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It was not the title Brooke Bennett came to take Thursday night. It was the gold.

Bennett, the 16-year-old swimmer from Plant City, displaced Janet Evans as the star of women's distance swimming in the United States on Thursday when she captured the gold medal by more than 2 seconds in the 800-meter freestyle.

Evans, who has dominated the 800 for the past eight years, was in sixth place in her final race.

"Janet is the queen of swimming," Bennett said of a woman she once asked for an autograph and who has become something of a rival. "Even though she's retiring, I think she's still the queen. I've just started."

Thursday was a good start. Bennett, as calm as if she was swimming a meet for Brandon Blue Wave team, led from the time the swimmers entered the pool and was never challenged.

Back at the Brandon Swim & Tennis Club, about 100 members cheered on their hero.

"You could just tell by the way she kicked," said Amanda Steele, 9. "Anybody who saw her swim knew she would win."

Bennett's final time of 8:27.89 was not as fast as she would have liked, but with the race well in hand three-fourths of the way through, it didn't need to be.

"A time isn't as exciting as a gold medal," she said. "The time can come later. This is a dream come true."

President Clinton was there to applaud for Bennett as she accepted her gold medal.