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Peirsols produce pair of titles

SWIMMING: Hayley Peirsol wins women's 800 free, inspiring brother Aaron to win 200 backstroke at nationals.

August 10, 2006|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE -- To thousands wedged into the stands at the USA Swimming National Championships on Saturday, it may have appeared that the men's 200-meter backstroke final went, surprisingly, down to the wire.

But according to three-time Olympic gold medalist Aaron Peirsol, who held off strong challenges by Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte to win his 11th national title in his hometown, the race at Irvine High was over before it started.

Peirsol, a Newport Harbor High product and the reigning world and Olympic champion in both the 200 and 100 backstroke events, said his success was assured just moments before, when younger sister Hayley Peirsol won the women's 800 freestyle final.

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"My night was pretty much done after [Hayley's victory], to tell you the truth," Aaron Peirsol said of the inspiration he drew from his sister's first career triumph at the USA nationals. "She's coming around and it's pretty awesome to watch. She took a lot off my back. I mean I felt like I'd won, even though I hadn't swam yet. Her doing so well seriously inspired me. I figured if she can do it, I can do it, I guess."

Do it he did, though not without some rare drama.

"I'm not used to having [to battle] two guys in that race, whether it's in practice, or whatever," said Aaron Peirsol, who has not lost in the 200 back since collecting a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

"That was foreign to me in many respects, but it was good. It has been a while since I had that level [of competition]. We didn't go nearly as fast as we thought we would. I think that shows we were all out for one thing only, which was to win. You try and break world records on your own time and you try to win races like that any way you can."

Aaron Peirsol led throughout, finishing in 1 minute, 56.36 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in history. He owns the world record (1:54.66)

But Phelps, who won six gold medals, eight overall, at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and rarely swims the event, was within a half-body length or less for all 200 meters. Phelps finished in 1:57.09.

And, in the other lane adjacent to Peirsol, Lochte, a silver medalist in the 200 individual medley at the Sydney Games, helped bracket the famously laid-back 23-year-old with some rare competition.

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