Hall Fastest in 50-Meter

Gary Hall Jr. allowed himself the relative

luxury of taking six breaths in the 50-meter freestyle

preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swim trials today.

He won’t be so greedy next time.

Hall led 16 qualifiers into the evening semifinals with a time of 21.93 seconds, slightly less than three-tenths of a second off Russian Alexander Popov’s world record.

“Everybody’s different. Some take no breaths, but I’ve always enjoyed breathing,” said Hall, who’ll limit himself to 2-3 breaths during the semis. “It’s something I’ve been doing since I was a little kid and I hope to carry it on.”

Neil Walker of Austin, Texas, was second at 22.05. Both he and Hall went under the trials record of 22.12 set by Matt Biondi in 1992.

Can Come Up for Air Now

“The 50 is hard to swim in the morning, particularly as the first event, because it’s tough to get going,” said Walker, who’s already going to Sydney. “Gary swam well and I’m sure he’ll get faster each time he swims. I’m just hoping to stick with him.”

Two men aiming to be the first black on a U.S. Olympic swimming team had differing results.

Anthony Ervin of Valencia, Calif., virtually assured of a spot on the 400 freestyle relay after finishing fifth in the 100 free Sunday night, was third-quickest at 22.12. That tied Biondi’s trials record.

Sabir Muhammad of Atlanta has a tougher task. He was 15th at 23.22, and will need to be among the top eight to make Tuesday night’s final.

Muhammad finished last in the 100 free final Sunday night in his only other chance.

Jon Olsen of Westerville, Ohio, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in relays, was disqualified for a false start in the 50.

Strong Comeback After Sunday’s Loss

Hall came back strongly about 14 hours after finishing second to Walker in the 100 free Sunday. The adrenaline from that race made for a nearly sleepless night.

“The excitement of making the Olympic team was definitely enough to keep me awake,” he said.

Hall won silver in the 50 and 100 free at the 1996 Atlanta Games, but his life has been troubled since then. He was suspended for three months in 1998 after testing positive for marijuana, then learned last year he has diabetes.

The Phoenix resident didn’t earn a qualifying time for the trials until a month ago and often has to give himself up to eight insulin shots a day to cope with his illness.

“I’m stoked to be going to Sydney,” he said.

The sixth night of the trials features finals in the women’s 200 breaststroke and 100 free, and the men’s 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley.