 (7)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 7. Evans, USA 1:02.51 2:07.30 3:12.11 4:17.28

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:22.75 6:28.63 7:34.36 8:39.91 (6)

100m 200m 300m 400m

Lane 8. Geurts, Neth. 1:02.07 2:07.75 3:12.98 4:18.75

500m 600m 700m 800m

5:24.14 6:30.12 7:35.99 8:40.43 (8)

Source: NBC, Associated Press

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